Bill 44: Human Rights Citizenship and Multiculturalism Amendment Act Ed Stelmach

outrage over bill 44? nothing the summer bbq circuit can’t resolve.

They currently occupy 71 out of the 83 seats on the floor of Alberta’s Legislative Assembly, but the first Legislative session of 2009 was been a rough ride for the gigantic Progressive Conservatives caucus. While some good was accomplished during this session, it was largely overshadowed by a deficit budget, visions of Northumberland, controversial land reform legislation, and Bill 44.

Amidst the nasty hyper-partisanship that defined this Legislative Session, the current occupants of the Government benches will sleep well knowing that the hot summer months are just around the corner.

While this week’s passage of Bill 44 (which included sections allowing parents to pull their kids from classroom discussions on religion, sexuality and sexual orientation) was met with vocal opposition by many Albertans (including members of the United Church, School Trustees, the Alberta Teachers’ Association), I agree with Grant MacEwan Community College Professor Chaldeans Mensah that there will likely be no long-term political consequences for the Ed Stelmach-led PCs:

“The Tories, with all their problems, are still a formidable force.”

As regular Albertans tune even further out of politics for the summer and PC MLAs return to their constituencies to host a flurry of BBQ fundraisers and Shot-Gun Started Golf Tournaments, the summer months will provide them time to mend any Bill 44 induced political strains that may have emerged among their rank and file supporters.

The debate around Bill 44 reminds me of the Bill 11 debates that occurred nine years ago (which is around the same time I began paying attention to provincial politics). While MLAs debated Bill 11 and health care privatization, thousands of Albertans from across the province spent weeks demonstrating their disapproval in front of the Legislature. Many of them vowed that Bill 11 would help end the PCs political dominance, but less than a year later they would witness the massive PC election sweep of 2001 that knocked the opposition Liberals and NDP down to a combined total of 9 MLAs.

Liberal and NDP MLAs can take some solace that they succeeded in shaking the giant PC caucus over the past four months, but opposition attacks fell far from inflicting permanent damage to the long-governing party. While the PCs stumbled through the first half of their 38th year in government, neither the Liberals nor NDP were able to convincingly present themselves as a positive alternative and viable government-in-waiting. Instead, both parties joined in with negative partisan attacks and further deep-rooted themselves in the trenches as a reactive and rump partisan opposition.

While this likely makes some Government MLAs feel optimistic about their political futures, engaged citizens outside the increasingly depopulating world of party politics should be dismayed at the damage caused by the negative and hyper-partisan ‘Ottawa-style’ politics witnessed daily during this session.

Mensah may be right in predicting Bill 44s lack of direct political consequences for the PCs, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be long-term consequences for democracy in Alberta. Less than 40% of Albertans participated in the March 2008 election, and as our politics continue to evolve into closed-minded and negative hyper-partisanship, those of us without a party membership card in our wallets should be asking how we can reclaim our politics and stop the turnout from dropping even lower in 2012?

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