Kenney goes where many Tories won’t
Gay-straight alliance issue gets political
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.