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Monday, June 29, 2009

Is Bill 44 Already Reviving Some Old and Hateful Activitists

So the aggressive attitudes we feared would come out of passing Bill 44 are starting already. they are not just based on religion but attack "politically correct and pandering" to the legal acceptance of no allowing discrimination based on sexual orientation. Well known homophobe and pamphleteer Bill Whatcott has returned. Just Google him for some context. I am all for free speech and believe he has a right to say what ever he chooses, within the law. That is not my concern with these events.

This time he is delivering a flyer and targeting Alberta Minister of Government Services, Heather Klimchuk's constituency and labeling her as one who "panders to the media and celebrates homosexual pride" because she showed up and participated int eh Edmonton Pride Parade.

Minister Klimchuk was one of three Progressive Conservatives MLAs who were the first from the PC Party to participate in Edmonton's Gay Pride Parade a couple of weeks ago. Mr Whatcott is bemoaning that "...the Stelmach Tories felt they needed to send someone to Edmonton's shame parade to pander to the New Sodom." Wonder if he is also taking on the other two MLAs who participated in the Pride Parade, namely Doug Elniski and Fred Horne and distributing his flyers in their constituencies?

Politics is a blood sport played in public, without a net, and the rules are not always fair, as Doug Elniski has discovered as of late. Heather Klimchuk does not deserve this kind of abuse, nor does any other publicly elected office holder, but it comes with the territory. The members and organizers of the GLBT community can do without the revival of these old hatreds and stereotypes too.

The defenders of expanding and extending the opting out provision in Bill 44 into such broad areas of religion, human sexuality and sexual orientation and then piling on a Human Rights Act review and hearing process have tried to assure Albertans that this kind of thing would not happen because "Albertans are reasonable people." True enough, most of us are reasonable live-and-let-live people. But why did the Stelmach government take the enabling legislative step to empower and embolden the likes of Mr. Whatcott?

He is a well known reactionary Christian-values activists and at the extreme margins of the Christian community. His ilk can also undoubtedly be found in parents of school children who will be be just as inclined to target a teacher as professionals and private citizens. Teachers did not sign up for such terrorist type and targeting by fanatics. But the new opting out amendments to the Alberta Human Rights Act, that started out as the infamous Bill44, will no doubt embolden and empower those people to pursue their political purposes and agendas on the backs of Alberta's teachers.

This is going to be the stuff of good old-fashioned news to the MSM and the blogosphere. That is especially the case for the far right reactionary bloggers and those vile anonymous commentators we often get to "enjoy." The opting out laws masquerading as human rights and parental rights are ill conceived and so unnecessary. Nothing new needed to be done to secure and protect parental rights. The School Act provisions worked well for 20 years. Bill 44 was at best a solution looking for a problem. At its worst it is pure insider partisan appeasement politics beggaring a duty to provide good governance.

According to Mr. Whatcott, "Rather than stand on true principle, our so-called Conservative politicians prefer to pander to politically correct sexual perversion...." He then goes on to tell us why, in his opinion homosexuality is "physically harmful" complete with a graphic photo of anal warts which he says is an STD caused by homosexuality and "nothing to be proud of." Next he alleges homosexuality is "socially and mentally harmful" and lists suicide rates and says homosexuals are "overrepresented in child sex offenses." He offers no authority evidence or other forms of proof for his many allegations. He also denounces "bastions of homosexual tolerance like "posh corporations as the CBC, City of Toronto or Edmonton Police Force."

The spiritual harm of homosexuality is alleged to be evidenced by extensive quoting Biblical Scriptures. But he says there is "hope for homosexuals" again based on Christian forgiveness and Gods love of sinners. So the reactionaries are back, emboldened and about to wreck some havoc. This time is was a politician, Soon, I expect it will be some poor teacher who is just trying to do a professional job of educating our youth to enable them to live well and successfully in a diverse, complex and conflict riven world.

It is not to late to repeal those offensive opting out provisions of the Alberta Human Rights Act as the right thing to do as good governors and for the common good of society. To fail, refuse or neglect to fix this mess will undermine the essential social cohesion of Alberta and drive a values wedge into the rank and file of the PC Party too.

Sometimes certain politicians have to put away their "principles" and do the right thing, like repealing the offensive opting out sections of the revised Alberta Human Rights Act. As an aside, I will not be surprised if I am targeting by these folks for expressing my opinions on such matters. So be it. Free speech is not free because it requires vigilance and must be freely exercised, otherwise it will be lost. I look forward to your comments.

New Poll on Leadership in Alberta Says Stay Tuned.

I was talking to Mark Lisac of Insight Into government just last week on the lack of polling information on the performance of the Stelmach government and speculating why. We have seen some government polling released on the Branding exercise and on the reaction to the Budget but nothing on the government and leaders performance for quite some time. With all the changes going on in health and infrastructure, environment and the continuing crisis in social services I was wondering how well the government was doing in the court of public opinion.

It was good to see the Leger Marketing poll in the CanWest papers this morning. I wonder who commission the Leger poll. I presume it was CanWest but that is not clear. The Stelmach results are compared to poll results from February 2008 - a long time ago in political terms but the comparisons are valuable still the same.

Bottom line for Premier Stelmach - not much has changed with 41% Approval and 40% Disapproval ratings, even though the MSM say his "popularity take a hit." That is only true in the rural areas and all other differences from February 2008 are all within the margin of error and essentially the same today.

The province, Edmonton and Calgary are overall not significantly changed in 16 months. In fact the disapproval rating in Calgary is down 4 points. That minimal decease in Disapprovals has not translated into support in Calgary where he is done 1 point. The $3B taxpayer subsidy in the unraveling of the royalty regime in Alberta just to appease the Calgary energy sector suits has not bought Ed any respect in Cowtown. Edmonton is just the same as they were in February in their opinions of Stelmach with 48% Approving and 37% Disapproving of his performance.

However the Calgary suits may be modestly appeased with royalty cuts, Stelmach's rural Alberta base seems to be shifting away from him. The Stelmach Approval outside of Edmonton and Calgary is down 12 points to 40% from 52% in February 2008. His rural Disapproval rating is up 8% to 39%. That shift is significant. A rural grassroot crusade won Stelmach the PC leadership but if they are starting to abandon him to send a message of discontent. The PC powers that be are seem to be presuming that are going to the Wildrose Alliance.

You can see the politics in play here with the ill-conceived and ill-advised Bill 44 appeasement. the recent Legislative session had lots of political problems for rural Albertas from the land use to power transmission plans and new expanded powers for unilateral provincial powers to establish utility corridors. The recession is impacting small town Alberta hard as forestry, oil and gas, agriculture are all hit hard too.

The good news is Stelmach's worst enemy is likely himself and not the opposition. We don't have comparable February 2008 numbers for Mason and Swann but overall, Albertans are mostly indifferent to them as alternatives at this time with only a 22% Approval rating and larger Disapprovals in each case.

The more interesting data is the trend perceptions of the public's performance opinion of the leaders in the past year. Only 5% are saying they have a better opinion and 13% who don't know about the Stelmach leadership. We see the Stayed the Same and Worsened impression at 30% and 43% respectively. This is illustrative of the possibility of some sleeper issues capturing the public's perceptions.

Staying the same opinions in a recession could be interpreted as positive and worsening perceptions of governments and leaders are to be expected in a recession. However with the low overall approval rating to begin with a "stay the same" perception is not a blessing but a disguised disquiet that could blow up at any minute. Health care cuts and delisting services while Stelmach announces more royalty giveaways like the $3B to big oil to support natural gas drilling when there is already a glut on the market could be the political tinderbox waiting for a spark to inflame public opinion.

