Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Jason Kenney speaks during an announcement in Ottawa, Monday March 29, 2010. Kenney is kicking off a major overhaul of the country's refugee system by increasing the number of people Canada accepts from UN-designated refugee camps overseas.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

PHOTOS: Progressive Conservative leadership candidate Jason Kenney back in the day … welcoming refugees? Well, not if they wanted health care. Unintended ironic juxtaposition, I suppose. (Photo from Below: Alberta Education Minister David Eggen; New Testament Baptist Church, just west of Edmonton.

Where exactly is this “sensible Alberta compromise” Jason Kenney advises the province’s New Democratic Party Government to work out with religious schools determined not to allow the gay, lesbian and transgendered children they teach to form anti-bullying clubs as the law requires?

“I would hope that the Alberta government would seek a generous, sensible, balanced approach,” the social conservative candidate for the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party told a meeting of supporters in Calgary Friday.

Accusing Education Minister David Eggen of trying, in the words of the CBC’s reporter, “to score political points,” Mr. Kenney went on to say, “I think he should take a more measured approach.” Mr. Eggen and his officials, he added, “ought to meet with any schools in question and work out a sensible Alberta compromise or solution.” (Emphasis added.)

The two such schools in question right now, run by Baptist clergyman Brian Coldwell in the Edmonton area, have openly defied the law and said they will never obey a requirement to permit anti-bullying clubs if students request them, so it’s not clear where a compromise might be found. Defenders of the legislation have called for the schools to be defunded if they won’t comply with the law.

It would clearly work for social conservative politicians like Mr. Kenney if there was a general rebellion against the NDP Government by religious schools, and there is evidence they are working behind the scenes to foment one.

Accusing Mr. Eggen of political grandstanding, under these circumstances, is deeply ironic. The education minister is standing up for an important human rights principle at considerable political risk to himself and his party. It is, of course, Mr. Kenney who is trying to score cheap political points, and, because he won’t tell us exactly what he has in mind, low-risk ones at that.

Since Mr. Kenney played a big role in the federal Tory call for a ban on religious headscarves (at least when they’re not being worn by Christian women) and mean-spirited cuts to health care for refugee applicants during the last desperate months of the Harper regime in Ottawa, we know he is capable of grandstanding politically with the worst of them.

The most irritating part of Friday’s incomplete CBC story was that Mr. Kenney appears to have made no effort to clarify what form he thinks the compromise he advocates should take. It’s always possible he did say something and the CBC reporter left it out for some reason. Still, given his history it seems likely Mr. Kenney did no such thing.

So when he tries to sound just as reasonable as can be and says, “there is a balance of interests and rights here and I think it’s important for the government to respect that balance, to be prudent and thoughtful and balanced in the approach it takes,” it’s reasonable to wonder exactly what balance he has in mind?

We have had for years in this province a situation in which it was considered quite reasonable by many people to bully, harass, shun and sometimes violently assault our fellow citizens who are members of sexual minorities. Often this was done in the name of God.

Along comes an NDP government, and what do they do? They have enforced an imperfect PC law passed in March 2015 that, to paraphrase what Mr. Kenney says it ought to do, tried to balance fundamental rights to free association, freedom of religion, and life, liberty and security of the person in a prudent, thoughtful and balanced way. Since then, in December 2015, the NDP has passed amendments to the Human Rights Act to specifically protect citizens from discrimination on grounds of “gender identity” and “gender expression,” further inflaming the religious right.

Mr. Kenney, apparently, thinks the NDP needs to compromise, to push the law back to some point where sexual minorities have fewer rights and bigots who practice their bigotry in the name of religion have more scope for their anti-social behaviour.

So he owes it to Albertans who may some day consider voting for him to tell us just how far he thinks these modest legal protections should be pushed back. Under Mr. Kenney’s “compromise,” will the line be drawn somewhere between threats and actual violence? Will cultish “treatments” that try to “cure” gay people – violating their fundamental right to security of the person – be allowed or even encouraged?

Where is this “compromise,” Mr. Kenney? Where is it?

Personally, I think the NDP’s law doesn’t go far enough. We all know that in a hermetically sealed religious community that runs its own private schools (no names, of course) it would not be healthy in any way for a young person to ask for a gay-straight alliance to be set up in his or her school – no matter what the law says.

This universally understood reality is more evidence the public brouhaha stirred up by the two Edmonton-area Christian schools is politically motivated, and done to help social conservative politicians like Mr. Kenney.

