Wildrose Leader Smith will likely support gay-straight alliance bill

WATCH ABOVE: A private member’s bill to help protect gay students in schools is gaining strength in the Alberta legislature. Fletcher Kent explains.

EDMONTON – A private member’s bill to help protect gay students in schools is gaining strength in the Alberta legislature.

Bill 202 would require all Alberta schools to establish gay-straight alliances if students request them.

The alliances are basically peer support networks to help prevent gay students from being intimidated or bullied.

Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith now says she is looking at supporting the bill, which will be introduced by the Liberals in the coming weeks.

“I’ve met with a number of students who have been involved in those kinds of clubs,” said Smith. “I understand a lot about why they need a safe place and an accepting place to be able to talk about their sexual orientation.”

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A motion to support the alliances was rejected in the spring by a coalition of Wildrose and Progressive Conservative members, who said they didn’t want to tie the hands of school officials.

READ MORE: Alberta legislature votes down gay-straight alliance bill

Smith explained Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman has already come a long way in addressing some concerns with the previous motion.

“Our caucus has free votes on all issues in the legislature and you can imagine, on this kind of issue, we are unlikely to have a unanimous vote.

“There are potentially some amendments that we can propose that will allow more of my colleagues to be able to support this as well,” Smith said.

The Wildrose leader said she wants to make sure the final bill balances all the rights involved.

“We do know that there are religious freedoms and the ability of our Catholic schools and our religous schools to practice their faith. That’s also a charter-protected right.

“I think it’s possible for us to be able to pass a policy that’s respectful.”

“You’ll very likely see a number of of Wildrose MLAs supportive of this legislation.”

Smith added she still needs to see all the details on Bill 202.

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Blakeman says Bill 202 is aimed at making all Alberta schools safe and inclusive, with supportive learning environments for all students.

“You’ve got a more tolerant school, you’ve got a better understanding of human rights overall. It really works. Why wouldn’t we do something that works, saves kids lives and gives us a better school?”

READ MORE: Liberals to introduce bill that would mandate gay-straight alliances in Alberta schools 

Blakeman is confident MLA positions on the bill have changed since the last vote.

“I think a lot of people – when they realized it had been defeated – went ‘why did we do that? I was ok with that.’

“I really think it’s possible to pass and I really think we should be passing it.”

The bill would have to get support from other parties in order to pass.

“Danielle [Smith] has made a number of overtures and is now specifically asking to meet with me to work this out,” said Blakeman. “I find that really encouraging.

“I’ve had a number of conversations with people on the government side.

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“It is political, and that’s why I need people to contact their MLAs and tell them they want their MLA to vote for this bill.”

Blakeman said she hasn’t heard from the new education minister directly.

The NDP supported the motion in the spring and plans to support the Liberal bill this fall.

With files from The Canadian Press

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