09/17/2014 12:07 EDT | Updated 06/16/2017 00:54 EDT

New Alberta Education Minister Gordon Dirks' Ties To Church Criticized


EDMONTON - The NDP is criticizing the appointment of Gordon Dirks as Alberta's education minister, saying he is linked to a church that believes homosexuality is a sin.

But a prominent advocate for gay rights in the province says he met with Dirks on Tuesday and believes the former chairman of the Calgary Board of Education will work to promote safety for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer students in the province.

Kris Wells, with the University of Alberta's Institute for Sexual Minority Studies, says nobody's faith should preclude them from holding public office.

He told radio station CHED that he was reassured during the meeting with Dirks and Premier Jim Prentice to hear the new education minister indicate he was "absolutely committed" to the safety and education needs of LGBTQ students.

The NDP points out that Dirks has been a frequent preacher at Calgary's Centre Street Church, which says in its statement of ministry practices that God is dishonoured by “sexual activity between persons of the same sex.”

Education critic Deron Bilous says Prentice "has made a foolish mistake on his first day on the job" and should rescind Dirks' appointment.

"Gordon Dirks has close ties to an organization that believes same-sex relationships are an offence to God," Bilous said in a news release. "How can he be counted on to protect the rights of Alberta's LGBTQ students?

"Dirks' history raises real questions about how policy will be crafted around inclusion, gay straight alliances and bullying in general. Prentice is attempting to cater to the social conservative views of many Wildrose supporters."

Dirks wrote on his Twitter account about his meeting with Wells "to discuss importance of diversity & mutual respect in schools. No room for any intolerance in #abed #ableg."

Wells said Prentice has committed to host a dialogue with Alberta LGBTQ communities within the next two weeks to hear their issues directly.

Dirks and former Edmonton mayor Stephen Mandel are both unelected civilians who were appointed by Prentice to cabinet. All three men will have to run for seats in the legislature in byelections.

(CHED, The Canadian Press)