Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Bill 44 Debate Last Night Spawned Online Citizen Engagement and Will Change Alberta Politics

Something quite amazing things happened in Alberta politics yesterday. I saw some attempts to clarify some of the fuzzy language in Bill 44 even when the government said they would not bend. They tried to respond to the concerns of teachers and school trustees over a potential for a classroom chill as class conversations migrated and related to religion, sexuality or sexual orientation. The amendments proposed fail to clarify the situation and in my opinion, makes the situation worse. But the effort to adapt has to be acknowledged even if the Alberta government has to go back to the drawing board to get it right.

The fear from teachers and school trustees comes from the breadth and vagueness of those concepts of explicit religion, sexuality and sexual orientation. Bill 44 also that sets up a quasi-judicial process for complaints around parental exemption that will most likely be exploited some reactionary parents with a political/moral agenda looking for a test case to change public education away form secularism. Students, teachers and an excellent public education system will all be the victims if this new power and litigious process is provided to those activists in the fundamentalist fringe groups.

Those fundamentalist arch-conservative based political agendas are actively playing out in parts of the United States and are about to be imported into Alberta big time with the advent of Bill 44. The kind of public policy issues that Bill 44 provisions will effectively import into Alberta the tensions teaching evolution versus creationism. Bill 44 is about a homophobic faction in our society who we are arming with a process so they can use our public education system as a means of institutionalizing and normalizing discrimination in Alberta on the basis of sexual orientation. It is also about a values conflict in human sexuality about differing reproductive philosophies between the abstinence of Sarah Palin or the teaching human sexuality in context of imparting factual biological information and promoting personal reproductive responsibility and loving relationships...yes Dr. Morton, regardless of sexual orientation.

Reasonable Albertans are not the concern caused by the clumsy drafting of Bill 44. There are small and activist fundamentalist factions in our society who would take advantage of the potential for pushing litigation opportunities inherent in Alberta’s proposed new Human Rights Act. This would not be the first time Alberta became a discrimination test case on sexual orientation was litigated and the Alberta government lost. The very fact we are writing sexual orientation into the Alberta law is a result of a Supreme Court decision over 10 years ago in the Vriend case requiring Alberta could no longer discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. The next time it will not be the Government of Alberta who will have to defend itself, but some unfortunate teacher whose classroom will be turned into a test case.

Reassurances from some Progressive Conservative politicians that this is not their intent in Bill 44 and that they don’t believe it will happen are hollow assurances. Bill 44 is law making that imparts rights and imposes responsibilities about morals and values and gives access to the Courts for redress. It is not about simple symbolism or some benign rehash of the status quo. Bill 44 creates a new era in Alberta society – and not something we will be proud of either.

The other amazing political thing yesterday was the Bill 44 Committee of the Whole debate last night - that went on until about 4:30 a.m. Who says MLAs are not hard working! There were a flock of us Twitter-types watching and commenting online around the debate, in a vibrant cyber-community that included some MLAs. I went to bed at 2:00 am but some hardy on-line citizen souls stayed until the bitter end. Alberta’s Netizens found each other on Twitter last night as we gathered around the debates on Bill 44. There was a new realization that crystallized last night. That realization was that there is a new and effective political platform in which you can share, explore and exchange ideas with fellow citizens that is available on the Internet-and it is in real time. In fact the real time online experience went to 4:30 am along with our elected representative last night.

The Twitter exchanges were as respectful, wide ranging and probing as was the debate on the floor of the Legislature last night. A new citizen awareness and political engagement started to gel last night in Alberta. As a believer in participatory democracy and freedom of speech, I was delighted and reassured to see all that happen so spontaneously and spiritedly.

I expect the Netizen online opposition to Bill 44 to grow exponentially now and it will be amplified because the mainstream media was right there with us last night. The front page news coverage today on Bill 44 reinforces my point. I also expect the online opposition to Bill 44 to sustain itself and spread as the Progressive Netizens of Alberta emerge as an influential political counter force to those fundamentalists factions in our society.

Alberta politics changed last night. You had to be there to see it and to feel it. The Albertan Netizen genie is out of the bottle and it started a month ago with the passing of Genia Leskiw's Motion 503 on Grade 3 Provincial Achievement Test. That was where the real life Legislature debate was also an online concurrent Netizen debate. Online citizen engagement in politics and public policy is emerging and spreading as a new influential force in the future of Alberta.

Welcome to the next Alberta but buckle your seat belt - it is going to be a bumpy ride. Here's to the new trans-partisan Netizens of Alberta. May we boldly go, live long and prosper.