PHOTOS: NDP Education Minister David Eggen – he’s trying to do the right thing, but he’s making it worse. The time has come to bring the hammer down and defund schools that won’t obey Alberta’s law on gay-straight alliances. Below: Rev. Brian Coldwell, chair of two private schools determined to break the law (CBC photo), and Winston Churchill and Samuel Johnson, a couple of gentlemen who knew a thing or two about dealing with difficult situations.

To jaw-jaw is generally held to be better than to war-war, as Winston Churchill observed, but there are times when a short, sharp correction is what a situation demands.

Alberta’s New Democratic Government now faces just such a circumstance in the case of the two Edmonton-area private Baptist schools openly defying the government on the matter of the Jim Prentice-era Tory law, supported back in the day by the NDP, that requires schools to permit students to form gay-straight alliances and other types of anti-bullying clubs.

Education Minister David Eggen has chosen – unwisely, it is said here – to form a third-party inquiry under Section 41 of the School Act to look deeply into this matter and render an arm’s length judgment a month or two down the line. Presumably Mr. Eggen hopes this will give everyone an opportunity to ponder the consequences of their actions and let passions cool.

Good luck with that! It will not work. It will make matters worse. Here is why:

First, Alberta Education already knows perfectly well that Brian Coldwell, the pastor of the Spruce Grove-area Baptist church that runs the two schools and chair of the Independent Baptist Christian Education Society that administers them, does not intend to co-operate.

This has been going on for a year, and Rev. Coldwell has made it abundantly clear he has no intention of obeying the law. More chit-chat, no matter how well intentioned, will change nothing.

Second, studying the matter will not help the government, and will certainly help the conservative Opposition parties, which the evidence strongly suggests are covertly advising with Pastor Coldwell on how to prolong and magnify the embarrassment for the government.

Indeed, the longer this goes on, the worse it will be for the NDP – which is the Opposition’s whole idea. Delay will provide supposedly independent conservative groups working under cover with the Opposition more opportunities to falsely paint the NDP as totalitarian enemies of free speech motivated by ideology.

Third, the longer this takes, the more Alberta’s many anti-gay bullies, homophobes and bigots are empowered. More delay will lead to more bullying, more alienation, more poisonous social media slurs, and more tragedies.

Delay will also encourage other social conservative school boards to drag their feet and submit Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity policies that intentionally meet neither the spirit nor the letter of the law. This will contribute to the narrative of crisis and mismanagement the Opposition naturally wants to create about the NDP.

This is already happening with, for example, many of the province’s Roman Catholic school boards. Public Interest Alberta was reduced to having to FOIP Catholic school boards to winkle out their policies!

The NDP is understandably very anxious to avoid such a fight with powerful Catholic boards. But all Mr. Eggen’s decision is likely to achieve, alas, is to make it more likely, and more damaging to the NDP’s project of encouraging decency and diversity in our schools. It will give their social conservative enemies more time to organize and practice their deceit.

Finally, the NDP presumably wants to dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s on the reasonable assumption the law is going to end up being challenged in the courts. I understand this, but I fail to see how having a long inquiry will change anything.

A spokesperson for Mr. Eggen said yesterday “the minister has chosen to work through this process and to have a full understanding of the policies, procedures and perspectives of Independent Baptist Christian Education Society and the members of its community.”

Excuse me, but we already understand these things perfectly! Rev. Coldwell has stated: “I’m not going to allow the minister of education to appoint anyone to come in here. … There is no way under heaven I’m going to allow gay activists to come in here and basically undermine our ministries and our religious freedoms or confuse and corrupt our children.” What isn’t clear about this?

The government has not yet named the person – it will likely be an individual – to take on this impossible task. The spokesman said the government hopes to name someone within a few days.

No matter who steps up, though, they will be excoriated and attacked personally by the Opposition. God help them if they’ve ever been a member of a union, especially the Alberta Teachers Association, an advocate of public education, or a defender of the rights of sexual minorities!

The inquiry will take as long as two months – during which the Opposition will get up to mischief and the two schools will not move an inch closer to obeying the law. After he resigns on Friday, PC leadership candidate Jason Kenney will doubtless deliver many more pious homilies about the need for “a generous, sensible, balanced approach” – one, I assume, that would allow sexual minority children to continue to be bullied.

At the end of this unproductive delay, Mr. Eggen will find himself in exactly the position he is in today, except perhaps with fewer options.

Which gets me back to where I started. There really was really only one option that made sense, and that was a short, sharp corrective in which the minister announced this nonsense had gone on long enough and the Independent Baptist Christian Education Society was being defunded. Period.

