The Ontario Liberal government’s Bill 13 passed second reading on May 3 after it was fast-tracked by Liberal House Leader John Milloy. Bill 13, the Accepting Schools Act, forces high schools to establish homosexual clubs and promotes tougher penalties against bullying, including expulsion.
The Progressive Conservatives were accused of stalling debate on the anti-bullying bill by frequently ringing legislative bells, calling MPPs for votes, to force the government into having special committee hearings for the ORNGE air ambulance scandal. The NDP and the Conservatives had claimed that not enough time was being spent investigating ORNGE, as hearings before the public accounts committee about the scandal were only held on Wednesdays. Tory MPP Rick Nicholls (Chatham-Kent-Essex) told The Interim that the government was playing politics and deflecting criticism by tying the PC strategy on the ORNGE scandal to the bullying legislation. “The delay had nothing to do with Bill 13,” he explained.
After a protest against Bill 13 held April 28 outside of his Kitchener constituency office, Milloy moved to fast track the bill, allowing only 40 minutes of debate over it from each party before it headed to committee. Jack Fonseca of Campaign Life Catholics told The Interim that the government wanted to avoid further embarrassing demonstrations by getting the issue over with as quickly as possible.
Fonseca also said Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty’s government is pushing the bill through because it is “beholden to the gay lobby” noting the Liberal government includes openly homosexual cabinet ministers as Glen Murray and Kathleen Wynne. Wynne, formerly the education minister, worked with gay groups to draft Bill 13 and the Ontario government’s Equity and Inclusive Education Strategy.
In response to Liberal action over Bill 13, Fonseca said that Canadians must “flood Dalton McGuinty’s office and their own MPP with righteous outrage” demanding the removal of Bill 13 and the adoption of Bill 14. They should also get their religious leaders to take a vocal stand on the issue, especially the Catholic hierarchy, which has a constitutional right to make its voice heard.
On May 2, all three parties in the House agreed to put Bill 13 and the Conservatives’ competing Bill 14 to a legislative committee and public hearings if it passed the vote the next day.
“This is anti-democratic at its core. We never support time allocation,” said NDP MPP Cheri DiNovo to Xtra about the Liberal motion to fast track the bill.
On May 3, Bill 13 passed second reading by a 66-33 vote, with only the Progressive Conservatives voting against it. As a result, both Bill 13 and the Tories’ Bill 14 will be merged by the Standing Committee on Social Policy. Liberals are hoping to hold the final vote for the bill before the legislature breaks on June 7 for the summer so that it will be in place by the start of the next school year in September. It could be held as early as the end of May.
Nicholls told The Interim that he doubts the bill will pass before the Summer recess but encouraged people to contact their MPPs to ask for further deliberation on the anti-bulling initiatives.
Nicholls said his party’s Bill 14 was superior because it lacked the political agenda being pushed by the government. While parents and religious groups have condemned the government’s focus on homosexuality in its bill despite the fact the vast majority of bullying is about other issues (especially body shape and size, neither of which are highlighted as causes of bullying in the legislation), groups such as Parents As First Educators, Campaign Life Catholics and the Institute for Canadian Values back Bill 14.
Nicholls explains Bill 14 does not focus on a single cause of bullying and promotes “prevention, accountability, and awareness” rather than a political agenda. He said Bill 14 focuses “not on one group” but on what are generally “inappropriate behaviour, actions, and words,” and what “remedial action against bullying is appropriate.”
Nicholls said the government is not interested in a compromise because their approach has been to urge the Conservatives to drop Bill 14 and simply endorse their bill. Nicholls asked why the government, in the spirit of compromise, wouldn’t drop the objectionable components of Bill 13 and adopt something closer to Bill 14.
Nicholls said that his party will continue to work on anti-bullying initiatives that address the problem and despite the government’s attempt to fast-track debate, said “this is far from over.”