ALBERTA

Voting Down Gay-Straight Alliances Fails Students: Alberta NDP

04/08/2014 06:47 EDT | Updated 06/08/2014 05:59 EDT
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EDMONTON - Alberta NDP Leader Brian Mason is accusing the Wildrose party and the governing Progressive Conservatives of failing gay students over a controversial motion on school bullying.

"We believe that no children should be subject to bullying for any reason, including their sexual orientation," Mason said Tuesday.

On Monday, members from both the right-of-centre PC and Wildrose caucuses joined forces to defeat a Liberal motion that would have supported gay-straight alliances in schools.

Such alliances are seen as a way of helping gay students find peer support and avoid being bullied.

The motion was defeated in the house on Monday, despite Liberals, New Democrats, and some PCs voting in favour. The NDP, Conservative and Wildrose party leaders were not in the house for the vote.

But several Wildrose members and Education Minister Jeff Johnson, who all voted against it, said they did so because all schools, including private ones and faith-based institutions, are already mandated to provide a safe environment for students and how they do it is best left up to them.

Premier Dave Hancock said it's about balancing choices but ultimately making sure students feel safe in their schools.

"In this business you always have competition of values," Hancock told reporters.

Asked if he would have personally voted in favour of the Liberal motion if he had been present, Hancock said he would have.

Mason disagreed with the reasoning of those who voted against the motion.

"If you simply leave it up to school boards to make individual choices, then some of those school boards will be making choices that permit the bullying of gay students," said Mason.

During question period, Mason urged Hancock to make the motion a government bill.

"Put your bills where your mouth is, Mr. Premier," said Mason.

Hancock did not say whether he would.

Monday's vote saw 19 MLAs vote for the motion and 31 vote against it.

Twelve PCs, three NDs, and four Liberals voted for Liberal Kent Hehr's motion. Of the 31 who dissented, 22 were PCs and nine were Wildrosers.

Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith said it was a free vote for her caucus and that they were persuaded by Johnson's arguments.

"I would have voted against the motion as well," said Smith. "This is very much an issue of local control, local autonomy for our school boards.

"There are already 40 gay-straight alliances in the schools, so the system appears to be working."

Mason said the intolerance label that helped defeat the Wildrose in the 2012 election has returned.

Strong support for the Wildrose evaporated in the closing days of that campaign when Smith refused to take action against a candidate who once urged gays to change their ways or face eternity in hell's "lake of fire."

The Wildrose party has since reiterated its stance of tolerance for all, but Mason told the house old habits die hard.

"A unanimous `no' vote by the Wildrose caucus shows that the lake of fire is still their resort of choice," he said. "But had the PC caucus voted differently, this important motion would have passed."

Liberal Leader Raj Sherman agreed.

"It's quite clear there's not much progressiveness left in the PCs," he said.

"Premier Hancock and his PCs deserve the blame for the defeat of (the) motion."

Smith dismissed the accusations of bigotry, noting, "the education minister and two-thirds of the PCs ended up also seeing that the motion was in some ways already taken care of."

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