Mr. Eggen has the power under the current legislation to do just this.

Rev. Coldwell’s group could then pursue their lawsuit without the benefit of public funding to subsidize whatever it is they teach in those schools. My guess is many of the parents of the children enrolled in them would pretty quickly drift away when the impact became apparent.

The Opposition would scream, but not for long. I bet that behind closed doors, they’d have said to each other: “I didn’t think they had it in them! What the heck will we do now?”

More important, a strong statement that sexual minority children will be protected in Alberta would have been made for all to hear.

As Dr. Johnson famously observed, “Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.”

Such a move would concentrate the minds of some of school trustees and private school administrators still inclined to flout the law of the land. And to insert a little realpolitik into the discussion, better to have this fight with a private school on the far-out fringe that a large publicly funded board.

So, acting now, and forcefully, would have the effect of protecting children, upholding the rule of law and reducing the political impact of the problem for the government.

Holding an inquiry, in all probability, will make things worse for everyone except the devious conservatives who are exploiting this situation for their own political and ideological gain.

The government has chosen to go down this path. When the inquiry fails, can we just get on with defunding those schools, please?

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  1. We are not even close to the red zone. Two martyr schools made to sweat it out for two or three months with the inevitable cash-crunch crucifixion happening close to Festivus is something Eggen can probably live with.

    1. Sure Eggen can live with the delay but how about the kids? Will those 16 year old LGBT kids being left twisting in the wind remember it was the NDP who abandoned them come the next election? The message to those kids and the rest of us is that the NDP really does not have our backs.

  2. Hmmm! Pretty confrontational. The Baptists have made their position perfectly clear. If people choose to put their kids in that kind of school that is their choice. If the kids can’t hack it they can always run away. I am not being facetious. I was a teenager in the 1960’s in a small town that was pretty homophobic. My gay friends survived those circumstances. I was sometimes castigated for my associations with obviously gay people .My response was essentially f you, I will associate with anybody I choose. In graduate school I wrote a paper on the potential of gay communities in large cities to control political constituencies. One of the other students in my class had a hairy fit and accused me of being queer. My response was f you. People accuse me of being a socialist. I am a socialist. One of these days they are going to come and get you, people say. They are welcome to try, but I fight back. My argument is that there needs to be some room for a diversity of opinion in our country. I am not a Christian, but I was raised in a Christian family and I was always astounded at the animosity between the United Church and the Presbyterians and the Baptists (not to mention the absolute paranoia about Catholics and Mormons). Back off, people. Everybody is entitled to an opinion. Just because I don’t agree with you doesn’t make us enemies. Does that make any sense to anybody else?

    1. Makes perfect sense to me, Eric. My father’s side of the family was evangelical (Plymouth Brethren to be exact) and as intolerant as the day is long. Treated my mother like a piece of shite because she wasn’t “of the faith”. In later years, my father had a major stroke caused by a not so wonderfully executed by-pass surgical procedure and spent the rest of his life in an extended care ward. Went to visit him after work one night and altho he could no longer talk, he managed an angry “godamgodamgodamgodam” to us. Wondered what happened and then looked at the material on his night table. Sure enough, our good old evangelical preacher uncle had been doing his christian duty trying to get our father to repent his sins before he headed into the arms of his ‘loving lord”.

  3. Why limit defunding to scofflaw private schools?

    Defund all private schools regardless. If you want to be private, be private, but don’t rely on public money – that’s what public education is for. And for those who would argue that private education is better, remember that is not the same argument as the funding debate.

  4. I’m not convinced, David. You raise many valid points, but Mr. Eggen’s approach may work out well in the end. There is always the possibility that, with the media glare gone, the school may capitulate without losing (as much) face. A month or two to think about the issue might also give time for the parents at the school to start asking how much tuition they would have to pay if funding is cut off, and perhaps tell the school if they would continue attending when their tuition is more than tripled. (Since the government funds 70% the parent’s burden will go from 30% to 100%). I agree the chance of this is not likely, but nor is it impossible.

    The other thing is that by going this route, Mr. Eggen is giving the appearance of following Jason Kenney’s advice and is looking for a reasonable Alberta compromise, and if the schools won’t even meet with the mediator, then they just lost the PR battle.


  5. Perhaps if the NDP paid more attention to their job and less to the Trump noises out of the US on their teletubby phones, they would not be so craven . . . but maybe this just shows they have no depth at all . . . so add “pathetic.”

