Rural Alberta leaders criticize NDP ministers, policies as attacking Christian faith

NDP policies were slammed as attacks on Christian faith by political leaders from rural Alberta attending a fall convention in Edmonton Thursday.

'I feel that it's an attack on Christianity and all faith-based believers'

Mayors and reeves from rural Alberta line up to question government ministers at the annual Rural Municipalities of Alberta fall convention in Edmonton. (CBC)

NDP policies were slammed as attacks on Christian faith by political leaders from rural Alberta attending a fall convention in Edmonton Thursday.

At a Rural Municipalities of Alberta association forum with provincial ministers, Josh Knelson, reeve of Mackenzie County, told Education Minister David Eggen he takes the threat of withholding funding from private faith-based schools "very personally."

"I feel that it's an attack on Christianity and all faith-based believers," Knelson said. "And to be quite frank, you scare me."

Government ministers were grilled on everything from the economy to environment during the annual bear-pit forum. (CBC)

Eggen has given all schools until the end of the school year to develop a policy allowing gay-straight alliance groups, or risk losing government funding.

Eggen responded over groans and murmurs in the large crowd at the Shaw Conference Centre that it wasn't his intention to create fear.

All public,Catholic, Francophone, charter and most private schools already comply with the policy and it falls to a handful of outliers to get onboard, the minister said.

"At the end of the day," Eggen said, "if a school is taking public money, which is private schools, then they have to follow the law just like everybody else."

A second Mackenzie Country council member then chastised Indigenous Relations Minister Richard Feehan for arguing a year ago that using the Bible to oppose Bill 24, an Act to Support Gay-Straight Alliances, was absurd.

Ernie Peters called Feehan's speech an attack on Opposition Leader Jason Kenney's faith and also criticized Feehan for holding the Bible while making the argument.

"You mocked parts of the Old Testament, laughing about it for about four minutes," Peters said. "Is that your mandate for all faiths or just for Christianity in particular?"

'A message from Jesus'

Feehan, a Catholic who holds a degree in theology, said he was sorry for taking his religious beliefs into the legislature, but not for defending his firmly-held stance on human rights for all people, including those from the LGBTQ community.

"I fundamentally believe that was a message from Jesus Christ and I live that out every day," Feehan explained. "I make sure that that I respect the rights of all people."

The rural mayors and reeves also challenged ministers over the economy, environmental programs, infrastructure and how to kick-start projects that seem to be dragging on for months.

The association represents Alberta's 69 counties and municipal districts.