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Alberta Politics

What if politicians could stop school kids from starting clubs?

Laurie Blakeman MLA Edmonton Centre Liberal
Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman (second from the left) introduced a private members’ bill that would stop school boards from blocking the student-led creation of Gay-Straight Alliances.

What does it look like when a politician tries to build his credibility among social conservative voters? We found out this week when Premier Jim Prentice sideswiped Edmonton-Centre Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman’s private members’ bill – Bill 202: Safe and Inclusive Schools Statutes Amendment Act, 2014 – that would allow students to form Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) in Alberta schools.

Jim Prentice Premier of Alberta
Jim Prentice

A recent 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.

Although Mr. Prentice initially said Progressive Conservative MLAs would be allowed a ‘free vote’ on Bill 202, he changed his mind late this week.

At a hastily called press conference held on Nov. 27, Mr. Prentice declared that Ms. Blakeman’s bill was no longer needed because he was going to introduce his own bill.

Under the guise of protecting school board rights, Mr. Prentice’s soon to be introduced bill would add sexual orientation to the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination in the Alberta Bill of Rights while continuing to allow individual school boards to decide whether the student GSA clubs can exist.

Gordon Dirks Education Minister Alberta MLA
Gordon Dirks

This would allow publicly funded religious schools, like Catholic school boards, the power to deny students the ability to create safer and more welcoming environments for their sexual minority classmates. Essentially, if a school board votes to discriminate against students for religious reasons, it is okay.

Although Mr. Prentice’s bill has not yet been made public, it is expected to allow some recourse for students. If students feel their attempts to create GSAs were unjustly blocked, they can take legal action against the school boards. That is correct, Mr. Prentice’s bill could force schools kids to hire lawyers to fight school board decisions.

Unsurprisingly, there was a lot of outrage on social media against Mr. Prentice’s bill. But Ms. Blakeman’s bill was never likely going to pass in the first place.

Kent Hehr Calgary Centre MLA Liberals
Kent Hehr

Earlier this year, a coalition of 31 PC and Wildrose MLAs voted against a similar private members’ motion introduced by Calgary-Buffalo Liberal MLA Kent Hehr. Only a handful of PC MLAs, including then anti-bullying minister Sandra Jansen, voted with the Liberal and NDP MLAs in favour of the motion.

It is not hard to see what Mr. Prentice is doing. He is a shrewd politician and he is trying to play both sides of the debate with the next election in mind. On one side, he cannot afford to allow Ms. Blakeman to make his party look like a group of backward social conservatives by not supporting her bill. At the same time, he is trying to appeal to those same backward social conservatives who want him to oppose her bill.

Wildrose leader Danielle Smith may have created an opening for Mr. Prentice to appeal to these social conservative voters when she openly suggested her party’s MLAs would vote in favour of Ms. Blakeman’s bill.

Ian Donovan Wildrose
Ian Donovan

Before the Premier’s announcement, Wildrose MLA Rob Anderson had introduced a series of amendments to the Liberal bill that would have watered down sections considered the most offensive to social conservatives.

Speaking to CBCLittle Bow MLA Ian Donovan, who crossed the floor from the Wildrose to the Progressive Conservatives this week, told host Mark Connolly that the PCs are now more social conservative than the Wildrose.

Education Minister Gordon Dirks, who is also the former chair of the Calgary Board of Education, has remained noticeably silent during this debate. Having faced criticism during his recent by-election about his relationship with evangelical religious schools in Calgary, perhaps it is not surprising that he is not Mr. Prentice’s spokesperson on the issue of Gay-Straight Alliances in schools

After you wade through the politics on all sides of this issue, it is important to remember what this debate is really about: whether individual students can, without interference from narrow-minded school administrators, board politicians or parents, create clubs that are proven to help make school environments more safe and welcoming for some of their classmates.

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Alberta Politics

The least interesting part of Legislative Session: The Throne Speech

Alberta's Legislature
Alberta’s Legislative Assembly

Every year, political watchers gather at the Alberta Legislature for the pomp and circumstance of the Speech from the Throne, hoping to get a glimpse of a political agenda. And every year they are sorely disappointed at the Throne Speech’s lack of detail.

Jim Prentice Premier Alberta
Jim Prentice

Yesterday’s Throne Speech, delivered by elderly Lieutenant Governor Donald Ethell, was unremarkable, but it was never meant to be more than predictable motherhood and apple pie.

On a year to year basis, it is actually difficult to identify much difference in Throne Speeches. It is perhaps more interesting to identify the promises made that never became reality, like the PC Government’s much talked about but never implemented plan to reduce carbon emissions.

A quick read of the text of this year’s speech will reveal that it was little more than a lengthened version of talking points that we have heard from Premier Jim Prentice since he launched his campaign to become Progressive Conservative Party leader last summer.

