Setting the priorities right

Ever since he returned to provincial politics, Premier Jim Prentice had always made very brief, even terse, statements

Ever since he returned to provincial politics, Premier Jim Prentice had always made very brief, even terse, statements, without beating the bush and saying whatever he wanted to say, that is until last week.

As soon as landing in the province back from his trip to Ontario and Quebec, the premier issued a 704-word statement, explaining why he was backtracking on his idea of having new legislation passed on the matter of “gay-straight alliances” in Alberta’s schools.

The lengthy statement was apparently an almost apologetic response to the thousands of letters, messages and notes sent to MLAs from all parties represented in the provincial legislature by parents of students. One stakeholder, a website called safechoolsalberta.ca, reported it had received 3,700 signatures of support within a few hours of its launch for a petition to stop Bill 10, the legislation introduced by Mr. Prentice’s PCs to outflank the provincial Liberals who raised the issue of “gaystraight” alliances in schools through a private member’s bill (Bill 202) introduced just a few days previously. “That is a rate of one mail every 10 seconds,” said the campaigners of the response to their petition.

Mr. Prentice said in his statement: “The introduction of Bill 10 as a solution to the divisiveness created by Bill 202 has clearly not been helpful. I accept personal responsibility for the introduction of Bill 10.”

This was a frank admission that the grenade had exploded even before it was hurled and that it hurt the holder.

“At present, there is clearly no consensus in Alberta on either the constitutionality or indeed the wisdom of the provincial government mandating Gay Straight Alliances in schools. The issue was polarizing to begin with and has become even more so over the past several days,” the premier said, concluding “Given the emotion on all sides of this discussion, I think that everyone will benefit from a pause.”

It is good a for a politician to realize a mistake and take a step back from it and for that Mr. Prentice should be commended, particularly for openly admitting the irrelevance of a provincial mandate in deciding how students should behave with regard to their approach to sexual preferences.

This was a step too far and Albertans should also be commended for their swift and determined reaction to this kind of thinking in government.

The LGBQT (an abbreviation that gets longer all the time) rights have been promoted with a lot of political support, funding and enthusiasm since the early ‘80s, when the emergence of HIV/AIDS as an incurable disease and the death of popular figures like Rock Hudson of that disease created a wave of sympathy for people of non-straight sexual orientation. Riding on that wave, and with a lot of support from Hollywood and California liberals, the issue of the rights of transgender people was raised to first national policy agenda in the most developed countries before making its way to international organizations like the United Nations, where countries having little understanding or tolerance of the issue have been ostracized.

Yes, transgender people do have an intrinsic human right to be accepted and treated as any member of the society without suffering discrimination and being excluded from their peer groups. And it is a major achievement that same sex marriages have now been recognized in most of the developed world by now.

But it looks like it is time for beginning discussions on other issues, for example, the rights of disabled people. I really wonder if any government is willing to question how, say, Uganda and India, two countries known for their intolerance of transgender individuals, are doing in terms of addressing the rights of disabled people.

Or even before going that far, how much have we, the Canadians, addressed the matter of decades of suppression of the rights, culture and languages of First Nations and other Aboriginal peoples of this country?

Mustafa Eric

 


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