There are many more such examples but the point is that the people of Alberta are not happy and they are not sure if there is a coherent government policy strategy to deal with the real concerns they are facing. It has been almost 40 years of PC rule. Is the next tipping point for dramatic political change approaching? Beats me but the disquiet and discontent throughout in the province is crying for leadership. As the public looks around to see where that political and policy leadership is to come from they are coming up empty. That is typically a recipe for change but does that translate in Alberta? Who knows.

The poll was done with 900 random phone interviews between June18-21 with a margin of error of 3.3% so it is a pretty standard provincial sampling but the city and regional samples are smaller an have a 5.7% to 5.5% margin of error.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Anti-Bill 44 Buzz Building as School Ends

Last Wednesday I sent out the last blog post on the challenges ahead for the PC Party on a possible resolution debate on the repeal of the odious portions of Bill 44 now in the Alberta Human Rights Act. It has been generating a lot of buzz.


I was sent this YouTube link from a Follower on Twitter. It is very funny, sad and satirical with Hugh Laurie. It is very funny and a great spoof on what the Alberta public education system can expect to face from aggressive social conservatives with a political agenda. This will only happen once this Act is proclaimed and school starts again in the fall.


Hopefully the Stelmach government will delay proclamation of the contentious parts. Hopefully they will then reconsider and repeal the unnecessary and offensive sections in the next sitting of the Legislature.


I will soon be posting some letter excerpts from those social conservatives received by the ATA during the Bill 44 debates. They will not identify the writers form privacy reasons but they do indicate their intentions and political agendas and how they intend to pursue them at the personal expense of teachers and with the result of diluting the quality public education in Alberta.

BTW the Facebook group "Students Against Bill 44" membership exceeded 11,000 - as I predicted. I encourage you to get on Facebook and join this group to send the message to the Stelmach government that you too are against Bill 44. This issue is not going away and the political pressure will come back in the fall.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Rocky Road to the Repeal of Bill 44 Provisions in The Alberta Human Rights Act.

What is Next for Bill 44 Provision in Alberta Human Rights Act?
The frequency and volume of political commentary about passing The Alberta Human Rights Act (AHRA) that adopted the Bill 44 opting out provisions will diminish over the next few months. It is summer after all. The reality of the consequences of this ill-advised and ill-conceived law will come once the Act is proclaimed and becomes the actual law of the land.


There are some unrest and rumblings within the Progressive Conservative Party rank and file against Bill 44 provisions in the AHRA. I also hear some in the PC Party are trying to stifle and suppress any continuing talk about Bill 44, presuming it will be forgotten over time. I don't think that will be the case given the anger I have seen expressed over this bad politics and poor governance decision. That approached worked in a pre-Internet world but it will not work now.


There are a few moves afoot within some PC Party constituencies to submit a resolution for repeal of the opting out provisions for debate the AGM in November 2009. I am all for that and hope it happens but there are many hurdles to jump to make that a reality. Here is a sense of what it would take and what it would mean for the PC Party to debate the repeal of the opting out provisions of the AHRA at the next AGM.


The PC Party is not the PC Government.
First, if must be clearly understood that whatever the PC Party decides is not binding on the Stelmach government. The PC Party is just another political special interest group. It is not the government. I served on the PC Party Policy Committee for years but over a decade ago. I had a constant fight with the Reform/Alliance wing members who did not grasp the difference between the government and the policy proposals of the political party that supported it. Grassroots run deep with old-time Reformers.


Sometimes process is everything so here is how it works, as I understand it. I checked the process and it is essentially the same as in my day in dealing with Party Resolutions at AGMs. Here is a link to the PC Party website for the actual constituency resolution process, if you are interested.

The PC Party debates Resolutions at every AGM from submissions made by individual constituency organizations. Each constituency can submit two resolutions. The first one (the "A" Resolution) will always be debated. While the second one (the "B" Resolution) may not be debated because of time constraints. If there are duplicates of resolutions they are combined and only one is debated. Some resolutions are declined because the don't deal with provincial jurisdiction or they are too vague or too local in nature.


A group of Regional Directors and constituency level VPs of Policy, all as party volunteers, will do the vetting of the resolutions received. The A and B Resolutions are dealt with first come first served and up to 6 minutes of debate is provided for each one. Then any party member in the room can vote on the Resolution on a show of hands. Open transparent and fair to my mind.


Those Resolutions that get support from the membership are submitted to the government as information and advice. The government caucus then considers them and responds to the Party on each one, in writing. The government's responses range from agreement to disagreement and everything in between and often includes a reporting on the status and progress on resolutions and related issues.


Will the PC AGM Debate a Repeal Resolution?
So what will it take to get the AHRA provisions of Bill 44 to be debated as a Resolution at the November PC Party AGM? The first step is for a local party constituency organization to draft an appropriate proposed resolution and then decide as a local Board to submit it to the AGM.


That first step has already been done by the Edmonton Whitemud PC Constituency but there is a wrinkle. My information is the Bill 44 Repeal Resolution from Whitemud was a tie vote for second place - a "B" Resolution. The constituency apparently has decided to submit three resolutions rather than break the tie for the B resolution. It is an interesting development because the Repeal Resolution it will at best be a "B" Resolution and it risks not being debated due to time constraints. That has never happened in my experience in dealing with Party Resolutions, but it is a possibility, and in politics if it is possible anything can happen so nothing should surprise us.


Here are some interesting "What Ifs." What if in the initial Party vetting process they cull one of the two Whitemud B resolutions because only two Resolutions are allowed. Would the Bill 44 resolution be the one culled? The resolution vetting process could more likely send the two B resolutions back to Whitemud and require them to break the tie and will that happen or will they settle on only submitting an "A" Resolution?

If at the party organizational level, they decided to cull the only Repeal Resolution on such a technicality, I expect progressives in the PC Party would either revolt against the Party Executive or just leave the party. My money is on the Party going back to the Whitemud constituency and making them break the tie vote. So much uncertainty still prevails.


This could be avoided if another PC Constituency organization were to submit an "A" Resolution to recommend repeal of the AHRA opting out provisions. To date that has not happened but it might. I think it should happen for the sake of the PC Party itself but there appears to be some of nervous nellies who help run the party. They clearly want this to go away so all this Bill 44 controversy would just disappear somehow.


Some Serious Political Implications Around a Repeal Resolution
Here are some of the political implications for the PC Party, the PC government and progressive Albertans emerging from these various scenarios. If there is a Resolution for the Repeal of the AHRA opting out provisions debated at the AGM, and it passes, the Stelmach government can reconsider its policy and move to repeal the provisions. It can also say no, that is a done deal and they can refuse to reconsider. That is their option as our government but there will be repercussions in the PC Party and the PC government either way.


If such a Resolution is defeated by the PC Party membership then there will be soul searching in the progressive membership ranks of the PC Party considering if this party is still viable as their political "home." Who knows if or when that will happen. The party progressives I have talked to about Bill 44 know there is no other political party for them to go where they feel comfortable and believe they could be effective. The question then is will they join the other 60% of disengaged Albertans or pursue something different to express their political philosophy and aspirations for Alberta? Will the "Alberta Citizen Cynicism" party gets thousands more non-voters?


There are Implication for Progressives.
There is another more subtle but even more significant potential implication coming out of how the PC Party handles a Resolution to repeal AHRA opting out provisions. If they never received such a resolution from a constituency then local constituency ennui or angst against "rocking the boat" gets the Party off the hook. But that does not resolve the larger political issue, namely the anger amongst all the progressive Albertans who are still angry over the unnecessary Bill 44 optioning out provisions in the AHRA.

