Ken­ney goes where many Tories won’t

Gay-straight al­liance is­sue gets po­lit­i­cal

Windsor Star - - POLITICS - CHRIS SEL­LEY

There is some con­ster­na­tion that Al­berta’s new United Con­ser­va­tive Party op­poses Bill 24, the NDP gov­ern­ment leg­is­la­tion that would bar schools from in­form­ing par­ents whether or not their chil­dren are par­tic­i­pat­ing in ex­tracur­ric­u­lar gay-straight al­liance (GSA) clubs. Cer­tainly the party’s op­po­si­tion might be un­wise: the tim­ing of the bill was an ex­plicit at­tempt to flush out the in­tol­er­ant ele­ments in the re­formed con­ser­va­tive coali­tion that so be­dev­illed the Wil­drose Party. It was an ob­vi­ous trap, and the UCP ei­ther fell into it or felt con­fi­dent en­gag­ing the bill on its mer­its.

The lat­ter seems at least plau­si­ble to me. This is os­ten­si­bly a con­ser­va­tive party, with con­ser­va­tive politi­cians an­swer­ing to a con­ser­va­tive base. The propo­si­tion here is to ban schools from telling par­ents what their kids are do­ing at school. That’s go­ing to dis­com­fort many con­ser­va­tives re­gard­less of whether the word “gay” en­ters the equa­tion.

Of course there is a good case to be made for this pro­posed mea­sure as a means of pre­vent­ing kids from be­ing outed to po­ten­tially abu­sive par­ents. But that doesn’t dis­credit any un­ease about the gag order within the UCP. Con­ser­va­tives tend to trust par­ents more and gov­ern­ment in­sti­tu­tions less, and liberals vice versa. The Supreme Court has yet to de­clare a win­ner. You’re al­lowed to dis­agree. This leg­is­la­tion con­cerns a very spe­cific cir­cum­stance — it would be tough to ar­gue it’s the thin edge of any wedge — but if a con­ser­va­tive party can’t at least voice some qualms about par­ents’ right to know, then it’s not be­ing true to its base.

The po­si­tion the UCP even­tu­ally ar­rived at boils down to this: yes to GSAs; no to manda­tory re­port­ing to par­ents; cer­tainly no to un­wanted out­ings. But also: “We be­lieve ev­ery child is unique, and that ed­u­ca­tors should be left with the dis­cre­tion they cur­rently have to en­gage par­ents when it is in the best in­ter­ests of the child to do so.” It’s the sort of po­si­tion an On­tario Lib­eral might have ar­rived at just a few years ago dur­ing the de­bate in this prov­ince over es­tab­lish­ing GSAs, had the is­sue of no­ti­fi­ca­tion come up. That most of us in the me­dia now con­sider it to­tally anath­ema doesn’t mean vot­ers do.

Al­berta schools are legally re­quired to no­tify par­ents where the cur­ricu­lum “deals pri­mar­ily and ex­plic­itly with re­li­gion or hu­man sex­u­al­ity,” the UCP notes. Does it not seem a bit odd to ab­so­lutely for­bid no­ti­fi­ca­tion in an ex­tracur­ric­u­lar ac­tiv­ity on the same topic — one that is “char­ac­ter­ized by so­cial, ed­u­ca­tional and po­lit­i­cal ac­tiv­i­ties,” per the Al­berta Teach­ers As­so­ci­a­tion? I think it’s a fair ques­tion. Whether or not it was worth ask­ing, po­lit­i­cally, re­mains to be seen. But watch­ing this all un­fold from On­tario, the most strik­ing thing is that the de­bate is hap­pen­ing at all.

The Al­berta NDP are try­ing to do to Ja­son Ken­ney what the On­tario Liberals and their well-heeled chums in big labour have long done to Progressive Con­ser­va­tive lead­ers: por­tray them as big­oted, womb-both­er­ing troglodytes who would close down hos­pi­tals and gen­er­ally make us all thank­ful for le­gal eu­thana­sia. They’re do­ing it now to Tory Leader Patrick Brown, who’s try­ing to live down a dreaded Green Light from the Cam­paign Life Coali­tion (long since turned red), a brief sham­bolic dalliance with the anti-sex-ed crowd and hav­ing been part of that aw­ful Stephen Harper’s cau­cus.

In the (big labour) Work­ing Fam­i­lies Coali­tion “video room,” you can see a hi­lar­i­ously lazy ad com­par­ing Brown to both Don­ald Trump and — no joke — Brexit. In an­other he’s ac­cused of flipflop­ping on ev­ery­thing from same-sex mar­riage to union rights — which is rather more on the mark, and highlights his ba­sic cur­rent strat­egy: he’s go­ing to try to out-progressive the Liberals at ev­ery turn, in hopes the at­tacks against him will ring false. He’ll hardly stop talk­ing about how pro-choice he is. If there’s a pride pa­rade he can march in some­where, his of­fice wants to know about it.

And that’s fine, of course — there’s noth­ing in­her­ently un-con­ser­va­tive about ei­ther po­si­tion, though he has cer­tainly irked some of his base. There is some­thing very un­con­ser­va­tive, how­ever, about keep­ing mostly quiet while the Liberals ex­tend rent con­trol to ev­ery unit in the prov­ince and sud­denly jack up the min­i­mum wage to $15 (though they did say Tues­day they would de­lay im­ple­men­ta­tion un­til 2022). In the ab­sence of any sig­nif­i­cant poli­cies of Brown’s own, one can un­der­stand why some Tory mem­bers won­der just what this thing they sup­port re­ally is.

If the Liberals in­tro­duced an On­tario ver­sion of Bill 24, the only thing I can imag­ine Brown do­ing is supporting it and beg­ging his MPPs to keep sh­tum and do like­wise. (Frankly I’d be shocked if the Liberals didn’t do just that.) That might be the right thing to do, and it might be smart — per­haps smarter than the UCP has been. But it would speak vol­umes about just how much some mod­ern Cana­dian con­ser­va­tives fear their own shad­ows.

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