It’s been an interesting week. Unless you happened to be sitting in the Alberta legislature and then it was – to quote Thomas Lukaszuk, MLA for Edmonton Castle Downs, a “week from hell”.
This trip to the hellmouth came courtesy of our new Premier’s attempt to slay a vexing dragon that has menaced conservatives in both his party, the Progressive-Conservatives, and their rivals and opposition, the Wildrose Party.
Both parties have problems with a small religious and socially conservative driven base, continually seeking assurances that Alberta will stay as rooted in the 1960’s on certain social issues as is possible given the fact that it’s now the 21st century.
There are a number of things that send this base into a frenzy but two things in particular give them panic attacks.
The first is the fear that as parents they won’t have control over every aspect of their children’s education. Specifically (though probably not exclusively) anything pertaining to sex.
What passes for sexual education, generally, has me shaking my head most of the time and grateful for the fact that I have been instructing my daughter in the basics since she first noted the concept of gender and the differences between them.
The misinformation and bias I’ve observed in teachers, and in the provincial curriculum, is fodder for another day (and frankly, was something I ran into frequently when I taught in the United States too), but I have countered it with fact and honest, even-handed discussions. I am not too worried that some random teacher’s poor delivery method is going to ruin my child.
But there is a subset of Albertan parents who are determined to keep facts from their children even if they have to keep facts from my child to achieve this end.
And that is where Bill10 enters our story.
But please indulge a little back story.
The province of Alberta has a long history of not being keen about granting rights to LGBTQs in most instances and about same-sex marriage in particular. While the rest of the provinces came to the realization that legally it was simply impossible to deny this basic right, Alberta’s premier, Ralph Klein, pitched a fit.
However, Canada became the fourth country in the world to recognize that access to marriage was a right for all in 2005.
This would be the end of the story but for the fact that Alberta’s socially conservative still grumble (despite the fact that the world hasn’t cracked in half and the four horsemen aren’t roaming the earth in the wake of civil marriage) and not so subtly find ways to make their displeasure known.
One of the ways was to not allow sexual orientation to be named explicitly in the Alberta Bill of Rights Act (which as an aside is the province’s way of reminding Canada that they never did like Pierre Trudeau or his Charter of Rights and Freedoms) and to eventually grant the wish of a minority of parents in Alberta by allowing them to demand notification from teachers every single time that sexual orientation came up in the classroom.
The first thing is just mean-spirited and sore loser-ish. It can’t be explained any other way.
But the second was simple control-freak paranoia based on the outdated idea that people are taught to be lesbian or gay or transgender or bisexual or queer.
Speaking as someone who spent two decades teaching junior and senior high, let me reassure everyone that no one taught your son or daughter his/her sexual orientation. They showed up at the door pre-programmed.
Not once was I ever surprised to learn, years after I taught someone in grade seven, that he or she was gay. Not. Once. Because I knew it even if it took them a few more years to figure it out.
The Alberta Liberal Party tried, unsuccessfully, to fix the aforementioned issues. Valiant attempts. But as they had been all but crushed as a viable opposition party in the province, these attempts failed.
Recently though a Liberal MLA named Laurie Blakemen tried again with a private member’s bill, Bill202.
It was simplicity itself. Corrected the injustice and laid to rest the idiocy and could be summed up in three sentences. How can you not love legislation that you don’t need a lawyer to interpret for you to actually understand it?
Blakemen presented her private member’s bill. People liked it. There was much rejoicing!
And then Premier Prentice decided he wanted to be the one who presented a bill that righted wrongs (’cause that’s how he rolls) because rejoicing isn’t okay unless the PC’s are facilitating it.
Bill 202 went through a first reading. The government responded with “yeah, but we have a bill of our own, which will do all of these things and probably fly and shoot rainbows out its bum too and we will tell you all about it … just as soon as we write it down.”
Premier Prentice then disappeared in a puff of smoke like Cinderella’s godmother because more important work pertaining to pipelines and bitumen was waiting for him in Quebec, and so his faithful front-line minions were left to write and present the new and improved bill to the legislature.
Which they did.
And everyone went “meh?”
Because Bill10 was not really new – it borrowed heavily from Bill202, so much so that if the legislature was a university and MLAs were students words like plagiarism might have been tossed about and people would be failing and possibly even expelled.
So they tried again.
And everyone went “wtf?!”
Bill 10 had gone from a bad pirating effort to quasi-apartheid aimed squarely at LGBTQ children, who just wanted to be allowed to form GSA’s (gay straight alliance clubs) in their schools so they could cope with the normal transition stuff that teens face in a safe place, free from bullying and full of warmth, understanding, and friendship.
Why, when it’s usually the most tired refrain in the political universe, was no one “thinking of the children?”
But the PC government dug in even as some of their own – brave and eloquent souls like Thomas Lukaszuk and Doug Griffiths – stood up and said, “this isn’t right”.
The tiny undermanned opposition parties (for a welcome change) banded together in an impressive showing of rebuttal and take down and common sense.
And the small but semi-vigilant Alberta media and social media had the opposition’s back. Publishing news articles, op-ed and tweeting like frenzied Shakespearian chorus.
Citizens took to the airwaves. They petitioned. They shared heart-rending personal stories about the isolation and discrimination.
Truly it was the Evil Empire versus the plucky Ewoks. If by “evil” you mean “misguided and misinformed” and by “plucky” you mean “relentlessly mocking”.
And Ewoks, in case anyone has forgotten, are wee, furry fluffballs that chitter like Alvin and the Chipmunks. And they have wicked sharp teeth.
While the rest of Canada – as it usually does unless it is wagging fingers about climate change that their first world lifestyles apparently don’t contribute to at all – ignored Alberta, Albertans stood up and said, “Um, no. We are not a gaggle of inbred hillbillies. Bill10 simply isn’t right. Scrap it and come up with something better. Maybe like Bill202.”
When Canada finally did notice, it was over.
At the height of civilian dissension, Premier Prentice tersely told the media (in Ontario) that “Rights are not absolute.”
Yes, he did.
Not exactly the words most citizens dream of hearing from the mouth of the guy who basically rules over them with virtually no checks on his authority.
But upon returning to the legislature – just in time to fire up the Christmas decor – Prentice had regained his sanity, re-girded his political loins and shelved Bill10.
What’s next? Maybe nothing. Shelved bills have a habit of disappearing into the bowels of government like the Ark of the Covenant in a US military warehouse. But maybe this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship between the socially progressive in the Alberta legislature and Alberta politics in general. Perhaps that day has finally arrived.
Regardless, the real issue is still unresolved. Our kids can’t start GSAs in many of the rural schools or in any of the Catholic ones. There is still bullying and marginalization during a time in their lives when just growing up – physically, emotionally and academically – is hard enough work.
We are failing our kids and by “we”, I mean all of us.
Two weeks have been wasted by adults more interested in political points than in doing their damn jobs. When does this end? Who is going to man up and take the first step towards making things right?