Even though both Ontario anti-bullying bills will head to committee together, Liberal MPP Glen Murray says it’s clear the Progressive Conservatives “will continue to do everything in their power to obstruct the process and block GSAs (gay-straight alliances)” in the province.
MPPs in Queen’s Park cheered and applauded early in the day May 3 after Education Minister Laurel Broten’s motion to push both Bill 13 and Bill 14 to committee passed with unanimous consent, allowing Bill 13, the Liberals’ Accepting Schools Act, to move forward to a second reading vote during question period.
But the joyful mood quickly evaporated when Tim Hudak’s PCs unanimously voted against Bill 13 when it came back from second reading later in the day.
To this, Liberal MPP Deb Matthews shouted, “Shame!”
“Instead of following through on his commitment to make schools safer, Tim Hudak insists on playing games, voting against new legislation to tackle bullying and protect kids,” Broten says.
Regardless, at the end of the day Bill 13 had enough votes to pass, 66 to 33. Both bills will now head to the standing committee on social policy together. Bill 14, former MPP Elizabeth Witmer’s private member’s bill, was re-tabled May 2 by PC MPP Lisa MacLeod. The best parts of Bill 14 will be incorporated into Bill 13, Broten says.
However, Murray says the PCs expressed open displeasure with the Liberal bill and GSAs during question period.
“After the vote, the PC whip, John Yakabuski, yelled, ‘No to GSAs!’” Murray says. “They were all very proud of themselves for voting against legislation to help kids. Even though it’s 2012, gay is a four-letter word for far too many people, and that’s not because they can’t spell.”
MPPs have been debating the two bills over the last several months. Bill 13 would make it law that schools establish welcoming environments for queer youth and provide supports, such as GSAs, if requested by students.
GSAs are currently prohibited at most Catholic schools, and students who have tried to start gay support groups have repeatedly been blocked.
Murray says he is concerned the PCs will try to block Bill 13 while it’s in committee because it includes explicit protections for queer students. Both the chair and vice-chair of the standing committee for social policy are PCs – MPP Ernie Hardeman is the chair and MPP Ted Chudleigh is the vice-chair.
“They will make things very difficult,” Murray says, noting he anticipates much of the debate in committee to be focused on GSAs and queer youth.
“The lightning rod controversy has been GSAs, and it’s not because gay and lesbian people wanted to pick a fight,” he says. “It was a controversy because GSAs are the only group that some school boards have tried to ban.”
After committee hearings wrap up, the amended legislation will come back for a third and final vote at the end of May.
Once Bill 13 is passed on third reading, Murray vows that students who want GSAs will be “well supported by the law to have a GSA and call it what they want.”
After the earlier motion passed, NDP MPPs Peter Tabuns and Cheri DiNovo, who worked to strike a deal between all three parties, applauded the activists and students who pushed the government to action. DiNovo was especially relieved that a time-allocation motion did not have to be used.
Premier Dalton McGuinty told Xtra on May 2 that the Liberals were prepared to use Standing Order 47, better known as time allocation, which would have forced the bill to committee.
“In the end, we were able to reach a deal,” DiNovo says, noting she and Tabuns will both be on the social committee. “We are talking about children’s lives.”
Doug Elliott, lawyer for the Ontario GSA Coalition, says that while he is not surprised the Tories voted against Bill 13, he is relieved it is finally heading to committee.
“It has been a very toxic and partisan environment at Queen’s Park,” he says. “On one hand the cheap shots by the PCs [about GSAs] is not surprising, but after they worked out a deal, I would have preferred if people were gracious and cooperative.”
Elliott suspects that committee will be “very contentious,” especially with regard to tightening up the language around GSAs.
“Once Bill 13 passes, it will be up to the Ministry of Education to enforce the law,” he notes. If schools continue to block students from starting GSAs, the students should consider legal action against their school boards.
“I feel very confident that if a school board defies the law with regards to the charter rights of a student, whether it’s a Catholic school or a public school, I feel confident that a court will rule in favour of the student,” Elliott says.
Unanimous Consent Bill 13