Danielle Smith Wildrose Alberta
Danielle Smith

The real political agenda was revealed after the Lieutenant Governor left the Assembly chambers. Mr. Prentice revealed his first piece of legislation as Premier will remove another bill passed by PC MLAs in 2009. Bill 1, the Respecting Property Rights Act, is a one-page  bill that rescinds the unpopular Land Assembly Project Area Act, which was passed in 2009 and amended in 2011, but never proclaimed by the PC Government.

In 2011, then-Infrastructure Minister Jeff Johnson praised amendments to the original law, saying it would “give more power to landowners.” Yet the law remained unproclaimed.

Jeff Johnson Alberta Education Minister MLA
Jeff Johnson

Stemming from widespread opposition to the construction of electrical transmission lines, property rights became a volatile issue that cost the PCs support in rural central and southern Alberta over the past five years. The lack of understanding shown by rural PC MLAs on this issue was mind-boggling. It provided a clear demonstration that the PCs had forgotten how to speak to their loyal base of rural voters. And it cost them in the last election.

The Wildrose Party, with the help of rural rabble-rousers Keith Wilson and Joe Anglin, were able to take advantage of this disenchantment and translate it into electoral wins in long-time Tory strongholds. With his bill, Mr. Prentice hopes to remove the lightening rod that cost his party its rural strongholds.

Laurie Blakeman MLA Edmonton-Centre Liberal
Laurie Blakeman

The Tories are giddy with the decision by Wildrose Party activists to defeat a definitive statement supporting equality at their recent annual meeting in Red Deer. Despite attempts at rebranding as a softer ‘Mildrose’ party, leader Danielle Smith scrambled to explain her party’s position after the vote was held.

But the PC Party’s giddiness may be short-lived. Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman is reviving the debate around Gay-Straight Alliances in Alberta schools. A similar motion introduced by Calgary-Buffalo MLA Kent Hehr to create more safe and welcoming environments for all students in schools was soundly defeated earlier this year by a coalition of 31 PC and Wildrose MLAs, including then-Education Minister Mr. Johnson.

While some PC MLAs may cringe at the idea of schools that embrace lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered youth, Mr. Prentice now has an opportunity to show that his party is clearly different that the Wildrosers. By supporting Ms. Blakeman’s motion, the Premier can send a message to progressive-minded urban voters that the PCs have fully embraced 21st century social values.

If Mr. Prentice’s first few months as Premier have demonstrated anything, it is that he and his staff are skilled at controlling and shaping political narratives. I have little doubt that he will skillfully navigate these and other hot button issues that come his way. The new Premier’s big challenge will be to demonstrate that the PC Government under his leadership is more than just talking points in a Throne Speech.


Federal Tories win in Tory stronghold…
To no one’s surprise, the Conservative candidate coasted to victory in the by-election held in the federal riding of Yellowhead yesterday. Tory Jim Eglinski, a retired RCMP officer and former B.C. mayor, won with 62% of the vote. His main opponent, Liberal Ryan Maguhn, improved party’s standing by earning 20%, up from 2% in 2011. New Democrat Eric Rosendahl placed third with 9%. Unofficial results show that voter turnout was a measly 16%.

 

Categories
Alberta Politics

Limping Alberta Liberals face more financial troubles

Alberta Liberal Party Fundraising
Tracking Alberta Liberal Party fundraising from 2004 to 2014.
Did Liberal leader Raj Sherman break Alberta’s political donations limits when making donations to his own party?
Raj Sherman MLA
Raj Sherman

The Calgary Herald is reporting that Dr. Sherman may have exceeded the $15,000 limit for donations three times in the past four years and donated double the limit this year through corporations he controls.

The questionable donations were first noticed by former New Democratic Party staffer Tony Clark, who brought them to the attention of Glen Resler, Alberta’s Chief Elections Officer.

And it is not just the money given which is a potential issue, because Dr. Sherman and his corporations would have also received tax credits in return for those donations. Dr. Sherman claims he did not deliberately break the rules, but this could still cause lasting damage to his troubled party’s credibility.

Rachel Notley Edmonton MLA Strathcona NDP
Rachel Notley

Fundraising has always been a challenge for the Liberals and starting in 2009, the party struggled to compete with the fundraising dollars captured by Danielle Smith’s rising Wildrose Party. Lately, Dr. Sherman’s party has struggled to compete with the NDP, now led by Edmonton-Strathcona MLA Rachel Notley.

In the first three quarters of 2014, Elections Alberta financial disclosures show the Liberals raised $242,499.16, close to half of the $474,306.85 raised by the NDP in the same period.

