Alberta Politics

Kenney’s UCP comes out against NDP’s latest Gay-Straight Alliance bill

Photo: Jason Kenney with UCP MLAs Jason Nixon, Angela Pitt, Leela Aheer, Ric McIver and Prab Gill on October 30, 2017.

United Conservative Party leader Jason Kenney announced on November 7, 2017 that his party’s MLAs will vote against Education Minister David Eggen’s Bill 24: An Act to Protect Gay-Straight Alliances.

David Eggen

Kenney’s declaration of opposition to the bill came the morning after UCP Legislature leader Jason Nixon told reporters that UCP MLAs would be allowed a free-vote on the bill. It is not clear whether their unanimous opposition is the result of a free-vote, or whether the unanimity reached was directed by Kenney.

The bill would prohibit school administrators from informing parents when students join GSAs, which are student organized safe space clubs, or anti-bullying clubs. A study from the University of British Columbia found that Canadian schools with GSAs may reduce the odds of suicidal thoughts and attempts among both sexual minority and straight students.

The bill has the support of Premier Rachel Notley‘s 54 New Democratic Party MLAs, 2 Alberta Party MLAs and Liberal MLA David Swann, making its passage into law almost certain. Numerous public school board trustees have voiced their support for the bill.

Medicine Hat Public School Division board chair Rick Massini, told Medicine Hat News that “…GSAs are instrumental in providing students with a sense of security and safety. Certainly, for some kids, having that information shared with parents would be pretty devastating for them. I am glad to see there is something formal in place to protect them.”

Fort McMurray Catholic School District board chair Paula Galenzoski told Fort McMurray Today that “Our board has always been supportive of our LGBT community and LGBT students, and the health and inclusion of all students. If a person isn’t able to stay safe in their environment, then we’re failing big.”

Even former MLA Jeff Wilson, who served as a Wildrose and Progressive Conservative MLA for Calgary-Shaw from 2012 to 2015, is urging UCP MLAs to vote in favour of Bill 24.

The NDP see Bill 24 as an important law to protect students that also has the added benefit of being a wedge issue that has divided conservatives in the past. When private members motions and bills supporting GSAs were brought to the Legislature in 2014 by then-Liberal MLAs Kent Hehr and Laurie Blakeman, the debate led to a damaging public split between moderate and social conservatives in the Wildrose and PC caucuses.

Laurie Blakeman MLA Edmonton Centre Liberal
Laurie Blakeman

The political message of Bill 24 is directly aimed at Kenney, who was widely criticized after commenting to Postmedia’s Calgary editorial board that parents should be informed when students join a GSA. The comments created imagery of state-sanctioned outing of gay kids who might be fearful of their family’s reaction.

The issue even caused the normally front-and-centre Kenney to go into hiding, reemerging one month later at a $500-a-plate federal Conservative fundraiser at a posh downtown Vancouver restaurant.

As a wedge issue I am not sure how many votes this bill alone will move from the UCP to the NDP column in the next election. I suspect it serves primarily to solidify support for the NDP on this already clearly defined issue, while drawing out the social conservative tendencies of Kenney and his UCP.

Creating safe school environments for students is critical, but reigniting the political debate on this overwrought issue risks creating a distraction from the NDP’s broader education agenda.

The UCP opposition to Bill 24 contradicts much speculation that Kenney would pivot toward more moderate stances on social issues. But as I wrote last month, I suspect Kenney and the UCP are betting that Albertans will forgive their social conservative stances when reminded of the NDP’s more unpopular economic policies. Notley and the NDP are betting that this bill to protect Alberta students will convince voters consider otherwise.

5 replies on “Kenney’s UCP comes out against NDP’s latest Gay-Straight Alliance bill”

re: ‘Notley and the NDP are betting that this bill to protect Alberta students will convince voters consider otherwise.’

This, in spades, in Calgary. Anything remotely related to or implying ‘Lake of fire’ stuff is kiss of death in Calgary, IMHO.

“As a member of the gay community, I know first-hand how difficult it is for many people to come out to family and friends. LGBTQ2S+ youth must be allowed to make this decision for themselves.

“LGBTQ2S+ youth face higher rates of suicide and homelessness. Allowing youth to be outed before they are ready to come out risks exacerbating these issues. Kenney’s position is one that unequivocally puts youth at risk of physical and mental harm….”

After spending months accusing Alberta teachers of spreading dangerous ideology and Marxism, Kenney is now saying it’s up to teachers to out gay kids? What a scam artist. Kenney would be a disaster as Premier.

Was this any surprise? Kenney’s base is social conservatives and he has spent a lot of the last few years avoiding Pride Parades when almost every other politician in the province (including several PC’s and Wildrosers) has realized the world has changed. Kenney still seems to be stuck in the Alberta of the 1990’s he left to go to Ottawa at the start of his long career in Federal politics.

I don’t doubt the “unanimity” of the UCP was imposed by Kenney in this case. While I suspect many of their MLA’s supported this position, I think several may have had reservations or not agreed. However, unlike the old Wildrose or PC’ parties, dissent will not be tolerated in Kenney’s UCP.

What’s the point of having a “base” whose beliefs earn it opprobrium from larger society, which appears out of touch and anachronistic, and which is shrinking in democratic terms? It’s as if Kenney believes he leads a sort of redoubt of a bygone-but-up-and-coming mores, a recoquista, or a expulsion of foreign invaders. For a guy who’s been praised for his dogged determination and political shrewdness, he seems to be barking up the wrong tree — which isn’t really very smart.

If it’s really true that he needs this millstone of a “base” to hedge his chances of convincing Albertans to vote for his party, he must have some other policy component that’s so attractive as to distract voters from this “base’s” growing repellance. If that’s the case, why risk bringing a skunk to a picnic?

It seems, rather, that the right — everywhere in North America and Europe — is hypnotized by its own guff, appealing to the “remainder” of an allegedly beset and besieged white minority on a supposed assumption that there remains no place for it in larger society. The supposed “logic” is that it’s only “fair” whites make exclusive claim to remote redoubts like Alberta, Montana, Idaho, and southeast BC, a fairytale land that in reality would require most unlikely deportations and conversions.

But the plainest betrayal of this baloney is the simple fact that the holy rump of self-deluded grandeur does not recruit young people of any race or religion. Nor is it likely to. Thus, if it bides its time to strike out at an opportune time like a fifth column, it will eventually run short of sextons to fill up and cut the wild roses of its own boneyard.

I sometimes wonder if the moribund right anticipates proportional representation where the social conservative fringe might influence parliaments by way of balance-of-power politicking in the perennially hung parliaments this electoral system usually results in. Why else do politicians like Kelley Leitch, Andrew Scheer, and Jason Kenney make such strident appeals to a moribund and increasingly repellant polity? By their actions these politicians look more concerned with being recognized as leaders of this out-of-date rump than they are about becoming leaders of societies at large.

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