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Safe schools must not be elective

Let's not forget this government's track record

The introduction of Vancouver-Burrard MLA Lorne Mayencourt’s Safe Schools Act as a private member’s bill in this session of BC’s legislature has created mixed emotions in our community.

Have the so-called provincial Liberals seen the light? Are they beginning to strive for a kinder, more inclusive government? Or has Mayencourt created a Safe Schools Act that, from most accounts, is considered an important piece of legislation that does not have a hope in hell of ever finding support in his own caucus?

I would find the whole thing an interesting political quandary if this bill were not so critically important to the protection of children in our schools. Most members of our LGBT community have dealt with some form of bullying during their school years. Mention homophobia and bullying in schools in any mixed group in our community and stories of terror, horror and wasted lives pour forth. Talk with young people who are in school or recently graduated and it is clear that schools are still not safe places for them to be.

As we strive for equality, defend same-sex marriage and insist that Canada Customs–now Canada Border Services Agency–deal with our words and images in a respectful manner, we simply cannot forget that our children, and those kids who will one day be members of our community, are in danger in our schools.

Homophobic bullying must stop and I believe it is incumbent on our community to insist on protection for our children in all schools across Canada.

Mayencourt’s bill is very important, would probably even save lives, and needs to be passed by our provincial government. The question is does it have any chance of becoming law?

I have always had great difficulty calling our present provincial government “liberal.” I believe the Liberal Party was hijacked some years ago by a coalition of interest groups that were all hell-bent on gaining control of our government.

The king-sized marriage bed of the present so-called Liberal Party included members of the severely trounced Social Credit Party, social conservatives anxious to put god back into government, and large business interests–the rich and advantaged–that wished only to reduce their own tax burden.

Once in power, this toxic coalition government was very predictable. It began by reducing taxes; the larger the corporation, the wealthier the citizen, the larger the tax breaks. For large global corporations, ‘reduce the red tape’ really meant ‘gut environmental protections and let profiteers raid our province like foxes let lose in a chicken house.’

This so-called Liberal government paid for its tax breaks by attacking the disadvantaged. It started by laying off 6,000 social workers, reducing welfare benefits so that no one could exist on them, and adding a 23-page social assistance application form that requires a doctorate in social work to fill out.

Schools were also targeted for change. The so-called Liberal government gave school boards almost total autonomy. ‘No one is to dictate how parents school their children. Keep government and other do-gooders out of the schools,’ its spin doctors said.

Then, like a chunk of meat to a loyal attack dog, they threw to their strange alliance of socially conservative supporters the power to educate all our children in the same narrow and limited way that allowed homophobia to flourish in the schoolyard in the first place.

Four years in government resulted in many changes, but did last year’s election really change the ideological direction of this so-called Liberal Party?

The election was, in many ways, a report card. I believe it was a real wake up call for the government. While it did not loose power, it lost its enormous majority. It knows that if the erosion of its voter support continues, it will not be re-elected.

The overall message of the last election results was that the people of BC viewed the so-called Liberals as mean-spirited. Voters were turned off by the poor treatment of the disadvantaged in our province.

Perhaps the so-called Liberal government should not have been so gleeful in its cuts. Perhaps its decision to cut the funding to all 37 women’s centres in the province was not good politics. Perhaps the elimination of the Provincial Human Rights Commission left some voters feeling vulnerable.

The government knows if it is to continue in power, it needs to maintain a delicate balancing act. It has to somehow cultivate an image as a progressive, forward-looking, benevolent government while simultaneously ensuring the placation of the socially conservative elements it manipulated so effectively to get elected initially.

Big business and the advantaged will be all over being more progressive, but appeasing social conservatives enough so they vote Liberal again will be much more difficult.

LGBT community and safety issues, like the Safe Schools Act, are a red flag that enrages the socially conservative, born-again bull. Add to this the perceived threat to the autonomy of the school boards and one just knows that Mayencourt’s Safe Schools Act is just the kind of wedge issue that could split the party and destroy all hope the so-called Liberals have of winning the next election. Passage of the Safe Schools Act could easily lead to the formation of separate social conservative party, one that will split the right wing vote.

I find it most alarming that Xtra West and many individuals have rushed to pom-poms and cartwheels on the front lawn over Mayencourt’s Safe Schools Act. It is no surprise that it was introduced as a private member’s bill. It is no surprise that it was not debated in the last session. Unless it becomes law it is merely another flimsy piece of paper, another set of empty promises. Good intentions and appearances aside, it does nothing to protect our children in schools across this province.

Mayencourt challenges all of us to write to our MLAs in an effort to create political pressure for the passing of this important bill. But, I challenge him to put it all on the line himself. If the St Paul’s Hospital issue is important enough to him to merit a promise to quit his caucus and his party, surely the protection of vulnerable children in our school system is at least as important.

If our children are still left without proper protection by the next election cycle, it will not be good enough for Mayencourt to say he tried. It will be time for him to admit he has thrown his lot in with the right wing social conservatives who control his party and caucus. If he wishes to continue to press for the progressive legislation that will make our community proud of an out, gay man in the provincial legislature, it will be time for him to quit the so-called Liberal Party and to run as an independent.

There are almost three years until the next election; lots of time to build new coalitions and shepherd the Safe Schools Act through the legislative process.

There must be nothing elective about maintaining human rights. There must be nothing elective about protecting all children in all school districts. As it stands now, the Safe Schools Act is impressive and powerful because it seems thorough and is mandatory across the province. But the pressure will be on within the so-called Liberal government to totally disembowel the legislation by making it elective and dependent on each school district to embrace at their own speed, of their own volition, or not at all.

Let’s keep the bill intact and let’s all challenge Mayencourt to make this bill, as he’s written it, law.

–Jim Deva is co-owner of Vancouver’s Little Sister’s Bookstore.