Laurie Blakeman MLA Edmonton Centre Liberal
Laurie Blakeman

It is hard to write about the Alberta Liberal Party these days without feeling as if I am kicking a wounded animal. The once confident official opposition party has now dwindled down to a group of MLAs who more closely resemble a coalition of independents than a united front.

Over the past two years, Dr. Sherman’s Liberals have undergone a strange brand transformation, first abandoning the traditional Liberal red for a green Liberalberta brand, and then sixteen months later back to red.

The Liberals will soon lose Calgary MLAs Kent Hehr and Darshan Kang to federal political ambitions, and when that happens, the 3 MLA caucus will face the threat of losing official party status, and funding, in the Legislative Assembly. The Liberal Party’s poor showing in four October 27 by-elections also does not give the party much to build upon.

David Swann Liberal MLA Calgary-Mountain View
David Swann

But the party’s bleak prospects do not mean that individual MLAs are not doing good work. Edmonton-Centre MLA Laurie Blakeman, will continue the good work started by soon-departing Mr. Hehr with her private members bill to create safer environments for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered youth in Alberta schools.

A similar bill introduced by Mr. Hehr in spring 2013 was defeated by a coalition of Progressive Conservative and Wildrose MLAs.

Calgary-Mountain View MLA David Swann continues to defend the rights of farm workers, who find themselves without access to workers rights and occupational health and safety standards.

A strong argument can be made that the five Liberal MLAs who were re-elected in the 2012 election did so on their own merits as strong local representatives and despite the weakness of their party brand.

If Dr. Sherman’s party continues to limp in obscurity, the Liberal MLAs facing re-election in 2016 may have to determine whether their own hard work, rather than their current party brand, will be enough to win them their jobs back for another four years.

Categories
Alberta Politics

Source: MLA Kent Hehr to run for Trudeau Liberals in Calgary-Centre

Kent Hehr Matt Grant Calgary Liberal
Calgary-Buffalo MLA Kent Hehr (right) with nominated Calgary-Confederation Liberal candidate Matt Grant.

Political Calgary is abuzz with rumours that popular MLA Kent Hehr will seek the Liberal nomination in the federal riding of Calgary-Centre. Reliable sources say that Mr. Hehr has gone so far as to request nomination forms to become an official nomination candidate for the federal Liberals.

Joan Crockatt
Joan Crockatt

Mr. Hehr would be a star candidate for the Justin Trudeau-led Liberals in Alberta, who see an opportunity to unseat Conservative Member of Parliament Joan Crockatt in the next election. Ms. Crockatt placed a narrow 1,158 votes ahead of Liberal challenger Harvey Locke in a November 2012 by-election. That by-election took place one year after former Conservative MP Lee Richardson defeated his closest challenger with a 19,770 vote margin of victory in the 2011 federal election.

A well-respected lawyer before he entered politics, the likeable Mr. Hehr has represented the downtown Calgary-Buffalo constituency as a Liberal since the 2008 election. The Liberal Finance and Energy critic briefly ran for mayor in 2010, bowing out and endorsing Naheed Nenshi before nomination day. Mr. Nenshi’s campaign manager in that election and now his chief of staff Chima Nkemdirim also managed Mr. Hehr’s first election campaign in 2008 (Mr. Nkemdirim has also has been rumoured as a potential Liberal candidate in the same riding).

In December 2012, Mr. Hehr stirred up some controversy within his party when he wrote a guest post on this blog suggesting that the narrow Conservative win in the Calgary-Centre by-election should send a wake up call to Liberals, NDP and Greens in this province.

Darshan Kang Liberal MLA Calgary Skyview
Darshan Kang

As an MLA, Mr. Hehr has been a thorough opposition critic and a champion of LGBTQ issues, introducing Motion 503 supporting Gay-Straight Alliances in Alberta schools (the motion was voted down by a coalition of 22 Progressive Conservative and 9 Wildrose MLAs).

Perhaps trying to appeal to a more conservative base of supporters, Mr. Hehr was pictured alongside Wildrose MLA Rob Anderson this week signing a “no-debt” pledge from the Tea Party-lite Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

He would not be the only Liberal MLA planning to jump into federal politics in the next election. Calgary-McCall MLA Darshan Kang was recently nominated as the federal Liberal candidate in the north east Calgary’s new Calgary-Skyview riding. If both Liberal MLAs are nominated, they would each be required to resign as MLAs when a federal election is called, leaving the Liberals with only three MLAs in the Assembly (and for the first time since before  the 1993 election, with less MLAs than the New Democratic Party, which currently has four MLAs).

Other MLAs running for federal nominations are Edmonton-McClung PC MLA David Xiao, who is seeking the federal Conservative nomination in the new Edmonton-West riding, and Independent Calgary-Foothills MLA Len Webber, who is running for the Conservative nomination in the new Calgary-Confederation riding.