If no PC constituency organization has the courage and conviction to submit a repeal resolution for debate at the AGM I expect most progressive PC members will drift away from the party and be missing in action in the next election. The non-partisan Alberta progressives will decide to actively campaign against the PC Party in preparation for the next election. We are seeing the tip of that iceberg as evidenced in the wave of social media and traditional media commentary on the appropriateness of some recent personal comments made in public by Iris Evans and Doug Elniski. The PC Party and the PC government can expect more of this kind of scrutiny and aggressive response from now on - regardless of any AGM debate or its outcome.


If the Party receives a submission but tries to subvert the AGM debate of a repeal resolution I will expect to see progressive party members getting more vocal and deciding in droves to be no shows at the November AGM meeting. I can't see that subversion happening but it is politics and anything can happen. If it did happen I would be more disappointed than surprised. The likely unintended consequences are that the majority of PC party members who will "show up" at the AGM (and who will likely be encouraged to show up) will be those social conservatives on the far right of the party who tend to support Ted Morton.

There are Potential Implications for the Stelmach Leadership too.
Under those circumstances, a really significant political turn of events from the Bill 44 fiasco, that could happen at this November AGM. That is a potential threat to Premier Stelmach's continuing leadership of the PC Party. The PC Party Constitution requires that the Leader to face a confidence vote at the first AGM following an election - win or lose. That is how the Party sent a message to Ralph Klein that it was time for him to go a few years back. Ralph lingered as Leader, but the Party told him, in a vote of no uncertain terms, that he was past his best before date. He was gone!

PC Party Leader Ed Stelmach has to face a similar leadership confidence vote of party members at the November AGM.


What if the party "faithful" who show up at the AGM are predominantly social conservatives because they are emboldened by Bill 44? What if the the progressives stay home because the are discouraged by Bill 44? Could this be the "perfect storm" for the far right to give Premier Stelmach a low vote of support? What level of low support would seriously undermine his continuing leadership? What if his support is low enough, like Klein's 55% support? Will he have a backbench revolt of social conservatives that demand another leadership race? Will we be into a PC leadership contest for a new Alberta Premier sooner than we thought or even wished for? What will such uncertainty do to the Alberta economy and any recovery from the recession?


This is what can happen when internal partisan political expediency is preferred over good governance - like in the case of the Bill 44 fiasco. Bill 44 issues will be quiet over the summer but they will be front and centre again in the fall. Stay tuned. It promises to be interesting, unnerving, disappointing and even devastating, depending on your perspective.

It's Time for Rethinking and Reforming How Albertans Govern Themselves

I just read an interesting blog post by Sue Huff. She is a School Trustee with the Edmonton Public School Board and, obviously, a Blogger. She has just posted a thoughtful and practical piece on the controversy surrounding the recent comments by Minster Evans and MLA Doug Elniski. I really like her comments - because she agrees with my own views.


She ponders in her post about the impact these politicians who were "speaking their minds" will have on political discourse in our democracy. Will party discipline trump free speech? Will focus group tested safe messaging replace personal opinions of politicians? Will our governing class become incurious about new ideas? Will politicinas get spooked and become insecure in their values and beliefs? Will they respond by retreating to a political foetal position in the face of the realities of new media?


Sue Huff exemplifies the kind of leadership and trusteeship I was calling for in my paper presented to about 250 Alberta school trustees at the recent Alberta School Boards Association Summer General Meeting. In the paper entitled "A Contented Oyster Never Made a Pearl" I called up school School Trustees to take a leadership role in rethinking and reforming how we govern ourselves. She gets it and her recent blog post is all the proof you need to support that conclusion.


I think we need a more mature governance model in the face of Alberta's declining democracy. Sue makes a reinforcing point when she speaks about "The voting process in Alberta seems shallow to me; people vote for whoever showed up at their door, the party their family has always voted for, based on a 1/4 page flyer or the recommendation of a friend who is deemed 'up' on politics." We elect our governors. If we do a bad job in choosing who we grant our consent to govern us to, who is really to blame?


Citizens of Alberta have to re-imagine their place and what is accepted practice for politicans in our representative democracy. I applaud the kind of "unguarded" personal thoughts we have recently seen from two Alberta politcians. They have created forums for a broader and deeper discussion about Alberta society. For me it's all about free speech. I say use it wisely or lose it to mediocrity or mendacity!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Iris Evans Personal Comments Sparks a Public Debate About the Complexities of Raising Children - I Say Good For Her!

I have followed the debate sparked by the recent remarks of Iris Evans, Alberta’s Finance Minister about her view that the “proper” way to raise children is for one parent to stay at home. I am so pleased that the debate has been brought to the fore. It is a very important issue that deals with the responsibility we owe to children as parents, individuals, community and as government.

My bottom line politically is to value the fact that Iris Evan spoke her mind, clearly and with personal conviction. There is no other current Alberta politician who has done more for the plight of women and children, especially those at risk, than Iris Evans. She championed the project to raise awareness and work on prevention and treatment from domestic violence and bullying. She did this without the usual partisan political posturing. She focused on the issues and gathered the best people together to deal with the concerns – including men as victims of violence. I know because, full disclosure, I lead that portion of the project.

This issue of parenting and caring concerns are far from resolved and are at the basis for many conflicting personal values and societal duties. The trade offs of our various duties to children and to families and the conflicting needs of both parents to work t adequately provide for those children.

I don’t know the current numbers but there has been a significant increase in female participation in the workforce since the 50’s. The net result I recall in the decade 1979-1989 was a dramatic increase in females working outside the home but the net increase in household prosperity of those families merely increased 1% in that decade. Women’s workplace participation may have been personally and professionally satisfying but it did not do much to enhance the economic well being of the family. The increased taxes, inflation, cost of borrowing and other cost like childcare and transportation seems to have eaten up all the “additional” income.

I am not picking sides in the debate mostly because it is very personal and it is up to everyone have to make their own decisions about what is proper and practical. We all have a stake in this question of the care and nurturing, teaching and training of the children in our society too.

Is the Iris Evans approach the right one? I don’t think anyone would disagree – in a perfect world. However the word today is far from perfect. I am not wishing for the halcyon days of my youth when my stay at home mom and I could be supported comfortably on the wages of my Journeyman Electrician father – who almost always had a job in town and was home from work almost every night with the family.

I spent a couple of hours with Wallis Kendall from iHuman on Saturday on the Gun Sculpture Project we are working on together. He is the most engaged front line street level worker with the most dangerous and disadvantaged kids in our society. In discussion about Iris’ comments Wallis said, I work with lots of stay-at-home moms. The parent group he talked about is teenagers with children who were single parents, addicted but working on getting clean. They are uneducated, in poverty and mostly unemployable, especially in this recession because the jobs they are capable of doing simply disappear. But they are "stay at home" moms but hardly the optimal way to raise a family.

Wallis tells me they get their rent paid and they used to have to live on $600 per month to feed, cloth, diaper and deal with all transportation and other the care needs of themselves and their child, and find the hope and support to get past their addictions. Wallis tells me formula and diapers take up $230.00 a month. The Alberta support rates have being going down. Wallis told me now a mom in this situation with responsibility to provide care for two infants and herself now only receives $471 per month.

I tried to confirm these numbers online but without success so I rely on Wallis's knowledge of the supports situation. A proper way to raise a child may be for one parent to stay at home but that implies a whole bunch of other context and available family and community resources to make that a positive situation. The cost of living and the purchasing power of wages are way out of whack for the average family for this to be practical today.