In the name of freedom of religion, there appear to be no restrictions whatsoever on what these schools may teach their students other than a vague requirement they take into account the provincial curriculum. They could be teaching anything, and I’d wager some of them are! So how is this different from the religious schools in other countries that we regularly get our knickers in a twist about? Other than the fact, of course, that many of those foreign madrassas are mostly not supported by anyone’s taxes, as ours are.

Not only are Albertans within their rights to demand Mr. Kenney tell them clearly where he thinks this compromise he advocates ought to be, but we would not be out of line to ask the CBC and other news organizations to properly cover this story, instead of just providing cover for Mr. Kenney. They should start by asking him the obvious questions, and press him on the answers if he won’t respond.

We already know Mr. Kenney has indicated to such groups he thinks funding religious schools is an appropriate use for our tax dollars. Surely we deserve to know what he thinks they should be allowed to teach and do in their tax-supported classrooms.

While we’re at it, we also might ask Mr. Kenney, who throughout his adult life has been a strong and vocal opponent of women’s reproductive freedom, if he thinks there ought to be a similar “compromise” by our governments, federal and provincial, in that matter, or if we have found the right balance?

For example, does he think access to abortions should be de-funded by the provincial health authority? Does he think reproductive rights advocates should have their free speech rights curtailed when they’re on the campus of a religious school, or elsewhere?

Unless he’s changed his mind, he doesn’t seem to have any problem at all with restricting the free expression and free association of people he disagrees with – it’s what he advocated as a student at the University of San Francisco in 1988 and it’s what he actually did as minister of immigration in 2009.

So it would also be reasonable to ask Mr. Kenney if he wants to seek a “compromise” that further restricts Albertans’ right to access abortion services and their freedom to advocate for it.

These days, Mr. Kenney is driving around our province in his nice new Tory blue pickup truck as he campaigns to lead the PCs. He’s doing it on your dime as a federal taxpayer, too. So you’re well within your rights to show up at his meetings and ask him these questions.

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  1. Qusay and Uday promoted their own brand of social conservatism.

    Trump and Pence promote their social conservatism in America.

    Social conservatism has a voix in France with Marine Le Pen and Jean Marie Le Pen. There are examples nearly everywhere.

    Kenney and Jean promote their own home gown social conservatism.

    Social conservatism is spreading like tinea pedis because we are not careful or diligent enough.

    1. Like holy scripture and any term for a social phenomenon, we can argue about what it means. The term is used here as shorthand for “a political ideology that focuses on the preservation of what are seen as traditional values, with an emphasis in modern Canada particular on opposition to reproductive rights for women, non-traditional occupational roles for women and sexuality of any kind not associated directly with reproduction. Do social conservative beliefs also encompass racism? Sometimes but not always. Is it always based in religion? No.

    2. @LIN TAN
      social conservatism is a political ideology toward preserving traditional values.
      unlike social progressivism, which mainly operates in the way of innovative experiments on society by so call “scientific method at random”, social conservatism is based on well established and accepted moral/social values.

      have you ever thought LGBT issue had been staged and exaggerated so much, only as a means to divert attention of general public from more actual problems?
      for starter try to compare percentage of society which belong to LGBT community and percentage of same society which from year to year is falling below poverty line. after comparison ask yourself what easier to do – divert masses or fix the real issue.

    1. You are right, Keith. This was simply my mistake, mis-remembering the process that saw the Tories’ Bill 10 to amend the Alberta Bill of Rights become law in March 2015, and the subsequent amendments in the NDP’s Bill 7 to the Human Rights Act in December 2015. As always, I am grateful to my readers for identifying and pointing out flaws in my arguments and errors of fact in my posts, so you have my great thanks. Writing a blog like this is a bit of a trapeze act, without a safety net. The passage has been corrected and clarified. Fortunately, the version of this story hadn’t been published yet, so it gets to run without a humiliating mea culpa like this.

  2. If you’re right, Dave, then the same people who scaremonger about sharia law have no problem with funding private schools who can effectively teach whatever they like within a system of public funding. Alarm bells should go off whenever an ex-Harper government minister uses the word “measured.” Those guys used that modifier to justify everything from Bill 51 to bombing innocent civilians.

