Premier Jim Prentice has gotten off to a pretty impressive start as the latest star of the longest running series in Canadian political history, Alberta Dynasty. He did a lot of little things right, like cancelling the ill-conceived plan to change our license plates and grounding the provincial fleet of airplanes. He did the usual big picture announcements, promising 1,487 new schools, or something like that. The voting public gave him a robust vote of confidence by going four-for-four in byelections, and just for fun he picked up a couple of Wildrose members, practically by accident. The Wildrose seems to be collapsing before our eyes, and the polls put the Tories back in front. All is well in Prentice Province.
So why is he so terrified of gay teenagers?
Prentice’s first misstep as premier has been in dealing with Liberal Laurie Blakeman’s fairly innocuous private member’s bill.
Blakeman, the best friend the gay community has in Alberta politics, proposed a bill that would require Alberta schools to institute something called a gay-straight alliance in high schools upon request from students. Sounds innocent enough, right? When I was in high school, I always felt like an outsider, and I’m straight; I can’t imagine how miserable life can be for a gay teen, particularly in this age when you can be hounded and bullied 24/7 via social media. You would think that something called a gay-straight alliance, which would create a more welcoming environment for gay teens, would be a slam-dunk for the government to support.
But no. Blakeman’s bill forced the Prentice government to cobble together a hodge-podge bill to supersede the Liberal bill. Titled “An Act to Amend the Alberta Bill of Rights to Protect Our Children” (Prentice has learned well while in the Stephen Harper cabinet; giving a bill a preposterous feel good title is straight from the Harper playbook), the bill doesn’t outlaw gay-straight alliances, but it gives the school boards the power to say no to the request to form such a group. But if a school board took such a measure, the kids would have a legal recourse — they could go to court! *
This is beyond preposterous. Does the province really believe that a bunch of high school kids have the know-how or the desire to take their school board to court?
Why would the Prentice government haul out a sledgehammer to kill a mosquito?
My guess is that Christian schools — and Catholic schools** — still have a tremendous amount of sway with the government. Presented with the choice of pissing off the gay voters, or doing the same to the evangelical Christian voter, the Tories sided with God.
What is especially surprising about this needless snafu is just how easy it would have been to avoid it. In fact, supporting Blakeman’s bill would have served the government’s political purposes.
If the Tories supported the bill, and the Wildrose didn’t, the Wildrose would have been pushed into the deep end of the lake of fire. But if the Wildrose voted in support of it as well, the issue would have died. If all parties supported the bill, those opposed would have no one to vote against.
But what of those MLAs who are opposed to the bill, for whatever reason? If the PCs or the Wildrose genuinely had MLAs opposed to the bill on ‘moral’ grounds or whatever, the smart strategy would have been to let them say a few carefully chosen words against it, then make sure they were absent on the day the bill came up for a vote. The MLAs could then go back to the voters, and in the unlikely event the issue came up, they could say, ‘Hey, I was opposed, and spoke against it. But I lost. That’s the way democracy works.’
But they didn’t do that. The PCs could have let the bill slide quietly through the legislature, taken a few minor hits from opponents, and wrapped themselves in the warm fuzzy embrace of inclusiveness and general niceness. But instead of voting for a bill that is designed to prevent bullying, they came out looking like bullies themselves.
* Early Thursday, the bill was amended to eliminate the court option in favour of going to the minister of education. The GSAs would then hold their meetings off-site from the schools. How this is any great improvement is beyond me.
** According to the Journal, the Catholic system doesn’t allow GSAs because the group is too narrow in its reach. What a crock. Catholic schools have football teams even though they exclude people who don’t play football, right? And if students wanted to form a support group for, say, native students, or new immigrants, there is no way the school board would say no to those groups despite being too narrow.