Alberta Legislature

5 Reasons why Albertan’s shouldn’t be consulted on Bill 10 (or GSA’s for that matter)

You probably heard a lot about the controversial “Bill 10” that was due to be passed in the Alberta Legislature last week, but was pulled by the Premier before the third reading due to significant public backlash. Good thing too, besides being a bad piece of legislation it was destined to reinforce the Alberta hillbilly complex, according to Calgary’s mayor Naheed Nenshi.

The bill has been put on indefinite hold, “pending further consultation with Albertans”. Here’s a few reasons why that consultation should never happen.

Reason #1. People should be consulted on things that both impact them and they have either an informed opinion about or lived experience with. Being an LGBTQ youth in high school is a pretty niche experience. The formation of Gay-Straight Alliances in high school does not impact me, I don’t have lived experience with, nor (until I took the time to do some research), is a topic that I had an informed opinion about. Which leads me to…

Reason #2. If you DID take the time to get informed, you’d learn that, among many other startling statistics;

  1. LGBTQ youth are up to 3.4 times more likely to attempt suicide than other youth.
  2. Students who are harassed due to sexual orientation are more than three times as likely to attempt suicide than a student who has not been harassed.
  3. An estimated 28% of completed suicides are by LGBTQ people.
  4. Substance abuse is estimated at 2-4 times higher in LGBTQ populations than the normal.
  5. 86% of surveyed gay and lesbian students in one study reported being verbally harassed and abused at their high school.

Reason #3. The first two weren’t enough? How about the government’s record on doing timely, meaningful and engaging consultation processes that result in significant action on social issues? Oh. Right. We’ve done so well with, say, child poverty.

Reason #4. Assuming that the government decides to ignore reason #1 and actually does “consult Albertans”…what exactly is that going to look like? What kind of questions would you ask? Below are a few samples.

Q1. True or False: LGBTQ teenagers are people with rights and freedoms. (Hmm. They’re definitely people, but I’m not so sure about them having rights and freedoms. Is there a “Not Sure” option?)

Q2. On a scale of 1 (not important) to 10 (very important), please rate the following statements;

  • That Alberta’s high schools are safe and inclusive environments for all students.
  • That we take reasonable and effective actions to protect LGBTQ youth from harm associated with discrimination.
  • That the Alberta Progressive Conservative party can continue to deny that it is, in fact, 2014.

And, finally, Reason #5. The very fact that the topic of GSA’s is being debated in the legislature instead of…oh, just about anything else…. is a sad commentary on how far we have to travel (approximately 40 years, according to the above cartoon). Sending Bill 10 out for “consultation” reinforces the notion that there’s something to consult about, which, if you’ve been paying attention to reasons 1-4, you probably realize there isn’t. There is no balancing of right’s to be done here. The protection of vulnerable teenagers against suicide, mental illness, substance use, homelessness and discrimination IS NOT something that can be stacked up against a parent’s right to choose if their kid gets exposed to reality while in school, or for certain religious school boards to hold fast to a quickly sinking ship.

I’m not against consultation. In fact, I firmly believe we don’t do enough of it. And there should be a conversation on this issue, starting with students and then probably including their teachers.

Just not with me…or the average Albertan.

Business as usual. Until it’s not.

Earlier this week I wrote a post about change being harder than most of us think. I’m hoping to expand a bit on that notion, and provide some thoughts around why big systems change (or don’t change).

First, it never ceases to amaze me that people still think that “change from within” a highly structured and bureaucratic environment is possible. It’s extremely rare, if not impossible (but if someone has a really good example I’d love to hear about it). The fact of the matter is that history shows us example after example of big systems, be they natural, political or economic, changing due to disruption and disturbance…not because they want to.

I’m going to take a quick detour into metaphorville and ask that you picture yourself in an old-growth forest. Here’s a picture to help.

Notice how shady it is. Notice how big the trees are. Notice the rather barren undergrowth. In this system, the vast majority (if not all) of the resources are going into the maintenance of this large and stable ecosystem. There is no potential for change. The space and resources simply don’t exist. There is no patch of sun. It will only be through a disturbance that resources will be freed from the old-growth trees. Maybe a lumberjack, maybe a pest, maybe a forest fire. No disturbance? No change.

Which brings us to thinking about the recent events in the Alberta Legislature. People are (and aren’t, simultaneously), surprised that it’s “business as usual” within the Progressive Conservative party. I’m not. There has been no disturbance. No metaphorical lumberjack. No forest fire. Alberta continues to enjoy tremendous population growth and a booming economy. Not exactly an indicator that there’s something amiss in the system. If anything, the trees in Alberta continue to grow and flourish, sucking up resources to maintain the status quo.

Of course, it’s not a matter of if change is coming, simply a matter of when. All big systems crash, some more mightily than others. There was a forest fire in California a few years ago that burned so hot it irrevocably changed the nature of the soil so that nothing else could grow. Why did it burn so hot? Because humans had been suppressing fires in the area for a hundred years.

And just as we like to maintain the status quo in our natural systems, so to do we try and create stability and predictability within our organizations and institutions.  The resignation (er, dismissal) of Alison Redford is the latest attempt by the PC party to snuff out the internal sparks of change before those sparks turn into full blown wildfires and burn the party down.

Of course, we know what happens when we endlessly suppress fires in the forest. Eventually a fire comes along that’s so big, so hot and so determined that we simply have to get out of its way and let it burn. So don’t be surprised if, when the PC party does start to crash and burn, you won’t be able to stop it.

And maybe, just maybe, there is a storm brewing on the horizon. The demographics of this province are shifting, especially in our major centres. Both Edmonton and Calgary have elected very progressive mayors. The recent huge majority that the PC’s enjoyed during the last election? Largely due to progressive moderates who were more afraid of the Wildrose Party than they were enthused about the PC’s.

Time to go spark some fires?