UCP members ignore MLA pleas to vote against gay-straight alliance motion

Despite pleas from three MLAs, a majority of United Conservative Party members passed a motion at their inaugural convention Sunday to support a parent's right to be informed when their child joins a gay-straight alliance.

'Don’t be called the Lake of Fire party. I’m begging you,' MLA Ric McIver urged

Calgary-Hays MLA Ric McIver was jeered when he urged delegates to vote against an amendment requiring schools to tell parents if their child joins a gay-straight alliance. (Michelle Bellefontaine/CBC)

Despite pleas from three MLAs, a majority of United Conservative Party members passed a motion at their inaugural convention Sunday to support a parent's right to be informed when their child joins a gay-straight alliance. 

The motion passed with 57 per cent support even though members were being urged to vote against it by Calgary-Hays MLA Ric McIver, Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre MLA Jason Nixon, and Chestermere-Rocky View MLA Leela Aheer.

"This is about outing gay kids," McIver said, as he was jeered by the crowd. "Don't be called the Lake of Fire party, I'm begging you.

"This will really severely hurt our chances at winning. Don't do that to yourself."

Brian Coldwell, a pastor, said the motion is about parental rights.

"Governments and activists cannot have more authority over children than parents," he told the crowd. "It's not about anti-gay. It's about fundamental, God-given freedoms."

Aheer argued freedoms extend to everyone, including the right for children to have safe spaces.

"Please vote against this resolution," she said.

Last fall, the governing NDP passed Bill 24 that makes it illegal for schools to tell parents if a student joins a GSA, which are extracurricular clubs. 

LGBTQ advocates say this measure protects vulnerable teenagers who may not be ready to come out to their parents, and could face abuse at home for disclosing their sexual orientation. 

'Poison for their party'

Education Minister David Eggen said he was offended and disturbed the majority of UCP members passed the resolution. He said a policy to out LGBTQ students is out of step with mainstream Albertans. 

"Ric [McIver] knows, and the UCP knows very well, that this is like poison for their party, their prospects for the future," Eggen said. 

The minister added he was surprised by a vow made by UCP Leader Jason Kenney in his speech Saturday night to "shred" the curriculum update that is underway right now. 

UCP Leader Jason Kenney says the party does not support mandatory parental notification when children join GSAs. (CBC)

Kenney said the resolution is poorly worded but only affirms existing legislation in the school act that parents must be notified if sexual or religious content is taught in the classroom.

He rejected the suggestion it was about GSAs.

But the resolution as passed, explicitly states the notification extends to "extracurricular activities and clubs."

Lawyer John Carpay, who spoke in favour of the policy, told delegates it was about Bill 24, which UCP MLAs voted against in the legislature.

Kenney said policy passed by members won't necessarily show up in the party's election platform. 

"We don't believe, and we will not ever take the position that there should be mandatory notification of kids joining peer groups," Kenney said. "They don't have to if they join the chess group, why should they if they join a GSA?"

Kenney said he still believes teachers should be allowed to alert parents in exceptional circumstances, like if a child is in danger.

He said a UCP government would not change law or policy to require parental notification. The resolution changes nothing, he added.

"And guess what, I'm the leader. I get to interpret the resolution and its relevance to party policy," Kenney said.

As for McIver, he appeared at Kenney's news conference to walk back his "lake of fire" comments. He said he was trying to show how the issue would be torqued by UCP opponents. 

Harrison Fleming, a coordinator with LGBTory, was discouraged by the outcome of the vote but believes Kenney won't implement it as part of his election platform or to change legislation.

The organization represents gay conservatives and allies. It held a pub night this weekend and manned a booth at the convention. Both initiatives received great feedback, Fleming said.

Fleming said it's hard to have nuanced discussions about issues like LGBTQ rights, so he expects his group will help change minds.

"We're going to see in February a lot of people who maybe voted differently today are going to have another opportunity to have further conversations with us, and I think it's going to be addressed in a big way," he said.

Harrison Fleming of LGBTory said he was discouraged by the outcome of the vote. (Michael Bedard/CBC)