Controversial Alberta education bill passes after marathon debate

Click to play video: 'NDP MLA Heather Sweet talks about marathon Bill 8 debate'
NDP MLA Heather Sweet talks about marathon Bill 8 debate
WATCH ABOVE: NDP MLA Heather Sweet sat down with Global's Jennifer Crosby on Friday to talk about a marathon debate over an education bill that one MLA said was the longest debate in the history of the Alberta legislature – Jul 5, 2019

Editor’s note: This story originally stated Deron Bilous is a UCP MLA. It has been corrected to say he is an NDP MLA. We regret the error.

A controversial bill relating to gay-straight alliances (GSAs) in schools passed late Friday morning after what’s being called the longest debate in the Alberta legislature’s history.

After about 40 hours of straight debate, Bill 8 — the Education Amendment Act — passed after a final vote just before noon.

The debate started at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, with the NDP filibustering on a couple pieces of UCP legislation, including Bill 8.

The bill, which was introduced in early June, is meant to replace the 31-year-old School Act and governs everything from school attendance to district boundaries and trustee voting.

Bill 8 does not include the existing legal protections passed by the former NDP government for GSAs in schools.

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Watch below: The longest filibuster in Alberta’s history came to an end on Friday. As Tom Vernon reports, both the government and the Official Opposition feel they made their points this spring.

Click to play video: 'Longest filibuster in Alberta history comes to an end'
Longest filibuster in Alberta history comes to an end

The Alberta NDP says the bill rolls back protections for kids when it comes to GSAs in schools and allows schools to contact parents when their child joins a GSA. The NDP wants to ensure students’ rights and privacy are protected.

“The actions Bill 8 takes will make it more difficult for young people who are queer, who are gay, to see their role in society, to believe that they have just as many rights, just as much right in this country, in this province, to be anything they want,” NDP MLA Joe Ceci said during debate.

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GSAs are student-driven support clubs designed to help LGBTQ kids feel accepted. Advocates say they are critical to helping LGBTQ youth avoid being shunned or bullied but suggest some won’t join if there is even a remote chance of their parents being told.

MLAs took shifts in the Alberta legislature, as the debated rolled through two consecutive nights.

In a tweet late Thursday night, NDP MLA and advanced education critic David Eggen said he was pleased to see some progress being made.

The United Conservative Party said Alberta will have some of the most comprehensive protections for GSAs in Canada and that these debates are part of the government’s commitment to Albertans.

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“I would like to commend the members of the United Conservative caucus for, yet again, sitting all through the night, and we look forward to getting the job done,” Premier Jason Kenney said Thursday.

“I campaigned for over two years, saying that we were going to sit as long as it took through the spring and summer to get the job done with these initial priority bills, and that’s exactly what we’re committed to doing.”

NDP MLA Deron Bilous said the debate is the longest in Alberta’s history.

“It has been a marathon. I’m a little tired but I can tell you that we said to Albertans that we would be the strongest Opposition that the province has ever seen and I believe that we’re doing just that,” he said just before 8 a.m. Friday.

“It’s about having a strength in our convictions that Albertans elected us to do a job and our job is to hold the government to account, to put forward amendments to try to improve legislation and we’re prepared to go as long as it takes until we’ve exhausted everything we have to say and exhausted all of our ideas.”

The final vote took place just before noon Friday.

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MLAs were also debating Bill 2, labour legislation put forward by the UCP which changes a number of things including overtime rules. The NDP has dubbed the bill the “pick-your-pockets” legislation.

The bill includes changes to the way overtime is banked, from time and a half to straight time. The NDP said the changes would take money out of workers’ pockets.

Bill 2 also passed in the legislature Friday morning.

—With files from Kent Morrison, Global News and the Canadian Press

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