Not only that we are squandering and becoming derelict in our duty to the next generation I the present way we deal with vulnerable and at risk kids, we are also chewing up the environment we will leave in the name of a false sense of short term progress and prosperity. We are also giving away our resource rents in a ridiculously low royalty rate and energy industry subsidies that perpetuate past sins that fragment the forest, destroy habitat, misuse water, spew unconscionable amounts of GHG into the atmosphere and fails to reclaim and restore old well sites, roadways and seismic lines. The lack of concern for inter generational equity in our current energy and economic policy is horrendous.

The energy sector is not the only problem. We all are in how we sprawl our cities, build our buildings and mindlessly use energy and pamper ourselves in our methods and modes of transportation. I think I have illustrated already the insufficient concern we show as a society for the weakest, most vulnerable and least capable in our society. We blame the government as if we are somehow not responsible for the consequences of how we voted or if we did not vote.

All these things tie together and inter-relate. One thing for sure, on a dais giving a speech at the Empire Club in Toronto, one Alberta Minister let her personal views and values about how to properly raise a family show clearly and concisely. Agree or disagree with her as you will but at least we have a politician expressing a personal opinion about a serious social public policy matter in a way that gets people thinking and talking. That does not happen enough in mature and pathetically passive democracies like Alberta.

Criticize her position if you choose. But at least for a few moments, seriously consider the concern, the context and the consequences of her comments. Then come to your own considered opinion based on your values and capabilities to do the right thing for your children, your family and yes – your community too. When it comes to raising kids “properly” it takes at least a viable village and a viable family with capable parents. We are all in this together; alone!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Twitter, Timezones and Terror in Iran

There are people all over the planet following the events in Iran on Twitter using #iranelection and #gr88 hashtags as a search tool. The pictures and video the Iranian Twitterers are able to get out of the country is truly amazing - especially under the dangerous circumstances they are in. The current theocracy is trying to shut down all media and communications out of Iran by blocking the Internet and bloggers plus the usual expulsion of the international media.

There are reports that media and bloggers are being arrested by Iranian military and a number of people have been killed in the streets by the military crackdown too. The next steps, taken last night, was for the military to mark the doors of the Tehran homes of suspected supporters of the rebellion. The Twitterverse was full of information about this targeting and distributed instructions on how to remove the door markings. Realizing how difficult it was to remove the door markings the follow up tweets was suggesting that ALL residential doors in the city. Don't know what the final result was but this is an example of how command and control centralized governments are being neutered by the dynamics of horizontal decentralized networks of engaged citizens.

Iran has an enormous and active blogging community, with Farsi being the 4th ranked language in the blogosphere. Not really surprising when you realize that 50% of the population of Iran is 30 years old or younger. Tough to imagine how arresting some bloggers will stop the rest. It will most likely embolden the rest to find ways to get the stories of the military crackdown and brutality out of Iran.

Twitter is still working well at getting the word out and informing the world about what is going on in the streets of Iran. It is also being used by Iranian officials posting tweets as a countervailing force using misinformation tweets. There are reports that the Iranian "government" is now targeting citizens who are on Twitter as part of the crackdown and retaliation against the dissidents and demonstrators. The Iranian "government" is using the timezone portion of the Twitter profiles of members to find these people who are using Twitter to thwart the communications clampdown the authorities are trying to impose.

The Twitterverse response to this targeting of Iranian dissidents is to ask the millions of the rest of us Twitter-types t0 change our profiles to the Tehran timezone so it will be more difficult to find the true Iranian Twitterers. I change my profile 10 minutes ago and encourage every one else on Twitter to do the same.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Musings and Misgivings About Being a Progressive Albertan

I have been getting a lot of emails from readers asking why I have not been posting this last week and why I have not posted anything about the Iris Evans comments about preferred parenting at the Empire Club in Toronto last week.

Well, as for the first question, I have been out of town working on a major project that captures my imagination so I have not been in a blogging head space. As for the second issue, I have been mulling about the Iris Evans comments on preferred parenting and will do a blog post late tomorrow on it. My working title is "Deconstructing Iris." What do you think?

I am also working on a major blog post on the recent vote in the Whitemud PC constituency to forward a resolution to the PC Party Executive to have a debate on repealing the opting out provisions of what was Bill 44 and now the new Alberta Human Rights Act at the party AGM in November. This is a very positive development but the reactionary social conservatives and partisan panderers in the Alberta PC Party could push this issue off the Progressive Conservative political agenda for the November AGM pretty easily if only it is only the Whitemud that has any balls.

As for the gratuitous advice from former Premier Ralph Klein on how to mishandle the Alberta economy by the mindless mathematics of across the board cuts, I think the less said about his approach to governance in Alberta the better.

I will be active re-engaged and posting plenty next week. Stay tuned.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Alberta Progressive Conservative MLAs Show Up for the First Time at Pride Parade

Thanks Daveberta for the pictures of politicians participating in the Edmonton Pride Parade. The very first time Progressive Conservative MLAs showed up. I know it is not good enough for many in the GLBT community for an MLA to show up at a Pride Parade but still vote for or not show up for the vote on Bill 44 - unless of course they actually believe it is good and appropriate law. It is encouraging to me, as a member of the Progressive Conservative Party who is opposed to Bill 44 opting out provisions, to see some of the PC Caucus "coming out" at least in this symbolic way.

I sense there is some continuing disquiet and perhaps dissension in the PC ranks over the ill-advised and socially harmful effects of extending and expanding parental rights. There has been no sound public policy reason given by the Stelmach government for passing a law to change a policy that has been in the School Act and working well for over 20 years. The only reasons given relate to some internal party politics to appease social conservatives in the PC Caucus.

The government's efforts to try and sell this kind of discrimination as protecting parental rights is misleading at best. Parental rights to opt out their kids from religious and human sexuality instruction within the school curriculum has been protected in Alberta for decades. It was not broke and did not need any socially destructive and retrograde fixing as Bill 44 has done.

So, here is a tip of my hat to my MLA Heather Klimchuk, and to Edmonton MLAs, Fred Horn and Doug Elniski. I say thanks for making this personal political statement by showing up at the Edmonton Pride Parade. I know it is too little too late for some, and they may be right but I think the political impact of Bill 44 is far from over. These PC MLAs, who showed up as the first Conservative MLAs to participate in the Edmonton Pride Parade, will help keep the concern over Bill 44 alive in the public and media mind. It will continue to fester in the minds of many Albertans. It has the potential to divide the PC Party itself on some fundamental principles of human rights and mutual respect. Ideally the Pride Parade attendance of Klimchuk, Horn and Elniski will continue to feed the public conversation about what kind of society Alberta is and what we aspire to become. I hope Albertans continue to consider if Bill 44 get us closer to or farther away from those societal goals and our greater aspirations.

Will the presence of the PC Pride Parade Trio make a difference within the PC Caucus and the PC Party? Perhaps, but only if progressive members in the PC Party continue the conversation at the constituency level and at the forthcoming AGM in November. Will they personally continue to press the other MLAs in Caucus and the Premier's office to repeal the Bill 44 opting out provisions, or at the very least not Proclaim them?

If progressives merely grumble under their breath and fail to take a stand, there are other questions that will have to be asked. Do the progressives still feel they still have a place in the PC Party post-Bill 44? Have they already moved on and left the PC Party? Or are they merely being compliant in this political exercise that is Bill 44 that normalizes and perpetuates a certain kind of discrimination in Alberta.

