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Jason Kenney speaks in Calgary on July 22, 2017.Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press

Alberta's education minister says he plans to change the law to prevent conservative leadership candidate Jason Kenney from outing gay children.

David Eggen says the province has been working for years on gay-straight alliances in schools and says he won't let that process be undermined.

"This whole idea (of) Jason Kenney outing students that join a GSA, we'll make that against the law," Eggen said Thursday. "Students make choices and this is obviously a very significant choice around gay-straight alliances.

"It's sensitive, and what is very insensitive is to suggest that you would out students who chose to join a gay-straight alliance."

The alliances are peer-support groups set up by students to provide mutual support and prevent bullying of LGBTQ students. Advocates say outing kids before they are ready puts them at risk of family ostracism or worse. They also argue the move would effectively kill the alliances because kids won't feel safe.

Kenney, a former federal Conservative cabinet minister who is running for the leadership of Alberta's new United Conservative Party, has faced criticism for saying it's best in some cases to tell parents their kids have joined a gay-straight alliance. He has said school officials are in the best position to make the decision.

"I'm not going to comment on legislation that I haven't seen," Kenney told reporters after a party leadership debate Thursday night.

"They (the NDP) are just looking for opportunities to deflect from their failed economic record, and I'm not going to play along with their game."

Eggen said the province will also bring in changes compelling every school that receives public money establish codes of conduct against discrimination, adopt policies to protect LGBTQ students, and affirm the existing legal right for students to set up a gay-straight alliance if they wish.

He said many schools have been working with the province already to set up these rules, but said 20 of them, mostly private schools, are resisting.

Private schools get 70 per cent of funding from the government, the highest such ratio in Canada, Eggen said.

"If you are receiving public money then the law should apply to those schools just the same as any other school," he said, noting he has the power to pull accreditation and funding for non-compliance.

Kenney won the leadership of the Progressive Conservatives in March and is now one of four candidates vying to become the leader of the United Conservative Party, created when the PCs and the Wildrose party voted in July to merge.

PC member Richard Starke refused to join the party after the merger, citing in part his disagreement with Kenney's stance on the alliances.

In a speech to party members last weekend, Premier Rachel Notley blasted Kenney's plan.

"It's super-cruel, it's super-extreme and it's super backwards," said Notley. "I will not ever, ever, ever let them out gay kids."

The issue has created a rift in the United Conservative leadership race.

Leadership candidate Doug Schweitzer said he is opposed to outing the students, especially given children struggling with their sexual identity who can't get advice and support sometimes end up homeless or turn to self harm or suicide.

"We need to make sure that Albertans know that we're not going to be outing kids," Schweitzer said at last week's leadership debate in Calgary. "If for some reason, my daughters weren't comfortable coming to talk to me, I would want to make sure that they had a place to go where they could get the supports they need.

"Because the biggest nightmare a parent could ever have would be a suicide."

A new leader will be picked Oct. 28.

Alberta’s Progressive Conservative and Wildrose parties have approved a merger to form the United Conservative Party. PC Leader Jason Kenney says the new party needs to forget old divisions and learn from past mistakes.

The Canadian Press

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