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Alberta’s UCP to debate pronoun policy in schools at upcoming AGM

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Alberta UCP to debate pronoun policy in schools at upcoming AGM
The United Conservatives will hold their AGM in less than a month and the party has released this year's proposed policies and resolutions. As Jasmine King reports, one has already sparked debate elsewhere in the country – Oct 13, 2023

Members of Alberta’s ruling United Conservative Party will be debating a policy resolution requiring schools to obtain parental consent prior to using a student’s preferred name or pronouns if that student is under 16.

That’s one of 30 policy proposals put forward for the upcoming UCP AGM on Nov. 3 and 4 in Calgary.

The pronoun policy was put forward by the Edmonton-West Henday constituency association (CA). New Brunswick and Saskatchewan have recently passed policies requiring the same of schools and teachers.

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe tabled legislation on Thursday to use the notwithstanding clause to override sections of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and sections of the Saskatchewan Human Rights Code.

Click to play video: 'Saskatchewan government tables school pronoun bill, invokes notwithstanding clause'
Saskatchewan government tables school pronoun bill, invokes notwithstanding clause

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith said she looks forward to a “robust discussion” at the party’s first meeting since the spring election.

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“I want to see how the debate goes and then we’ll make some decisions once we see whether or not it passes,” Smith said at an unrelated press conference on Friday.

Smith did not answer a question from Global News of whether she would use methods similar to her Saskatchewan counterpart to pass similar legislation.

Another policy proposal seeks to require parents be “informed of and in-charge of all decisions” for provincially-funded services, “including education and health care.”

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That proposal from the Calgary-Lougheed CA included an “elegant solution” in the form of a “Bill of Parental Rights.”

Kristopher Wells, Canada research chair for the public understanding of sexual and gender minority youth, said he wasn’t surprised to see those policies being proposed, given their implementation in Saskatchewan and New Brunswick.

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He said he hopes the premier will focus on issues that are higher on Albertans’ priorities and ignore the more discriminatory proposals.

“If we understand that these are only policy resolutions and they’re not binding to the UCP government, I would strongly encourage Premier Smith to focus on the issues that matter to most Albertans, which include the economy, inflation, housing, food prices, climate, you name it, other than trying to discriminate against a very vulnerable minority in our schools, being our trans and non-binary young people,” Wells said.

Click to play video: 'Sask. pronoun policy low on priority list, according to poll'
Sask. pronoun policy low on priority list, according to poll

Debbie Owusu-Akyeeah, the executive director of the Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity, takes issue with the framing of parental rights policies.

“That’s an easy sell,” she said. “They’ve set a trap with ‘parental rights’ as a political argument.”

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She said using this framework for pushing forward anti-LGBTQ+ policies means its proponents are able to get support from people who may not understand the nuance of the issue, but feel parents ought to be involved in their children’s decisions.

Wells said he’s concerned about a possible loss of safety for LGBTQ+ kids who could be outed to their parents before the children themselves are ready to tell them.

“What the research tells us is that gender affirmation in schools – being able to use your chosen name and be referred to by your correct pronouns – helps support students mental health, their well-being, and most importantly, helps to reduce suicidal ideation,” Wells said. “So we would hope that governments would actually pass policies that help kids rather than hurt them.”

Asked about it on Oct. 5, Smith said her caucus was looking at the issue.

“We don’t have policy established on it yet, but we are having those discussions,” Smith said at the time.

“These are really very complicated family matters (and) very personal decisions.

“It has been my hope from the beginning that we wouldn’t politicize this.”

She added, “We have to always be mindful as we have these conversations that there are young people who are really struggling with gender identity, they’re struggling with puberty, struggling with how they fit in.

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“It’s incumbent upon us as adults to make sure that we keep a safe, supportive environment for kids.”

UCP policy grab bag

Policy proposals addressed items like opposing federal net zero by 2035 measures, encouraging increased nitrogen production for use in domestic farm fertilizers, reining in electricity costs through mechanisms like the now-defunct Power Purchase Agreement, continued indexing of social supports like AISH (Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped) and seniors benefits to inflation, and even the repealing of no fault insurance that was put in by the previous UCP government.

Solar farms, supervised consumption sites, and professional associations also were addressed by the policy proposals.

Other proposals wandered into realms of conspiracy theories like preventing digital currencies eliminating cash, “15-minute cities,” enshrining “the right to keep arms” in provincial law, requiring “a facility for transsexual female inmates” as a measure of preventing “sexual predatory behaviours,” and preventing books that include certain content in school libraries.

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Mount Royal University political scientist Lori Williams said the proposals are likely to have some appeal within the UCP faithful.

“They’ll certainly appeal to some people within the party – those who are much more socially conservative, who are deeply influenced by some of the culture wars, particularly coming out of the United States. Some of these policy proposals don’t seem to bear any relation to reality,” Williams said.

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One policy proposal from the Calgary-Lougheed riding calls for allowing doctors to prescribe off-label medications, a response to the Alberta College of Physicians “interfering” by prohibiting the use of off-label drugs for the treatment of COVID-19.

Ivermectin, an anti-parasitic, was advocated in some circles for the treatment of COVID, a practice the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warns against. Hydroxycholoroquine, usually used to treat autoimmune diseases like arthritis, was also presented in some circles as a treatment for COVID early in the pandemic, but studies found the drug did not reduce mortality or the need for or use of ventilators.

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One proposal from the Banff-Kananaskis CA seeks to ban the use of electronic tabulation machines.

“It’s a concern that comes out of another setting using different processes. And I just don’t see the relevance in the Alberta context,” Mount Royal University political scientist Lori Williams said.

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South of the border, Dominion Voting Systems sued Fox News for defamation, alleging Fox and its pundits spread conspiracy theories about Dominion and its role in the outcome of the 2020 U.S. election. Eventually, the two parties settled for just less than half of the US$1.6 billion Dominion was seeking, but Fox did not have to apologize for statements made on that network.

In Alberta, votes are cast on paper ballots which are then scanned by tabulation machines and the paper ballots are kept for recount purposes.

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Another Banff-Kananaskis proposal seeks to eliminate all diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) offices at post-secondary institutions for penalty of losing government funding.

And a proposal from the Innisfail-Sylvan Lake CA wants to ban the use of “race as a factor in any (post-secondary) admissions program or procedure.”

Williams said some of the policy proposals appear to come from “imagining a problem” and proposing a solution, and some proposals make broad assumptions.

“For example, with respect to gender pronouns, making assumptions about what’s happening in schools, in classrooms, and proposing a solution without any really clear evidence of whether these were the problem. And that can actually create problems for the party and for the government.”

In addition to the policy proposals, UCP members will also be voting on who will sit on the party’s boards in early November.

“It’ll be a real test this AGM, in terms of not just the resolutions that are voted on, but also the board members and the leadership – the president – that’s selected,” Williams said. “That could shape both the composition and the image of the party going forward.”

The upcoming annual general meeting is to be held at the BMO Centre at Stampede Park. The party says 3,175 members have signed up so far to attend.

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–with files from The Canadian Press

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