Nothing in the opting out provisions of Bill 44 serve the greater good. They sure do embolden reactionary social conservatives who are gearing up to press their social conservative political agenda with the new legal tools they can use against teachers and trustees. Those new legal tools at there thanks to Bill 44 which has created them.

The continuing political debate about the wisdom and necessity of Bill 44 now moves from the floor of the Legislature into the public sphere and into rank and file of the PC Party. The power structure in the Party wants to keep the Bill 44 controversy quiet and hope that it will "go away" by relying on the short memory of the Alberta voter to forget about it. Complacency and compliance amongst progressives in the PC Party, who chose to be quiet about their concerns over Bill 44, is what will allow a bad law to endure and be swept under the public policy carpet. That is no way to govern a province. We will soon know if there is any progressive character left in the PC Party - or not.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Poll Shows Carbon Tax Support Growing in Canada

Following up yesterdays post on the video of Michael Adam's remarks at the "Decoding Carbon Pricing" a global warming conference in Vancouver, the Environics poll he referenced is posted. It is part of their "Canadian Environmental Barometer" that they do monthly.

B.C. already has a carbon tax and Alberta has a de facto carbon tax of $15/tonne on heavy emitters but it is intensity based which does not reduce carbon in absolute terms. The Harper Conservatives have recently come forward and are suggesting a Cap and Trade model response to carbon emissions. I personally prefer a tax for reasons I will explore in subsequent posts.

Here is what the Environics poll found about attitudes towards a carbon tax. First B.C. residents initially and pre-recession, were supportive of a carbon tax with 54% Strongly or somewhat support for the tax. That combined support dropped to 40% in July 2008 as the recession was upon us, even though Harper was denying the fact. In May 2009 the B.C. combine support is back to 48% for this example of Premier Campbell leadership on climate change.

The support for a carbon tax in the rest of Canada is approaching 50% as of May 2009. The more interesting poll results are from Alberta and Saskatchewan, the home of oil sands a.k.a. "dirty oil" where support for a carbon tax is growing. In Alberta the Feb 08 combined support was 38% and 57% opposed. By July 08 support had fallen to 27% with opposition growing to 69%. Now the Alberta numbers are 44% in support with 53% opposed. The remarkable jump in Alberta support is 17% in less than a year and the recession is not over yet.

Saskatchewan has gone from an early supprrt of 42%, dropping to 29% and rebounding to 42% now.

I can do no better than Environics VP Keith Neuman who is quoted as saying "this latest survey demonstrates that it is premature to 'write off' carbon taxes as a failed climate change policy in Canada."

Harper is touting Cap and Trade in anticipation of a pending election - my betting in is a Nov 9/09 election BTW. I wonder if Harper is picking the right option for fighting climate change given this shift in sentiment about a carbon tax alternative. Keith Newman again: "Taxes of any kind will never be vote-winners, but the outcome of the recent B.B. provincial election validates Premier Gordon Campbell's decision to stick with a tax-based approach to fighting climate change in the face of serious opposition."

Will any federal party, other than the Greens, will have the courage and character to advocate for a carbon tax as policy in the next federal election? I wonder if this poll result will at least get the parties re-thinking their positions.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Michael Adams Talks Carbon Tax and New Governance

Michael Adams of Environics has new poll that shows support for a carbon tax is up 10% in BC since their election. Apparently support for a carbon tax is up across the country too. I am going to ask Michael for the data and blog on the results in more detail.


A carbon tax is such a better alternative to the Harper or Obama Cap&Trade concepts.


Here is a video of Michael speaking at a global warming conference in Vancouver earlier this week. Except for the info on support for carbon tax he is giving the same message I gave to School Trustees and ATA leaders last week.


The sound isn't so good but the content of Michael's presentation is awesome.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

"The Earth Needs a New Operating System"



Here is a link to a website that carried Paul Hawken's Commencement Address to the Class of 2009 at the University of Portland. It is practical, and poetic and ponderful and all at the same time. I recommend that you read it. I guarantee it will engage you....

OK so "ponderful" is not a word, but after reading Hawken's address, it should be.

(Hat tip to @Parker Hogan, @AllieW and @Mike Soron for the lead to the link)

Alberta's Guide to Education is More Enlightened Than Bill 44

The ATA is responding with advice to teachers on what to do in the face of a Bill 44 complaint against them.

I love the excerpt from the Alberta "Guide to Education" they posted in this notice. It says:

"Studying controversial issues is important in preparing students to participate responsibly in a democratic society. Such study provides opportunities to develop the ability to think clearly, to reason logically, to open-mindedness and respectfully examine different points of view and to make sound judgements ....Controversial issues that have been anticipated by the teacher, and those that may arise incidentally during instruction,should be used by the teacher to promote critical inquiry and/or to teach thinking skills."

Isn't that a better world view of the kind of province we want Alberta to be? Doesn't this offer a more mature and inclusive society than the narrow-minded, institutionalized ignorance model of public education being promoted and defended by the Stelmach government in Bill 44 and now being entrenched in our so-called "Human Rights Act?"

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

The Day the Media Died

Here is a video that will amuse and bemuse you. It is clever, creative and perhaps more prescient than we would like it to be. It is about the demise of mainstream media advertising in the face of the Internet. The times are a-changin'. Word of mouth and the means tom make it happen in social media is an amazing shift that is just starting to resonate. Who knows where this will all end up!

Students in Medicine Hat Demonstrate Against Bill 44


The political fallout of Bill 44 continues and the opposition to it's darkness and danger grows. In the immortal words of Buffalo Springfield, "Something's happening here. What it is ain't exactly clear. Think it's time we stop, Hey what's that sound, Everybody look what's going down."


Well in Medicine Hat yesterday the "sound" about Bill 44 from 200 high school students was silence. A group of students from Crescent Heights High School in Medicine Hat acted as engaged citizens yesterday. They staged a protest by taping up their mouths with the message "I've been silenced by Bill 44." They are right at so many levels. The really cool thing is that a group of high school students get it about their role and responsibility as citizens. They are showing the rest of Alberta, by this protest, that we have to dust off our citizenship and re-engage in the political and public policy culture of our society.


Once again we see the power of social media in gathering like-minded people into a community to make their voices heard. Daniel Jessome and Dylan Beyak started a Facebook group and put up posters around the school about the protest. There is a very powerful Facebook group "Student Against Bill 44" that has over 7100 members as I write this. It started just 10 days ago encourage you to join.


These students rightly fear that their teachers "...will start holding back in class for fear of being hauled up in front of a human rights tribunal." They get it when they say "It's going to affect our education, because we're not going to have those sporadic discussions in class anymore." "If we can't talk about the issues of today, how are we supposed to learn anything" is another accurate observation by these student leaders.


Congratulations to the students of Crescent Heights High School in Medicine Hat. You are right. Your freedom of speech has been diminished by the backward thinking that is the basis of Bill 44. Your actions speak louder than your words ;-) Thanks for showing up and not opting out. You set a good example for the elected representative that form your government. Keep up the good work!

Monday, June 08, 2009

Lougheed Confirms Albertans Own the Oilsands But Says We Better Start Acting Like Owners.

With all the turmoil going on in the world - and in my province of Alberta in particular, to read the top Editorial from this morning's Globe and Mail was a gift of clarity and common sense.

Former Alberta Premier, Peter Lougheed cuts through the fog and frustration and states the fundamental truth for Albertans. That is that the citizens of Alberta are owners of the oilsands - not the energy industry. The energy industry companies who are developing the resource are welcome as tenants but only as tenants. This issue of Albertans needing to act like owners of the oilsands was the key message coming from the Royalty Review Panel Report last year as well.

