Statement on Bill 24

Statement on Bill 24

Hon Jason Kenney

Leader, United Conservative Party

November 7, 2017

Our caucus has closely reviewed and extensively discussed Bill 24. We have done so with an open mind, focussed on one overriding question: what is in the best interests of children, especially kids at risk?

We strongly support efforts to make schools free from bullying, and to provide peer support, counselling, and safe spaces for kids who might be subject to bullying.

We believe that is especially true for students who are subject to bullying or prejudice because of their sexual identity.

We support Gay Straight Alliances, which became law with the unanimous support of MLAs from both of our legacy parties. We believe that these, and other anti-bullying peer groups, can be a useful way of supporting students going through difficult times.

We do not support, I repeat we do not support mandatory notification of parents regarding the involvement of students in GSAs.

And neither I nor anyone in our caucus has proposed  “outing” gay kids. To suggest otherwise is offensive and dishonest. It is the opposite of what I have actually said.

We believe that the vast majority of parents have unconditional love for their kids, and we acknowledge the research underscoring that parental support and involvement is one of the most important factors in supporting youth at risk, including sexual minority youth. This research has been recognized by some of the strongest GSA advocates themselves.

We also support the longstanding principles – enshrined in law -  that parents are the primary educators of children,  and that schools operate under legal authority delegated by parents.

We affirm the Universal Declaration of Human Rights’ recognition that “Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children,” and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights’ defence of “the liberty of parents… to ensure the moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions,” rights which were recently affirmed by the Supreme Court of Canada.

We believe that every child is unique, and that every circumstance faced by kids at risk is different.

We believe that highly trained educators are in a much better position than politicians to exercise their discretion on whether it is in the best interests of a child to engage parents.

That is why our caucus has come to a consensus to support students, parents and teachers by opposing Bill 24.

Teachers, not politicians, should decide when it makes sense to engage parents.

The unique circumstances of each child should be the key factor, not the blunt instrument of law.

This is especially true given that Bill 24 applies to five year olds in kindergarten, treating them the same way as it treats seventeen year olds in grade twelve.

That makes no sense.

Bill 24 would make it illegal to engage parents about certain school activities for children beginning in kindergarten, regardless of their individual circumstances.

What about children with developmental disabilities, or those who have suffered abuse or trauma, or have mental or emotional health challenges? Schools are to be legally barred from engaging parents, even if teachers, counsellors or principals deem it prudent to do so.

We are also concerned that the Bill undermines the longstanding legal obligation of schools to inform parents, and I quote here from Section 50 of the School Act:

“where courses of study, educational programs or instructional materials, or instruction or exercises, include subject-matter that deals primarily and explicitly with religion or human sexuality.”  (Section 50.1(1) of the School Act)

Bill 24 says this will no longer be the case with respect to educational activities associated with GSAs.

According to the Alberta Teachers Association Guide on GSAs, GSAs are not merely peer support groups, but also include “curriculum,” “schoolwide educational activities,” “political activities,” etc. 

In other words, the NDP is trying to do indirectly what it cannot do directly: that is teaching sensitive subjects that would normally require parental notification. Parents would be barred from knowing anything about the guest speakers, programs, or content being taught, a clear violation of the spirit of the School Act.

Bill 24 also concentrates enormous new powers in the hands of the Minister, undermining local decision making by principals, school boards, and independent schools. By doing the latter, the government is very likely setting itself up for costly Charter litigation by violating the 2015 decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in the Loyola High School case.

These powers are without precedent anywhere in Canada. Not even Ontario’s Liberal government, which has taken a very aggressive approach to these issues, has proposed anything like the powers in Bill 24.

The NDP has never proposed powers like this before.
 
They did not do so prior to the adoption of Bill 10.

They did not propose these powers as amendments to Bill 10.

They did not raise any of this in their election platform.

And they have governed for the past two and a half years without concern about teachers being able to engage parents when appropriate.

The only rationale they have offered is transparently cynical: as a political instrument to attack their partisan opponents, part of their desperate effort to talk about anything but their failed economic record. We aren’t going to let them get away with that.

So to recap:

-         The United Conservative Caucus supports Gay Straight Alliances and other peer support groups to help provide safe environments for youth at risk, including sexual minority youth

-         We support Bill 10

-         We oppose mandatory notification of parents of membership in GSAs

-         We absolutely oppose the notion of schools outing gay students

-         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

-         We believe that parents should continue to have the right to be informed of educational programs or materials that deal with human sexuality

-         We believe that it is wrong to treat young elementary school children the same way as teenagers in high school on sensitive matters

-         We believe in local decision making by principals and school boards, rather than constantly amassing new powers in the hands of one politician.

So, in other words, we support neither extreme of mandatory notification nor of a legal prohibition to parental engagement. We support the common-sense status quo, the same status quo the NDP has supported until this week.