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The end of Ontario’s battle of the anti-bullying bills?

The resignation of MPP Elizabeth Witmer could kill her private member's bill

Religious parents gathered at Queen's Park March 29 to protest the Liberals' anti-bullying legislation, Bill 13, and gay-straight alliances. Credit: Andrea Houston

The office of Ontario’s education minister has confirmed that Progressive Conservative MPP Elizabeth Witmer’s surprise resignation on Friday means her anti-bullying legislation, Bill 14, is dead.

“There is no longer a question of battling bills,” says Ontario GSA Coalition lawyer Doug Elliott, who has been pushing for the speedy passage of Bill 13, the Liberals’ Accepting Schools Act. “We are now left with Bill 13, and we want to see it move forward as quickly as possible.”

But NDP education critic Peter Tabuns, who spent the weekend looking at different scenarios with NDP researchers, was more hesitant.

He says Bill 14, a private member’s bill, has been adopted by the Ontario legislature on second reading and is currently being reviewed by the standing committee on social policy. “So, one would think that if the legislature endorsed it, it has some life [beyond Witmer],” Tabuns says. “If someone resigns or dies, is it like a Viking funeral, where everything gets burned along with them?

“There is a total lack of clarity at this point, with contradictory opinions about what will happen and what will not happen, and that will be sorted out very early this week,” he says.

Tabuns suggests there might be another legislative mechanism in place to allow transference or carriage of the bill to another member. “I have seen some pretty weird procedural stuff even in my short stay in the legislature.”

Paris Meilleur, spokeswoman for Education Minister Laurel Broten, could not point to the legislative rule or a historical precedent but says, “Private member’s bills must be sponsored by a private member. The private member in this case resigned and so is no longer a sponsor for the bill.”

Tabuns is not convinced and says he will continue to search for answers. “If no one can point to a legislative procedure, boy, that’s big.”

For the past several months MPPs have been debating two anti-bullying bills: Bill 13 and the Conservatives’ Bill 14, which does not mandate the creation of gay-straight alliances in all schools. Bill 13, however, would make it law that schools establish welcoming environments for queer youth and provide supports, such as GSAs, if requested by students.

At an April 19 news conference at Queen’s Park, Broten said the PCs have been using “delay tactics” during the bill’s second reading debate to prevent Bill 13 from moving on to committee. Elliott says the reason for the delays have been the explicit protections for gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans youth in Bill 13. Many Catholic parents and religious groups have also objected to Bill 13 because, they say, it is “radical” and tramples on religious freedom.

Elliott says the Ontario GSA Coalition will look to Broten for clarification as soon as possible. With Bill 14 no longer on the table, will the delay tactics stop?

“Our objective is to see a robust new law in place when school starts in September,” says Elliott. “This means getting Bill 13 through second reading, committee and third reading in about six weeks. It will be challenging, but it can be done, and we hope that all parties will cooperate in achieving that goal.”