The old-boys back-channel industry model of dealing with and influencing government is over and that will be confirmed this November when the Lobbyist Act finally get Proclaimed into law. The government has to rethink its mindset around oilsands too. It has pandered and capitulated to the industry demands on royalties and taxes and subsidies for generations but as the proxy holders for citizens, the government has to remember whose best interests they are supposed represent.

Shareholder interests can no long trump the interests of Albertans. If certain energy companies wants to leave, the resource is not going away. Others will come to replace them. We know there is lots of international interest to invest in Alberta's oilsands. the big selling features are that we have a know and enormous proven oilsands resource. We have a stable government with the rule of law, a strong investment climate and reasonable accountability controls and no corruption. We have the best proximity of any oil supplier to the largest energy market on the planet and an international treaty with that customer to provide some certainty in the marketplace.

The energy industry is in turmoil too, given the recession, restricted access to capital, volatile commodity prices and issues around cost control and royalties. I haven't even begun to talk about the new environmental standards they will face in the immediate future as we get into a post-Kyoto world soon to be emerging out of the Copenhagen Climate Change meetings come December.

Lougheed says Albertans, as owners, need to insist on a more "orderly development" as we come out of this recession. That means one project at a time to reduce costs, contain inflation and allow for adaptations for environmental and social impacts of oilsands development. Lougheed also says oilsands upgrading has to happen in Alberta, something we at Cambridge Strategies have been advocating as well.

Lougheed says Albertans also need to expand our oilsands markets into Asia and not just depend on the US market. This is another issue we at Cambridge Strategies have been pushing and actively working on. You can review the Cambridge Strategies work in our Economic Outlook 2009. We also have called for the GOA to invest in a merchantile upgrader in our recent Budget Analysis.

Lougheed laments that previous calls for a more sustainable and focused development of the oilsands "...have mostly fallen on deaf ears." The Editorial goes further to the heart of the matter stating: "There has been an unwillingness of the Alberta government, and not enough pressure from the public, to exercise greater restraint."

The old-boys of the energy sector have effectively convinced themselves that the new Royalty Regime is the NEP of the 21st century. They have vilified the Alberta government in the process. Both the industry and the government seems to have forgotten who really call the shots here, the Alberta citizenry as the owners of the resource. The attitude in the pubic is that both industry and government have forgotten their place and have lost their way in the need to create a responsible, reasonable and sustainable oilsands development approach.

The close of the Editorial is what was the most encouraging comment for a Monday morning. It goes to the governance of Alberta and to the roles and responsiblity of Albertans as owners of our natrual resources. Will Albertans take back the power of politicla governance and exercie their proper proprietray ownership obligations in the oilsands? Lougheed is hoepful and so am I.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Why Not Ask Bill 44 No-Show MLAs How They Would Have Voted

Edmonton Public School Board Trustee Sue Huff posted a list on her blog of the MLAs who did not show up for the Third Reading of Bill 44. It is an interesting grouping.

The question is why did they not show up? It was a "free vote" or was it? Was Bill 44 a matter for personal conscience or not? Was it just easier to duck out of the vote and go along to get along? How would they have voted had they been able or bothered enough to show up?

Since it was a free vote, would it be too much to ask of those MLAs who failed, refused or neglected to vote why they did not vote? Would it be too much to ask how they would have voted had they not been missing in action on this controversial Bill?

We elect people in a democracy to represent us but that will always be tempered by their own world view and personal beliefs and party discipline. I am fine, to a point. But when we have the Premier saying there is a free vote on Bill 44 and some MLAs don't show up to vote, that means we citizens can legitimately ask some questions of those MLAs. Most critical for we citizens it to know how and understand why they would have voted if they had been able or bothered to vote.

If your MLA did not vote and you are also curious about these questions, why not drop your MLA an email and ask why they didn't vote and if they were there to vote how they would have voted. I think that is vital information for progressives, especially those of us in the PC Party, to know and understand.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

The Whitemud PC Assn Constituency Resolution Seeks to Repeal Human Rights Act on Opting Out.

I understand this is the wording of the proposed Bill 44 Resolution wording that the Edmonton Whitemud Progressive Conservative constituency Board is considering:


Whereas on of the primary goals of public education is to expose students to a wide variety of issues and beliefs with the goal of creating a tolerant, multicultural, open-minded society;

Whereas the majority of Albertans do not want teachers to be put in the position of defending themselves for discussing sexual orientation, sexuality or religion in the classroom before quasi-judicial hearing of the Human Rights Commission;

Whereas there is a strong likelihood of potential increased costs to the province for future appeals of the parental rights provisions;

Therefore be it resolved that:

The Government of Alberta introduce an amendment to the Human Rights Citizenship and Multiculturalism Act to remove Section 9 from Bill 44, the clause referring to subject matter that deals primarily and explicitly with religion, sexuality or sexual orientation

And be it further resolved that:

The Government of Alberta reconsider dealing with this matter under the School Act.

If this is the wording it needs to be changed to reference the removal of the relevant sections of the new Human Rights Act since Bill 44 has been passed. This old Bill 44 reference is over now since is has third reading ans Royal Assent but not Proclamation as I write this. That is technical stuff that a lawyer will pick up on quickly.

More to the point this is a resolution that calls for the repeal of the offensive "parental opting out" provisions in the Human Rights Act that puts teachers at risk of incurring expensive and protracted legal processes that will be difficult to prove one way or the other with the fuzzy wording of the Act. This is an important matter and good to see it described in plain language.

The second important part of this proposed Resolution is that it acknowledges there is a place and need for parental involvement in the education of their children, ideally in partnership with teachers, school administration and school boards. The proper place for that parental engagement is through the School Act and this Resolution states that in plain language once again.

Well done to those on the Executive Committee who drafted this. I now hope they can garner the support of the rest of the Board to put the Resolution before the Progressive Conservative Party to vote on at its Annual General Meeting in November. I also hope this initiative by Whitemud encourages other PC Constituency organizations to pass such a resolution so the debates on the issues emerging from Bill 44 can finally get a form of public discussion, at least within the PC Party as a place to start.

Stay tuned Alberta the fallout form Bill 44 is not over yet - not by a long shot. I hope other PC Constituencies are thinking of joining in to influence the Stelmach government to change it tune and change the new Human Rights Act. accordingly.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Will the PC Party Pursue the Repeal of Bill 44 Opting-Out Provisions?


It is a dreary rainy Friday afternoon in Edmonton but a ray of public policy sunshine is coming through. Yesterday there was the start of a move within the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta to repeal the opting-out portions of what was Bill 44. It is now the Alberta Human Rights Act since Third Reading early Tuesday morning and it received Royal Assent on June 4th. It is not law until it is Proclaimed but that can happen at any Cabinet Meeting.

The political fallout of the Progressive Conservative government passing this ill-conceived poorly drafted and socially destructive law has not gone unnoticed, including by some other progressives in the Progressive Conservative Party - at least at the local constituency level. The Whitemud Constituency Executive are taking a recommendation to the Board in mid June seeking approval that they present a Resolution to the PC Party AGM in November to deal with the offensive provisions of Bill 44, now the Alberta Human Rights Act.

I understand the Resolution will be intended to deal with the parental opting out provisions of the Human Right Act that focus on education and teaching issues religion, human sexuality and sexual orientation. This Bill was a solution looking for a problem. The School Act had opting out provisions that worked well for 20 years. These options did not need to be expanded and extended into the Human Rights complaint and litigation process against teachers and school trustees. But the Stelmach government in its "wisdom" has done just that...and without any consultation or even advanced notice to anyone involved. Breathtakingly bad governance in a modern and mature representative democracy.

