Alberta Conservative Party leadership candidate Jason Kenney says it's not up to Premier Rachel Notley to dictate how sex education is taught in the Catholic school system.
And he says Notley is needlessly divisive on a plan by Catholic school superintendents to craft an alternative sex-ed curriculum that reflects faith-based teaching.
"It's not for me or the premier to dictate to the Catholic education system how it teaches Catholic values," Kenney told reporters late Tuesday night.
"I just wish she would stop picking fights with school boards and educators who are simply doing their best to live out their mandate.
"In this case it's a Catholic school system that has a constitutional right to be Catholic, and I would ask our premier to respect the Constitution and those rights."
Catholic school superintendents are drafting the alternative sex education curriculum that they want the province to approve for their schools.
They say the government's teaching plan clashes with faith-based instruction by including, among other topics, homosexual relationships and gender identity different from one's biological sex.
In overview documents filed with the province, the superintendents also take issue with sexual consent by a partner in marriage. They say it is one of many factors to be considered along with morality, family and wellness.
Kenney said it's important to respect differences in a pluralistic society.
"Of course there should be a basic common curriculum in the school system, but then Catholic and independent and charter schools are going to have different approaches to curriculum," he said.
Notley, however, says that any proposed curriculum that doesn't address sexual health, that marginalizes sexual minorities, and that doesn't make it clear that consent is paramount will not be taught.
"Jason Kenney is dead wrong," Notley said Wednesday.
"In 2017 I didn't think that I would have to say this, but as the premier of the province, it is my obligation to say this: Being gay is not wrong. Engaging in safe sex is not wrong. And under no circumstances is sex without consent ever right. And that is what will be taught in our schools."
She said if the Catholic school plan arrives as advertised, it will not be taught.
Karl Germann, president of the Council of Catholic School Superintendents of Alberta, declined comment, saying as an administrator it's not his place to publicly debate the premier.
"I would just encourage people to read and process the documents for themselves," said Germann.
Kenney and two other candidates are running to become leader of the new United Conservative Party, formed this summer from the amalgamation of Kenney's Progressive Conservatives and Brian Jean's Wildrose party.
A new leader will be picked Saturday and will take charge of the 27-member Opposition in the legislature.
Doug Schweitzer, a candidate and longtime conservative organizer, said clarity is needed on the Catholic system's approach, particularly on consent.
"We have clear laws in Canada as to what consensual sex is and what it is not," he said. "If there is no consent you're getting into sexual assault or in some instances rape.
"We need to make sure when we're educating our children here in Alberta that we're clear as to what consent is all about."
Jean, who is also running for the leadership, said there is a way to ensure core issues like sexual health are taught under Catholic auspices, but said the province first needs to stop being confrontational.