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Statement from Premier Jim Prentice on gay-straight alliances in schools

Premier Jim Prentice issued the following statement:

I would like to speak today about the issue of how the Alberta education system deals with gay-straight alliances in our schools.

Unfortunately, this issue has, for far too long, been divisive – in my view, unnecessarily divisive.

I believe the vast majority of Albertans share certain fundamental beliefs and values.

During this debate, those values have been manipulated, and placed into conflict with one another for political reasons.

I think Albertans share a belief that our schools should be safe, caring, tolerant learning environments for our kids.

We share a zero-tolerance attitude toward bullying, regardless of the circumstances, whether it’s related to race, religion, sexual orientation or any other factor.

I think the vast majority of Albertans also believe that parents have the right to make informed decisions when it comes to the education of their children.

When classroom discussions deal with matters of religion, human sexuality, or other areas where a family’s deeply-held beliefs may come into conflict with the curriculum, parents have the right to ensure their children can be withdrawn from those discussions, without academic penalty.

And from a democratic, legal, and constitutional standpoint, Albertans understand that school boards are entrusted to administer the education system in their communities, in a way that reflects the expectations of those who directly elected them to do so.

Sadly, however intended, the current Alberta Liberal bill to legislate gay-straight alliances has forced elected MLAs into a position of pitting all those beliefs – which their constituents share – against one another.

I know many MLAs, myself included, are very proud to support and encourage GSAs in this province, and would vote accordingly if presented with a clear question on that.

That is the consensus I heard from constituents in Calgary—Foothills when I sought their support in the recent by-election.

And of course from a personal perspective, my record on defending the rights of the LGBTQ community in Canada is very clear, and I’m very proud of it.

But instead of affirming such a widely held view, Bill 202 asks us to cast aside our constituents’ beliefs in parental rights, and in the autonomy of school boards, in order to support GSAs.

It is unfair to us, and to those we represent.

This is too important an issue to be reduced to a political game.

When faced with such an unfair and unbalanced approach, I believe it is the job of a premier and a government to instead show leadership, and build consensus.

Because rights need to be advanced.

Because children need to be protected.

Because parents need to be reassured.

And because school boards need to be respected.

That is exactly what our government is going to do.

Today, I’m announcing that our government will put forward a new piece of legislation.

Our bill will be an Act to Amend the Alberta Bill of Rights to Protect our Children.

In it, we will propose to amend the Alberta Bill of Rights in two ways: The first, to make our commitment to equality for the LGBTQ community clear and unambiguous. The second, to reinforce our commitment to parental rights with respect to their children’s education.

In the Alberta Bill of Rights, we will propose to explicitly add sexual orientation to the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination.

We will also propose to establish within the Alberta Bill of Rights a clause that cements the rights of parents to make informed decisions about the education of their children.

We will propose to remove section 11.1 from the Alberta Human Rights Act, and instead entrench those same principles of parental rights in the School Act and the Education Act, in keeping with the practice in other jurisdictions.

Our proposal will aim to ensure that students wishing to establish clubs that promote a welcoming, caring, respectful and safe learning environment, including gay-straight alliances, will have clear legal recourse if a school attempts to stand in the way.

Our bill will also propose that a package of tough and thorough anti-bullying provisions will have the full force of law in time for the next school year.

In short, our bill will demonstrate that our shared values and beliefs do not need to be in conflict with one another, and that we can make progress on what matters in a respectful and collaborative way.

We can advance the rights of the LGBTQ community.

We can protect our children, and give them safe places to learn and grow.

At the same time, we can respect the rights of parents, and ensure our democratically-elected school boards can carry out the mandates we’ve given them.

I understand that what the government will be proposing may not represent everything that the most passionate advocates – on all sides of these issues – have sought.

Despite that, I remain immensely proud of our team for the approach they’ve taken.

Within the Progressive Conservative caucus, there has been a great deal of respectful and thoughtful debate on these issues, to arrive at a position that strikes a balance of rights – something governments are expected to do on issues of all kinds, not just this one.

The bill will be introduced in the coming days.

I look forward to a respectful, reasoned debate – and to making real progress.

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