I was at the Edmonton Glenora PC Constituency meeting last night and they decided to do a Policy Resolution to the November AGM as well. I suggested a repeal of the opting out provisions. What will happen in Glenora is three proposed resolutions will be presented to the Board and the one receiving the most votes will go forward for consideration at the AGM. That will be an interesting exercise in local level political party democracy. I will keep you posted.

These Resolutions from the Progressive Conservative Party membership are not binding on the government. They are merely advice and input just like any other special interest group. Sometimes the advice is the result of a collective wisdom. Sometimes it is just pooled Ignorance. One thing for sure the Bill 44 fiasco has legs and it is not going away!

I ran into a former Party President at lunch who has been asked to supervise the PC Party Leadership Confidence vote at the November AGM too. This vote is a Party constitutional provision and happens after every election. It was how the PC Party dumped Premier Klein when he hung on too long after the 2004 election.

Bill 44 is far from over. The political fallout is just beginning to be felt. The Letters to the Editor in the newspapers and the editorial commentary is still coming in. The legal fallout will have to wait for the Human Rights Act to be Proclaimed and who knows when that will happen. Time for citizens, and especially political party members, to take back their political power and to once again participate in the public policy culture of their society.

Opting out of citizenship due to cynicism and skepticism is creating a "silent majority" in the minds of certain politicians. They are hiding behind this veneer of presumed public will and support for Bill 44 by presuming silence entitles them to legalize ignorance and intolerance around religion, human sexuality and sexual orientation.

The world is run by those who show up - not by those who opt out.


Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Alberta School Trustees Seething Mad About Bill 44

I spent yesterday with over 250 Alberta School Trustees discussing matters of governance in public education. It was more than a might ironic given the government of Alberta imposed closure the night before on Bill 44 in the face of enormous opposition from teachers, trustees, superintendents, parents and students.


My message to Schools Trustees was that they lost political power a long time ago. What they have now is political influence, just like the rest of us. Since they are still elected they have more political authority than the rest of us. The role they play in promoting, protecting and preserving our public education system gives school trustees a real reason and a duty to reach out to the disengaged and cynical citizenry on public education issues. It is hard not to see how public education does not have a connection to just about any issue in society today.


School Trustees are the lowest order of elected governance we have. They are the Rodney Dangerfields of Alberta democracy. They are also persons elected by local communities and we entrust the education of our kids and future generations to their care. They are elected as individuals and not hampered by partisanship. People can relate to them easier and more openly but the problem is nobody knows who they are.


We have a serious and growing democratic deficit in Alberta. It will only get worse unless citizens take back their responsibility to participate in the political life of our province. My message to School Trustees was they are the closest to the people in their communities BUT they have to reach out and join the communities, not wait for them to come or expect them to come to the school system.

As a practical example of what I am talking about, here is a link to one of Sue Huff's blog posts on the passing of Bill 44. Sue is a first term Trustee in the Edmonton Public School Board. She was not in Red Deer this week but I will be sure she get a copy of my remarks.

The way to do this is by engaging in conversations in real life and on the Internet, using social media. I showed them some social media sites and put them in some context about how to use them to create and participate in personal and group conversations about meaningful issues to citizens. This it their role to help get Albertans to return and take up the role of citizen at the centre of our "democratic" society.

Bill 44 is the catalyst to regain the energy for public policy and political participation in Alberta. School Trustees are the best positioned to help influence individuals and communities to re-engage in civic life and to take back the political power that is at the core of our democratic system. I hope they earn the respect of their constituents, friends and neighbours. They deserve it but it will not come to them. They have to go out and get it and show the rest of us what a responsible, resilient and respectful democracy is again.

As Red Green would say "Get your stick on the ice. I am pulling for you."

Monday, June 01, 2009

Bill 44: Bad Policy Becomes Bad Law in the Name of Human Rights

As Bill 44 goes into Third Reading, it is being framed by its proponents as a law that is needed to protect and promote parents “rights” to be primarily responsible for the education of their children. Those who oppose Bill 44 are somehow presumed to be in opposition to that principle. That is not true. I think those who are promoting this Bill are intentional mis-framing the core issues of Bill 44. They are doing this to deflect attention from the serious shortcomings and legitimate concerns about Bill 44.

Bill 44 is not all bad. It proposes to specifically identify legal protections from discrimination based on sexual orientation. No one I know who opposes Bill 44 does so for that reason. Disallowing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is the law of the land. Alberta is finally getting around to writing in that reality in this proposed Alberta Human Rights Act. No one in know who opposes Bill 44 does so for reasons relating to the appropriate roles and responsibility of parents in the education of their children in the Alberta public education system.

There has always been a home and school partnership relationship in Alberta’s public education system It is well recognized in the Alberta School Act. The Preamble of the School Act says: “WHEREAS parents have a right and a responsibility to make decisions respecting the education of their children.” That covers the parental side of the public education partnership. This part of the Preamble covers the education community side of the partnership. It says: “WHEREAS the education community in making decision should consider the diverse nature and heritage of society in Alberta within the context of its common values and beliefs.”

Here is why the opting out provision of Bill 44 is unnecessary. Section 50 of the School Act put the discretion in a School Board to prescribe religious instruction, religious exercises, patriotic instruction, and patriotic exercises. The Act provides for a written request from a parent to exclude their children from any or all of these discretionary instructions or exercises. Sexuality exclusions are not in the Act but are dealt with effectively in Department of Education policy and procedures.

Given this historical, successful and practical partnership approach inherent in the School Act, why does the Government of Alberta feel the need to set up another quasi-judicial legalistic and possibly adversarial process? Bill 44 proposes provisions that are not about discretionary religious instruction and exercises. The new parental opt-out provisions are not about religious instruction or exercises, but about religion itself. That is a much broader and more imprecise concept than “religious instruction and exercises” provided in the School Act.

Sexuality is specifically added into the proposed Human Rights Act and recent amendments clarified that to mean “human sexuality” for purposes of clarity. Interestingly, “sexual orientation,” is a new parental opt-out option being added in the new Human Rights Act. One would think that human sexuality would include sexual orientation, but it has been singled out as a distinctly offensive opting out issue for parents. Any fair-minded and progressive Albertans has to ask themselves why sexual orientation has been singled out. There is not obvious positive public policy answer.

Nobody disputes that Alberta parents have a say and can participate in the education of their child in our public education system. Educators only wish more of them took up this as an obligation. That said, what is the advantage of elevating this parental privilege to opt-out their children’s from religious and patriotic instruction and exercise to the level of creating a human rights claim? Bill 44 elevates parental participation and provides a litigation process for remedying alleged breaches of law that can be used against their child’s teacher and perhaps, school trustees. No legislator has yet to offer a satisfactory explanation as to why this is being done.

The School Act Preamble also says: “WHEREAS the best educational interests of the student are the paramount considerations in the exercise of any authority under this Act.” That “authority” rightly rests jointly with the schools and the parents. To replace such a sound concept of collaborative common cause between home and school with an adversarial and litigious process based on seeking damages for alleged breaches does not serve “…the best educational interests of the student.” Bill 44 undermines the very spirit and intent of public education in Alberta.

There are other damaging elements in enabling a legal process to replace a common cause approaches in our public education system. The language in Bill 44 is extremely vague and difficult to define given the shared learning context of a typical classroom discussion. In trying to clarify the intent of the new opting out provisions on religion, human sexuality and sexual orientation the law makers introduced some amendments. Something they said they would not do only a week earlier. The language has moved from “subject-matter that deals explicitly” to “subject-matter that deals primarily and explicitly” with religion, human sexuality and sexual orientation. And we are told this amendment is for purposes of clarity? As a lawyer and as a public policy consultant, I think these amendments fail miserably at providing clarity. It looks effective on its face, but how will it work and what does it mean in real life?