  3. I would go even further than this and insist Mr. Kenney come clean about his own sexual orientation (an important issue, I think, if he is effectively campaigning to restrict the rights of sexual minorities). For instance, is his vow of celibacy a real thing or a smokescreen to hide a ‘non-traditional’ (and completely legitimate) sexual orientation?

    1. Can’t agree with this.

      Unless a politician opens the door themselves by citing something about their personal life as part of a making a political argument, their private life/choices/practices are just that, private.

  4. “We all know that in a hermetically sealed religious community that runs its own private schools (no names, of course) it would not be healthy in any way for a young person to ask for a gay-straight alliance to be set up in his or her school – no matter what the law says.”

    No names? Really? In these here parts we just call it ‘Alberta’.

  5. The only politicial risk to the NDP is if they are weaklings and cave in. Cut the public funding now. Common secular schools are about the only way we have of keeping a multi-cultural society from degenerating into violence.

    God hates a coward and a government that allows one law for one group and another for the rest of us deserves to be deposed.

  6. Well, we all know which century Kenney thinks he’s living in. Why he would want to go back to that is beyond me. Why he thinks Alberta would want that is even more mystifying. Intelligent, progressive, experienced mayors in Edmonton and Calgary, an NDP government that was brought in after disgust with the shenanigans and retrograde policies of the right-leaning parties – why in the name of all that’s good and holy would they want to go back to that?

    I have no idea why Kenney thinks he’s the second coming of the Messiah, born to lead Alberta (since he couldn’t manage it with the whole country) into the promised land, but he doesn’t seem to have changed much since his one and only year in university.

    1. First, someone in the media should get Jason Kenney to define his ideal compromise position and whether or not he believes that “pray away the gay” is a humane way to deal with children who are fearful of expressing their sexuality. Then the NDP has to throw out public funding for all charter schools. They showed great resolve dealing with the laboratory contract and they should take this opportunity to cut back on their budget. Maybe even acknowledge the Wild Rose for pointing out that tough spending decisions need to be made.

  7. There are several ways that a person could be discriminated against. The Canadian Human Rights Act calls these discriminatory practices. If a school/organization defies the laws within the scope and intent of protected grounds and human rights, then the funding to that school/organization should be withdrawn. This is non-negotiable. It is the law of this great country called Canada.

    Alas, former Conservative governments in Alberta had this thing about including sexual orientation as a protected ground. And we all know Kenny & Co. don’t have any respect for the Charter of Rights and Freedoms — (Un)Lawful Access; C-51, etc.

  8. Hi David,

    It would appear that, in response to pressure to say something about this issue, Mr. Kenney delivered a typical non-answer answer to the question, like politicians are so skilled at doing. Like you, I had hoped he would hang himself with an answer that either failed to satisfy the religious right or everybody else.

    Your post made me dig a little deeper on this, and I do feel compelled to at least partially defend the CBC. I managed to find a bit more information about this on the Calgary Herald website.

    Apparently Mr. Kenney made his comment about the whole private school issue when asked in a media scrum at the end of a speech he made at the Economic Club of Canada in Calgary. Apparently he made no mention of it in the speech itself. Based on years of watching political TV shows (in other words I have no real experience with this and will happily defer to your expertise if I am wrong) I assume whoever asked the question did not get a chance to ask a follow-up question like he or she would have had in a proper interview. Between a very conservative-friendly flock of reporters, especially at an Economic Club event, and Mr. Kenney possibly having media handlers, it really is understandable that he wouldn’t let himself get boxed into a real answer.

    If my supposition is correct, however, I would have really loved reading about it in the CBC story.

    Thanks for all your hard work.


    1. Thanks for this additional information, Bob. One of my gripes with mainstream news media nowadays – an indirect result of continual cost-cutting, I am certain – is how often they omit one or more of the Five Ws, all of which are essential not just to any news story, but to ANY story, even a joke. That said, Mr. Kenney is a skilled politician – few can bob and weave with as much skill, giving no answer while appearing to answer frankly. It’s easy just to let it go, especially when supporters and flunkies are rolling their eyes and grumbling. But it’s part of the media’s job to keep pushing. If they won’t, well, they can’t really complain when their former readers and viewers go elsewhere for the news.

