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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.

18 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. Ken:

    I felt a monumental shift last night. I tried to wrap my head around it, and came to this.

    If I was sitting in the members gallery last night, I would not have been able to participate in the discussion/debate. (OLD RULES).

    But using new technology, me and others created our OWN debate using Twitter hashtags and memes. Suddenly the MLA's had to get into the discussion, or risk being marginalized in the discussion.

    I don't think I have seen anything quite like it, and it simply can't be stopped.

    A truly disruptive event in our political traditions.

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  3. One final thought.

    The shift to new technologies and self-organized discussions can happen at such a rapid and dramatically exponential rate (all in real time), that my 1000 followers on Twitter can be influenced by me, but they would of course have 10,000 or 100,000 followers that can be influenced.

    Scary really considering we are only a few short years into this stuff.

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  4. Old and Busted, New Hotness.

    We'll see now what happens. But I'm tired, and not just from staying up most of the night.

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  5. Anonymous11:52 am

    Participation is so empowering. I hope the momentum created last night carries forward! Great write-up Ken!

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  6. Anonymous11:57 am

    Which MLA's are active on twitter?

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  7. Thanks Ken - my seatbelt is buckled but I have great hope and such respect and admiration for the political process and the dedicated elected officials who saw the evening through - even if I am unhappy with the results of the vote.
    ...Ellyn

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  8. As an old-media biddy, aged 44, I was enthralled by the Twitter dialogue that evolved last night. Because of family commitments, I couldnt' be a the leg. But I could follow the debate, via a live video stream, from my basement in my bathrobe. And I could take part in a real time, on-line meta-debate with political commentators, MLAs, and engaged citizens, as the action unfolded on the leg floor. There were people from the left, the right, the middle, using Twitter to debate free speech, religious rights, gay rights, the role of the mainstream press, and the necessity for loud division bells. It was organic, it was vital, it was fun.
    It was also the best evidence I've seen of the value of Twitter as a political and cultural forum. (Even the 140-character rule helped to ensure that no one could hog the floor -- it kept comments focused and relevant.)
    Thank you for letting an old-time media fart like me play in your new playground. (Though I'd like to point out that I am significantly younger than Ken Chapman.)

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  9. I am sorry to have missed this monumental event in the Twitterverse. Thank you, Ken, for your thoughtful and thought-provoking blog. With all of the important and time-sensitive issues facing our province and society I am disappointed to see so much energy being poured into Bill 44. It seems more about power and control than anything else. It's a step backwards and the whole of Canada (anyone who cares enough to pay attention) must be aghast. How does this legislation make Alberta a better place to live?

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  10. Well Said Paula.

    "There were people from the left, the right, the middle, using Twitter to debate free speech, religious rights, gay rights, the role of the mainstream press, and the necessity for loud division bells. It was organic, it was vital, it was fun.'

    Politics being fun is what I think the Government should take from this. Hopefully they don't clamp down on the Tweets from the Leg as it certainly makes me more interested in what they are doing.

    However they may not want that ;)

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  11. Bullocks. While I was on Twitter till 11 pm last night, I challenge you that it's as great as you say. If it was, where is the change? Where are the results? In reality, this "phenomenon" is not about everyday Albertans influencing government, it's more about tech-geeks and political junkies finding another fix.

    If you have evidence that Twitter and social media have done anything greater - especially in this province - I'd like to hear it.

    So far it seems like the back-bench MLAs that are on Twitter are more likely to spout party lines and expose their spinelessness than to take honest concerns to the government. You/we all are being used by them far more than we are using them (think about the directionless crap like Inspiring Education versus the lack of consultation on any of the major bills or budgets this session).

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  12. Ian - thx for the comment. Twitter is 2 years old and SM is only 5 if my memory serves. It has not changed Alberta politics yet - but I'm betting it will. Join the Netalution

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  13. In response to Ian's comments:

    I was up to 2 am last night listening to the MLAs and reading my fellow tweeters input and adding some of my own.

    I am not a techno geek or a political junkie. I am just jo(dy)-blow, common Albertan who recently joined Twitter to see what the fuss was about.

    I found the live interaction between Tweeters interesting and varied. From seasoned journalists to students who can't vote yet (but will soon, I hope).

    Canada needs to fight voter apathy and the silent majority syndrome and Twitter and Facebook offer a way to get involved but remain in your bathrobe in the basement at the same time (I like that image Paula). It also offers a way to voice one's thoughts without have to risk face to face hostility. As well, as another comment mentioned the 140 character limit helps to make sure the comments are concise and direct, no filibusters allowed.

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  14. Interesting, you exercise your right to freedom of speech through this website, yet you oppose parent's right of freedom of choice.

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  16. Socred - Parents have choice in the Alberta School Act now anbd there are lost of options open to them that continue. Bill 44 is not apbout parental choice. It is about chosing to let radical social conservatives to use a bad law to discriminate based on sexual orientation and to prosecute teachers at will. This is shameful in a progressive society like Alberta

    Bill 44 is about choice - it is about letting radical social conservatives choose to legally discriminate based on sexual orientation. Bill 44 empowers those same people to use Human Rigts process and the coruts to persecute teachers who they deem to have cross some moral line that they alone get to decide. This is shameful - especially since our government passed this "choice" into law.

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  17. Anonymous12:55 pm

    First question I have for you is that do you believe in the natural order of life? Whether it is animals, plants or any other form of life a true natural order is established for reproducing. Second question is do you believe that I have the right to belive in this natural order of life? Yes or No
    I can not believe in this society we are calling people radical that what to preserve this basic truth.(Scientific and natural truth)

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  18. Anon @12:55 - I don't have a clue what you are talking about when you say "a true natureal order is established for reproducing.

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