What is the standard test to use by a teacher to determine when they are at the stage of “primarily and explicitly” when class discussions start dealing with “subject- matter that deals” with “religion, human sexuality and sexual orientation?” It is this kind of intentional obfuscation in law making that drives these issues to the courts, often because of a politically intentional lack of clarity. We need the laws to say what they mean and our lawmakers to mean what they say in our statutes. We need our politicians to make laws for our greater good that are as clear, precise and in language as plain as possible.

How does a teacher know where to draw the line in a vibrant learning atmosphere with curious and engaged students who are exploring, learning and asking probing questions? When does the classroom discussion become “explicitly” about religion, human sexuality and/or sexual orientation? When does a classroom discussion reach the point of being “primarily” about those topics? Is it when more than half the class time is spent on the explicit subject? Or is it when more than half the students participate in the explicit discussion? These are questions a Human Rights Tribunal or a Court will ask when dealing with a complaint. The only safe course of action for a teacher is to avoid any such topics and classroom discussion altogether if for no other purposes than self-preservation. What does that do to the quality of our public education system Mr. and Ms. Alberta lawmaker?

We then see an attempt by the Government of Alberta to grapple with this dilemma in a further amendment also offered as “clarification.” These further amendment says teachers need not only worry about “primarily and explicitly” so long as the classroom events and student discourse was only in terms of “incidental or indirect” references. That is hardly reassuring because teacher still don’t know what test to apply in evaluating what constitutes incidental or indirect references. So it’s acceptable to incidentally or indirectly talk about religion and human sexuality in the classroom. What does that mean and doesn’t that depend on how any individual student perceives the discussion or the intent of the individual student’s comments or questions? What may be an incidental or indirect reference to one person may well be a primary and explicit reference in the mind of another.

What will be the legal test applied to alleged breaches? Will it be objective, or subjective and what about context? How will context be proven and based on what kind of evidence? These Human rights Tribunals are quasi-judicial. They are not like a parent-teacher meeting. Consider context, look at the incident this past week in the House of Commons. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister used the phrase “tar baby” with reference to the Alberta oil sands in Parliament. Others in the House immediately took it to be a racial slur and asked for an apology, which the Parliamentary Secretary refused by the way. This is a perfect example of what can go wrong when we draft laws with intentionally vague language as in Bill 44. Politicians don’t have to worry about liability for comments in legislature or in Parliament because they have a wonderful protection called Parliamentary Privilege. That means they can say anything they want about anybody they want, provided they use Parliamentary language, and they are immune from prosecution. Too bad teachers don’t have the same protection as the lawmakers.

Here is what I see happening with the ill-conceived, ill-defined and poorly drafted Bill 44, even as amended. It will cause certain social conservative zealots and advocates to be emboldened. They will pursue incidences of alleged breaches of the new and ironically entitled, Alberta Human Rights Act just to make political points and settle scores. They will do this because they want things like teaching creationism accepted in the public school curriculum. They will focus on getting political retribution on the back of Alberta’s teachers and public education system because of homosexuality and gay marriages are now not just “legal” but are becoming normalized in Canadian law and society. Innocent teachers will be caught in the cross fire. Bill 44 gives these people access to the Alberta Human Rights complaint process and an avenue of appeal to the Courts so they can pursue and promote their political agendas.

Wait, it gets worse. Besides the vagueness of the legal tests of what would be a breach of the Act, what would the evidence look like and where would it come from? Bill 44 provisions will put a student between his parents and his teacher in a “he said – she said” standoff. The only objective evidence available would have to come from other student in the classroom at the time of the alleged breaches. Besides the pressure on children being interviewed and potentially having to testify in a tribunal and in a court, how likely will those children know how to evaluate the so-called “offensive” classroom comments? How will they determine, in their own minds, if alleged comments were in any way “primarily and explicitly” or “incidental or indirect related to religion, religious themes, human sexuality and sexual orientation”? What weight ought to be given to such evidence from other children, who are also caught in this political crossfire now? What other means of gathering independent evidence will there be to assist the Trier of fact in making a finding in such circumstances? This is not only harmful to these children who will have to endure such a process, it is also highly inappropriate.

We are told by the government politicians promoting this new law that the chances of any of this complaint process actually happening is small. They use past statistics of Human Rights complaints to reassure us. Unfortunately this is far from reassuring. We can’t use past statistics to predict the future impact of a new law that effectively creates a new parental human right. If even one political motivated aggressive social conservative advocate on a mission filed a complaint and pursued it, we are into a full blown, time consuming and expensive quasi-judicial review. If one of the parties is unhappy with the result at first instance, there is a potential appeal to the courts. This could be an even more time consuming and expensive judicial process. That threat from Bill 44, however small, will still send a chill through the teachers in the entire Alberta public education system.

There are other serious question on the process of Bill 44, beyond it merits. Where was the public consultation around this new law? Where are the legal opinions that support this Bill 44 that outline the social problem that is intends to solve and advised how it does so within the law? Where was the public debate about moving from a joint home and school partnership in public education to a scheme that is a one-way parental rights based litigious model? And where is the sound and reasoned public policy judgment and indication of the wisdom of our government’s lawmakers? What studies have they done to determine if there even is a governance or social problem that needs to be solved in the first place? All of this background material is needed to show citizens that Bill 44 is necessary to resolve an identified public policy problem. It is also needed to show citizens that Bill 44 is a justifiable law as a solution to the identified public policy.

This information has been asked for by the Opposition but none has been provided by the Government of Alberta to substantiate why Bill 44 is a necessary new law for Albertans.
The political spin originally put on Bill 44 is that it is “symbolic” and “just the same as the current School Act.” It clearly is not. We are now being told this is about preserving the rights of parents as the primary educators of their children. This too is factually inaccurate given all the sources that children learn from these days. We are being told that those who oppose Bill 44 want the “nanny state” to replace parental rights regarding their children. This is also unfounded because we already have the School Act to deal with the real issues of curriculum opting-out. We are being told that frivolous and vexatious Human Rights claims arising from Bill 44 provisions will not happen because Albertans are educated and reasonable people.

The Government lays out assurance that even if some Albertans did file complaints for alleged breaches “good teachers” have nothing to fear under this new law. If the government is so confident in those “nothing to fear” representations why do they consistently refuse agree to indemnify teachers who face such accusations? Why has the government refused to cover a teacher’s legal costs and damages in the event of any such claims? Could it be the Government of Alberta doesn’t actually believe its own assurances to teacher that this is no big threat?

There is not a single good governance reason to make these changes to the new Human Rights Act. There is every likelihood that this unnecessary and ill-conceived law will only serve to erode and destabilize our quality public education system and intimidate teachers and school trustees. The only reasonable conclusion one can draw as to why this is happening is that it is for internal political appeasement purposes. It is being proposed to satisfy demands of a social conservative faction in the governing Progressive Conservative Caucus. This fact has already been “explicitly” stated by at least one Alberta Cabinet Minister to be the reason for these proposed amendments. Nobody has clarified or denied that assertion as to the reasons for Bill 44 opting out provisions.

This is a public policy travesty that is turning into a statutory tragedy at Third Reading of Bill 44 this Monday night June 1, 2009. Alberta’s excellent public education system will be sacrificed and Alberta’s children will suffer in the service of noting more than some contemptuous political appeasement within the governing Progressive Conservative Caucus.