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Highlights from the legislature

April 25, 2017 Kim Dewar, ATA News Staff

GSA and labour review questions raised during spring session

The spring session of Alberta’s legislative assembly, which officially began March 2, resumed sitting April 3
after a one-week constituency break. Below are highlights of education and labour issues raised from April 3 to 13.

Gay–straight alliances (GSAs) in schools

Estefania Cortes-Vargas (ND—Strathcona-Sherwood Park) in referencing PC Alberta leader Jason Kenney’s remarks around GSAs, asked Education Minister David Eggen how government will assure LGBTQ+ students that GSAs will continue to be compassionate and safe spaces for them. Eggen answered that schools in Alberta must obey the law, which ensures that students have the right to feel safe and welcome in school and that they have the right to form gay–straight alliances and name them as such. Eggen added that “unlike the leader of the Conservative opposition, our government does not out students.” He concluded by saying that the ministry has already shared several resources with school authorities to provide supports in creating safe and caring learning environments, and there will be more in the coming weeks.

Education ministry online student resources

Leela Aheer (W—Chestermere-Rocky View) asked Education Minister David Eggen if he would apologize to parents for the recent instances of education ministry-linked resources that included links to content not appropriate for children. Eggen answered that the content was several steps removed from the ministry and it was dealt with expeditiously.

Labour legislation review

Opposition Leader Brian Jean (W— Fort McMurray-Conklin) criticized the government’s labour consultation process for being too short and for not asking the right questions. He noted that the public is only being solicited for its opinions on the employment standards portion of the review, and the government is not listening to the concerns of workers or businesses. Premier Rachel Notley responded that government has asked labour lawyer Andy Sims to conduct a fulsome engagement with employers and unions because it is a very complex area. Jean later stated that removing secret ballot votes for union certification would eliminate workers’ rights to anonymously vote on whether to unionize away from “union leader pressure.”

Charter school fees

David Swann (L—Calgary Mountain-View) asked Education Minister David Eggen why charter school fees have not been included in the provisions outlined in Bill 1, An Act to Reduce School Fees. Eggen answered that government had to make choices around the elimination of different fees in different places, and that the reduction is not in its complete form at this time. Swann continued to ask whether the minister is planning to defund charter schools and Eggen responded that “government has increased enrolment funding for all schools, including charter and private schools too.”

Rural education

Colin Piquette (ND—Athabasca-Sturgeon-Redwater) asked Education Minister David Eggen how the government is addressing equity in education funding for rural school boards. Eggen answered that the equity opportunity grant, and the small school by necessity grant, are designed to help rural school boards overcome these challenges. These grants are approximately $113 million and $50 million per year respectively. Eggen added that over half of the new school construction projects are located outside of urban centres.

AIMCo governance

Ric McIver (PC—Calgary-Hays) questioned Premier Rachel Notley about governance of the Alberta Investment Management Corporation and the potential negative implications for civil service pensions. Notley answered that the government is “committed to protecting defined benefit contribution pension plans.”

School nutrition programs and special-needs children

Leela Aheer (W— Chestermere-Rocky View) asked Education Minister David Eggen about a situation in which a child was removed from the classroom for eating a particular type of snack. Eggen answered that while he did not have all the details on the circumstances, he found it concerning and invited Aheer to provide him with more information.

School construction

Jamie Kleinsteuber (ND—Calgary-Northern Hills) asked Education Minister David Eggen how the government plans to deal with the backlog of crucial school infrastructure that is needed across the province. Eggen noted that there is a considerable backlog, but the auditor general provided help to streamline the situation to make sure that government is building schools and doing long-term planning of school infrastructure projects. Eggen added that he has been working closely with school boards and their lists, and they are updated over time.

Introduction of bills

First reading occurred on April 4 of Bill 6—Northland School Division Act. Sponsored by Education Minister
David Eggen, this bill creates a governance structure for the Northland School Division to support the education needs of First Nations and Métis.

First reading occurred on April 6 of Bill 7—An Act to Enhance Post-secondary Academic Bargaining. Sponsored by Advanced Education Minister Marlin Schmidt, this bill would bring certain academic staff under Alberta’s Labour Relations Code.

Members’ statements

Michael Connolly (ND—Calgary-Hawkwood) made a statement commemorating the 19th anniversary of the Supreme Court of Canada’s Vriend decision, which marked a crucial moment for human rights and equality in Alberta. Connolly noted that as an MP, Jason Kenney spoke out against the Vriend decision and called for the creation of a new party with far-right,
anti-LGBTQ ideology. Alluding to Kenney’s recent remarks on parents being notified if their child enrols in a gay–straight alliance at school, Connolly said, “I wonder where Albertans have seen that before, Mr. Speaker.”

Sandra Jansen (ND—Calgary-North West) made a statement directed at Jason Kenney’s recent remarks about parental notification of student enrolment in GSAs. She described a comedic account of a fictitious scenario in which a parent is notified of a student who joins a model parliament group. She concluded with a statement about how out of touch the new Progressive Conservative leader is with Albertans.

Thomas Dang (ND—Edmonton-South West) made a statement about the positive impact that the government’s expansion of the school nutrition program will have on Alberta students. He expressed disappointment that the opposition has suggested that school nutrition programs should not be a priority.

Mark Smith (W—Drayton Valley–Devon) made a statement critiquing the government’s record on supporting parental choice in education. He referenced the minister’s order to schools not to inform parents if their children attend a GSA and the WISDOM homeschooling issue.

Angela Pitt (W—Airdrie) made a statement noting that according to a recent report, it appears that Rocky View school district is one of the lowest funded school divisions in Alberta, based on geography and student populations. She added that not only are new schools needed in the area, but changes to the types of school fees that schools can charge have made it more difficult to fund essential operations like busing. The current offsets are leaving schools at a loss to cover these programs. ❚

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