  6. What on earth is the matter with the Ab NDP? This is a pretty clear case of the school not following the law. How difficult is it to get this? An inquiry is an old political tool to look like you’re doing something without having to do anything in reality. I’m disgusted by this latest NDP stupidity.

  7. I am ok with Minister Eggen’s approach. He seems to be trying to find a solution and this approach makes him look reasonable, which I think he is trying to be.

    If Kenney and the social conservatives want to yap on about the issue on the meantime, I think it will end up hurting them more than the NDP. This isn’t the 1960’s anymore and most Albertans are more socially progressive than they may realize.

  8. There’s no reason that the citizens of Alberta should be called up to publicly fund the promotion of hatred. I’m sure that these little nodes of toxic “beliefs” would still exist but without the support of public money, they would gradually wither away until they disappeared up their own fundaments. This is not religious freedom, it is profound pathology, but if the Spruce Grove Baptist lot want to poison the atmosphere around them and teach their children a sick ideology, they should have their funding yanked at the very least.

    1. I haven’t gone to church for over 35 years but as I remember it the teachings were based on the bible and the interpretation of it. I don’t remember it being filled with hate as you portray it. I think it is very sad that you have such little tolerance for their beliefs. While I don’t agree with them in our free society I believe freedom of religion is the law. As for pulling funding do you really believe that the students in the school would want their school closed?

      1. There is a distinction between bigotry and faith. Faith can never justify bigotry and the state can never tolerate or support that bigotry, whether it comes in the form of banning Jews because of Biblical beliefs, people of colour or LGBT people.

        No excuses for either side in this one: The school for using its faith as an excuse not to obey the law and the NDP for failing to enforce the law.

      2. Tolerance for their beliefs, but only to the extent where it doesn’t encroach on the public good. The good of society comes before any single group’s crackpot beliefs.

        You call such institutions schools? Some of us call them centres of religious indoctrination, where intolerance and hatred of others are encouraged.

        The leader of this so-called school refuses to follow the rule of law. What kind of lesson is that for those students?

  9. Indeed! The first thought that comes to mind, is that these “private” religious schools are not concentrating on science and reason when they have children captive. At home and in school these young minds are indoctrinated in situations that are inimical to the development of sorely needed, mature, 21-st century citizens. Richard Dawkins and others have pointed out that subjecting innocents to doctrinal beliefs are tantamount to child abuse. I agree! A brief review, around the world, of the historical, as well as current damage done by the widespread dissemination of these poisonous views, should give us all pause. That a progressive government in 2016 should allow and in fact fund, the continued bullying of children is incomprehensible. Please, minister Eggen, tell these miscreants and the rest of the country that we are finally headed in a sane and reasonable direction and immediately take away all taxpayer support for Bronze age dogma.

  10. I think the NDP made the correct choice. Showing an attempt at reconciliation and delaying a decision until winter weather arrives are wise moves. I, too, am worried about the LGBTQ kids who may be bullied right now, but it is very unlikely one or more of the 200 (mostly home-schooled) children/youths in these two private religious schools will come out and ask for the formation of a club. Sadly, they will have likely been brought up in fear and shame.

    In my view, public funding for private schools, (which I strongly disagree with, by the way), and LGBTQ safety issues, are separate and should remain separate. In this instance, rather than defunding the two schools, Minister Eggen should dissolve their licenses, or look for some other solution. The conservative opposition would love to tie this to funding and put fear into all the parents using private schools (then home-schooling, then charter schools, then Catholic schools).

    If a Catholic School Board breaks this same law a few months down the road, defunding (or de-licensing) is not an option since their right to exist and use government tax money are protected in the federal constitution. Some Catholic School Boards may have been cozy with the old government and be waiting in the background to create trouble (I don’t know); however, any punishment for Pastor Coldwell’s flock must take this possibility into account.

    Is this the issue/’hill’ the NDP should potentially ‘die on’ just to prove it can act forcefully? They have many progressive legislative changes they need to make, so acting strategically on this matter may be their best bet (while still protecting LGBTQ students).

    Just as an aside, I’m having trouble understanding the statement that private schools receive 70% of their funding from the government. News reports tell us the Baptist Christian Education Society, consisting of only these two private schools and approximately 200 students, received $2.5 million in public funds last year. ( That’s over $12,000 per student! Looking at the Alberta School Boards Association website (, average funding for schools seems to be around $7,000 per student. Does anyone know why this group is getting so much money from taxpayers?

    1. The Charter applies to individuals, not organizations, although it does give individuals the right to collective bargaining, but that does not extend to petitioning the lord (to quote the Doors).

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