Saturday, May 16, 2009

ATA Brief on Bill #44 Exposes its Flaws

Here is the Alberta Teachers Association brief on Bill 44. It clarifies and outlines the practical problems for teachers from the offensive section 11.1. Thoise are the expanded and extended parental opting out provisions centred around religion, sexuality and sexual orientation being brought up in an Alberta classroom.

It is a well thought out brief and I agree with every thing in it. Full disclosure, I have done work for the ATA but I am not advising them on Bill 44.

I have read Hansard on the second reading debates on Bill 44. I am impressed by the grasp Liberals Harry Chase and Kent Hehr have on the issues and the implications. Education Minister Dave Hancock is clear in his analysis but I remain unconvinced that this legislation is necessary nor well advised for any reason whatsoever. I expect Hancock would rather see the deletion of section 11.1 but he is stuck defending it as a Cabinet Minister. I encourage you to read Minister Hancock's blog posts on Bill 44 as well.

Exposing teachers and quite possibly school trustees to expensive and intimidating potential legal processing before a Human Rights Tribunal by zealots and reactionaries is not dispelled by Ministers Hancock and Blackett expressing their personal beliefs that such situations would be unlikely to happen. The way Bill 44 reads now, there is an entitlement for a parent to file a complaint with the Human Rights Commission and seek redress before a Tribunal. Once a legal process starts, no one can predict what will happen, other than to say it will proceed and take its course. Precious little solice for the teaching profession and the poor teachers who will have to defend themselves in such circumstances.

Current policy has worked well for years and there is no sound public policy reason to change things. That makes one wonder why this provision is appearing in a government Bill other than bad politics is trumping good government. The additional opting out provisions provided in Bill 44 are not the same as in the School Act, regardless of how the Stelmach government tries to flog that mischaracterization. As for being symbolic, these changes are sure symbolic, but not of a satisfactory status quo and definitely not of the progressive plural and inclusive society that most Albertans aspire to.

As for Minister Blackett saying in recent media reports that it is too late to change the Bill. Horsefeathers. It is far from too late. I worked on an exemption for the nonprofit voluntary sector from the provisions of the Lobbyist Act last session. That exemption came out of the Bill by way a government member proposing the exemption by an amendment at third and final reading of the Bill. The amended Bill passed and the nonproft voluntary sector is exempt from the Lobbyist Act.

BTW, the government member who introduced the successful voluntary sector exemption amendment was the current Minister of Education, the Honourable Dave Hancock. It is not too late to withdraw the offensive section 11.1 of Bill 44 and failing that, it is obvious not to late to amend it either.

None of this will happen unless Albertans tell Premier Stelmach and all their local MLAs that they want Bill 44 changed so teachers can do their jobs appropriately and without fear. The Legislature is not sitting this week so your MLA is in the constituency. Drop by or drop them a note or an email and let them know you are unhappy with Bill 44 as it stands.