  9. I take issue with the claim “our tax dollars” when we are talking 70% funding from SCHOOL taxes which all the parents and supporters and businesses run by Baptist supporters pay. It is their money collected as part of property taxes which is why Alberta and other jurisdictions have to allow and fund such schools. They would lose a constitutional court challenge if they attempted to pull funding from such schools. I would really like to see what compromises would be acceptable to the Baptist and other reluctant schools. Because the bottom line has to be the protection of LGBTQ students in their best interests, not necessarily a blanket one size fits all. The powers of the Education Minister are definitely going to be tested in resolving the current standoff.

    1. We all pay taxes to the nation, province and city where we live. We do not get to form random groups and declare that “our groups” portion be spent exactly as we please. Allocation of tax revues is the job of the elected government.

      As for you “constitutional challenges”, my understanding of the case is that English and French schools, of a vaguely protestant and catholic persuasion , are baked in the cake. There is no obligation to fund, or even allow, separate schools for any other religion or sect or cult that wishes to inoculate their children against Canadian society, modernity, and even reality. In my view, there should be no private schools of any kind, whether hebrew, fundamentalist christian, islamic, or Upper Canada College.

  10. Just a retired Maritimer here. Flew back from Calgary a few months ago on Westjet. At the deparure gate, a huge advertising sign for some private school or another dominated the wall.

    Upon it, the word INDEPENDANT was prominently displayed. I laughed my poor old head off as I sucked back enough Starbucks to get me to Hafilax without suffering high altitude dehoidration. As if I’d spend money for grandchildren on some school where they coudln’t even spall properly. Good lord, no. My big challenge coming up was to endure a seat allegedly made with levver from the living Nauga shrub, snacks that can be obtained for $1.50 a tin at Dollarama, but which in WJ’s hands feeds 15 people if you decide that sandwiches with dried curled-up edges are not worth $15.95 apiece, and where the checked luggage charge was worth as much as the case itself.

    With thunder raging fundamentalist kooks preaching idiocy from a pulpit and to hell with the law, I note with some satisfaction that my bro had never subjected his kids to the vagaries of religious nitwits running private schools over his past 35 years in Alberta, despite being well able to afford it. When our family came to Canada in the ’50s, the local Baptist clown, er cleric, burst into my father the pyschiatrist’s office while he was consulting with one of the flock, accusing him of “stealing” a parishioner. He informed my father that he would go to hell, whereas he himself had already been accepted in heaven. Dad called the police. Some years later and six towns down the road, this poor religious blighter was formally committed to the the Nova Scotia Hospital, ranting and raving, where he was able to lecture the four whitewashed walls on their sins to his heart’s content. Hallelujah. Brother.

    We had some federal Conservative convention or something held in Halifax this past weekend, where apparently they were trying to get us poor dumb fisherfolk and dirtpatch farmers living on beans and molasses to vote for them, because, well they’re just such reasonable folk looking out for our interests. However, not a one of them left the church hall to venture outside to meet the natives, so the event may be fairly described by that wonderful British saying: It went off like a damp squib. TV and radio coverage was totally minimal because not a soul gives a damn what the Conservatives think about anything provincially or federally round here. And the NDP won a provincial byelection.

    Just an update from the sticks. Maybe old Jace can drop in and take over our provincial PC party to get it out of its 10% rut. There’d be as much tea, date squares, chocolate brownies and homemade buttered bread he could stuff back as he promised to make us into a folk consonant with the polarized times hating everyone and everybody. He just shouldn’t expect anyone to do more than nod their heads wisely and speculate about the current drought we’re experiencing, the worst on record since 1880 when someone got out of their rocking chair and said, hey! We should keep weather records.

    Great blog. Best written, most thoughtful one out there. Pity it is so concentrated on Alberta. I read it to keep up with what my relatives are subjected to politically speaking. And to also mention that despite PC and all, some things always matter politically, because as one male relative on the distaff side said to me, “She’s such a sweetie-pie” and we all know who he was referring to.

    1. Bill, are you sure that preacher was a Baptist? I thought Baptists were part of the free-will crowd, like most Catholics, not the predestination indigestion crowd, like the Dutch ReFarmers. If this preacher wasn’t afraid of backslidin’ into sin, his own sorry self, I’d bet he was a Dutchy or something similar. The United Church is made up of Methodists (free-will) and Presbyterians (predestination) and how they get along with one another beats the hell outta me.

  11. Kennedy is painted up blue but chip its veneer off and underneath is just the plain old darkness of rigidity, and right wing ignorance of the Alliance Party. Don”t trust this guy as a premier. We have a fantastic Premier right now.

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