NDP accuses government of spreading misinformation about GSA bill

LGBTQ+ students remained political ping-pong balls in the Alberta legislature as the NDP opposition accused the government of spreading misinformation about an education bill before the house.

NDP Leader Rachel Notley said the United Conservative Party government is incorrect by saying Bill 8, the Education Amendment Act, would leave Alberta with the strongest protection for gay-straight alliances in the country. Darren Makowichuk/Postmedia

LGBTQ+ students remained political ping-pong balls in the Alberta legislature as the NDP Opposition accused the government of spreading misinformation about an education bill before the house.

On Wednesday, NDP Leader Rachel Notley disputed the government’s claim that rolling back legislative protections for LGBTQ+ students in Alberta schools would leave the province with the strongest legal protections for gay-straight alliances (GSAs) in the country.

“The post-truth politics they are playing is more than offensive to democratic debate,” Notley said in a Wednesday afternoon news conference. “It is offensive to these kids.”

During question period, cabinet ministers held fast to their position.

“We will stand beside LGBTQ kids to make sure that GSAs will be called GSAs and kids can participate in GSAs,” house leader Jason Nixon said Wednesday. “We will continue to have the best statutory requirements when it comes to GSAs in the entire country. That’s a fact.”

Education Minister Adriana LaGrange said it was “hurtful” the Opposition implied she did not support LGBTQ students.

“Our government will have the most comprehensive statutory protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, two-spirit students, period,” she said.

Some B.C., Ontario requirements go further

During the election campaign, United Conservative Party leader and now Premier Jason Kenney pledged to replace the existing School Act with a seven-year-old Education Act. The act was written and passed by the former Progressive Conservative government in 2012, but never proclaimed.

An intentional effect of the government’s legislation switch is to undo changes the previous NDP government introduced in 2017 to shut loopholes some schools were using to delay students’ requests for gay-straight alliances.

The UCP government last week introduced Bill 8, which will make several changes to the Education Act before proclaiming it. If approved, school principals would have no time limit on granting a student’s request for a GSA or for appointing an adult adviser for the group.

Students would no longer be guaranteed permission to use words like “gay” or “queer” in club names. Schools would still be required to have policies pledging to create a safe and caring environment, but the policies would not have to reference human rights and the schools could keep the policies secret.

Notley said Ontario’s Accepting Schools Act would go further than Alberta’s proposed new law, by saying “neither the (school) board nor the principal shall refuse to allow a pupil to use the name gay-straight alliance or a similar name for an organization …”
Notley also pointed to two B.C. ministerial orders introduced in 2016 that require both public and private schools to have policies explicitly disallowing discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation.
Currently, Alberta’s School Act requires school policies and codes of conduct to reference the human rights afforded to staff and students. The Education Act would require schools’ codes of conduct to reference human rights, but not their policies, and is silent on staff rights.
On Tuesday evening, NDP MLAs attempted to stall Bill 8’s progress by speaking at length against the bill until around 11:30 p.m. MLAs referred to the legislation as “Bill Hate,” and read aloud letters from students opposed to the changes.

With files from Clare Clancy and Emma Graney

jfrench@postmedia.com