Attempts were made to contact Mr. Hehr in order to confirm and comment on the rumours of his potential candidacy in Calgary-Centre. No response had been received at the time this post was published.

UPDATE (July 17, 2014): As predicted in this post, Calgary-Buffalo MLA Kent Hehr has announced he will run for the federal Liberal nomination in Calgary-Centre.

Kent Hehr Calgary Centre Liberal

Categories
Alberta Politics

Rejection of Gay-Straight Alliances motion shows some Alberta MLAs need a reality check

Be it resolved that the Legislative Assembly urge the Government to introduce legislation, like Manitoba’s and Ontario’s, requiring all school boards to develop policies to support students who want to lead and establish gay-straight alliance activities and organizations, using any name that is consistent with the promotion of a positive school environment that is inclusive, welcoming, and respectful for all students regardless of sexuality, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

It was a simple motion introduced on the floor of Alberta’s Legislative Assembly on April 7, 2014 that would help create safer environments for students in schools. Nineteen Liberal, New Democrat, and Progressive Conservative MLAs voted in favour of the motion, but it failed after 31 PC and Wildrose MLAs stood up and voted against it.

Kent Hehr MLA Calgary-Buffalo
Kent Hehr

Motion 503, introduced by Calgary-Buffalo MLA Kent Hehr, was not a piece of binding legislation, it was a symbolic message of that all students, regardless of sexual orientation or identity, can be welcomed and accepted in Alberta’s education system.

Creating safe and supportive environments for all students, including LGBTQ youth who may face discrimination in and outside of school, should be something that is encouraged by MLAs.

Mr. Hehr’s motion undoubtably would have made some social conservatives uncomfortable, but it would have ultimately helped drag some of Alberta’s more stodgy school boards into the 21st century. The motion would not have forced any school board to form student-led gay-straight alliances, but it would have compelled the elected boards to accept the existence of the groups if students in their schools chose to organize them.

Alberta MLA Vote Gay Straight Alliances Vote Motion 503
A map showing the constituencies represented by MLAs who voted in favour (blue) and against (red) Motion 503. White indicates MLAs who were not present for the vote. (Click to enlarge)

Passage of this motion would have sent a strong message that tolerance and acceptance are priorities Alberta’s provincial legislators.

Anti-bullying minister Sandra Jansen voted in favour but Education minister Jeff Johnson voted against it.

Missing from the vote were Premier Dave Hancock and NDP leader Brian Mason, who both later said they would have voted in favour had they been in the Assembly. Wildrose opposition leader Danielle Smith was not present for the vote and it is not clear if she would have voted differently than her party’s MLAs.

The divided PC government caucus also missed an opportunity to send a clear message that they embrace 21st century values by singling out the opposition Wildrose as the only party to unanimously vote against the motion – and remind Albertans of the infamous Lake of Fire.  And for the Wildrose, a vote for the motion, even by one or two of that party’s MLAs, would have done a lot of demonstrate the party is more moderate on social issues than its opponents claim.

In total, 36 MLAs were absent from the vote (minus the Speaker, who abstains from votes of the Assembly).

Voted in Favour: 19
Deron Bilous (NDP)
Laurie Blakeman (LIB)
Neil Brown (PC)
Pearl Calahasen (PC)
Cal Dallas (PC)
Alana DeLong (PC)
David Eggen (NDP)
Kyle Fawcett (PC)
Kent Hehr (LIB)
Ken Hughes (PC)
Sandra Jansen (PC)
Heather Klimchuk (PC)
Jason Luan (PC)
Thomas Luksazuk (PC)
Rachel Notley (NDP)
Don Scott (PC)
Raj Sherman (LIB)
David Swann (LIB)
Teresa Woo-Paw (PC)
Voted against: 31
Moe Amery (PC)
Rob Anderson (WR)
Drew Barnes (WR)
Gary Bikman (WR)
Robin Campbell (PC)
Ron Casey (PC)
Christine Cusanelli (PC)
Ian Donovan (WR)
David Dorward (PC)
Wayne Drysdale (PC)
Jacquie Fenske (PC)
Rick Fraser (PC)
Yvonne Fritz (PC)
Hector Goudreau (PC)
Jeff Johnson (PC)
Linda Johnson (PC)
Maureen Kubinec (PC)
Genia Leskiw (PC)
Bruce McAllister (WR)
Everett McDonald (PC)
Diana McQueen (PC)
Frank Oberle (PC)
Bridget Pastoor (PC)
Dave Rodney (PC)
Bruce Rowe (WR)
Shayne Saskiw (WR)
Richard Starke (PC)
Rick Strankman (WR)
Kerry Towle (WR)
George VanderBurg (PC)
Greg Weadick (PC)