Alberta's NDP government has followed through with a pledge to introduce legislation it says will keep schoolchildren and teens from being outed to their parents by their schools – a bill that appears aimed squarely at United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney's stand on the issue.
The NDP government led by Premier Rachel Notley said in September it would introduce legislation as a rebuke to Mr. Kenney's argument that in some cases, subject to the judgment of school officials, parents should be informed if their children join school gay-straight alliances (GSAs).
As peer-support groups, GSAs – or queer-straight alliances (QSAs) – are meant to be relaxed gatherings to help LGBTQ students through periods of isolation or alienation, or bullying.
The NDP said its Bill 24, An Act to Protect Gay-Straight Alliances, is about protecting vulnerable students from school officials disclosing their membership in the groups, and with it, perhaps their sexuality to parents before they are ready. In addition, the bill introduced on Thursday puts greater onus on publicly funded schools to have a clear policy to permit GSAs and will force principals to green-light the creation of the groups in a timely manner.
But it is also a clear signal of how seriously the NDP government, struggling in the polls, views the political threat from Mr. Kenney – who was elected as United Conservative Party (UCP) Leader on Saturday. Alberta Education Minister David Eggen referred to Mr. Kenney, unprompted, as he spoke to reporters about the bill on Thursday.
"Jason Kenney suggested earlier this year that schools should be able to out LGBTQ students to their parents, and that is dangerous. This legislation will make it clear that student privacy must be protected," said Mr. Eggen, who later said the legislation has nothing to do with Mr. Kenney winning the UCP leadership.
For his part, Mr. Kenney has said the NDP's focus on GSAs is meant to deflect attention from pressing economic matters, and he has never said he wants to force schools to "out" children to their parents.
"It is unfortunate that the NDP is using this sensitive matter as a partisan political wedge issue," Mr. Kenney said in a statement on Thursday.
"Our approach will always be determined by what is in the best interests of children. We trust highly-trained educators to use their professional judgment to make decisions in the best interests of children, particularly given that this policy applies to children as young as five years of age."
While Mr. Kenney has attacked the governing NDP for the province's swelling debt and the implementation of a carbon tax, the NDP has focused on the former federal Conservative cabinet minister's history as a social conservative.
Mr. Kenney has argued he will not legislate on hot-button social issues – nor repeal the law that formalized GSAs – if he becomes premier. However, he did tell Postmedia earlier this year that the NDP shouldn't take an "adversarial or aggressive approach" in forcing religious schools to allow GSAs.
Under a law enacted in 2015, GSAs are mandatory in every school when a student requests one. But the new bill further enshrines their existence, tackling what Mr. Eggen said is the reluctance by a "handful" of private schools – including private schools that receive some public funding – to allow for the creation of GSAs.
It amends the province's School Act to ensure schools take a more active role in allowing for the creation of GSAs. Principals will have to work to have a GSA established "within a reasonable time" once a student makes the request.
All public, separate, francophone, charter and private-school authorities that receive public funding will have to develop policies, and post them prominently.
"Every single school in Alberta that receives public dollars must have a policy that clearly allows students to form a GSA," Mr. Eggen said, saying their funding or accreditation could otherwise be on the line.
Bill 24 takes on the "outing" issue by clarifying that parent-notification requirements around courses, particularly ones with sexual or religious content, do not apply to participation in clubs, including GSAs.
If Bill 24 is passed, school authorities will have until the end of June to comply with the new law.