Feature: This week, we speak with an icon of Canadian conservatism, especially well-known in western Canada. Former Alberta Report publisher Ted Byfield weighs in on the education controversies in Alberta, and the federal Conservative leadership race.
Notwithstanding clause may be used to protect religious education: Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall has threatened to invoke the “notwithstanding clause” on a court ruling involving Catholic education.
More problems with inappropriate content in Alberta education: More inappropriate content on a government-approved education website in Alberta.
#GGY2017: And a look ahead to this week’s God and Government youth conference in Ottawa.
Saskatchewan Premier Brad wall is threatening to invoke the Constitution’s Notwithstanding Clause to counter a recent court decision on Catholic education in his province. That clause allows governments to override court rulings which find certain laws or government practices unconstitutional; the notion is that, “notwithstanding” those court rulings, those laws or practices can remain in place.
ARPA Canada’s education policy consultant Harry Moes says the case has a long history. “It actually dates back to 2003. There was the closure of a small (public) elementary school in the village of Theodore, and then a Catholic school decided to open up, and of course…in Saskatchewan, Catholic schools are fully funded. And the vast majority of these students then decided to enroll in the Catholic school.”
Moes says public officials were “not amused” by this, feeling that the parents transferring their allegiance to the Catholic school was not really in sync with the central purpose for the establishment of Catholic schools. They took the issue to court, and last month, a judge issued a 238 page ruling on the case. Moes says he hasn’t read the entire ruling, but “I think what (it) is saying (is) that the intent of funding for faith-based schools was to provide education for the children of faith-based parents.” He says the ruling could have a “ripple effect” for all faith-based schools in Saskatchewan, or perhaps all faith-based schools across the country.
Premier Wall, who has been a strong supporter of school choice, announced his plan last month to invoke the notwithstanding clause in the case, but Moes says that may actually not be the best way to go, because the judge did allow for a minimum of one year for the ruling to be implemented, which would also allow time for an appeal of the ruling. “I personally think the Catholic School Board should appeal this decision, and I feel that they would successful, and that would be the better way to go rather than to invoke the notwithstanding clause.”
More inappropriate content has surfaced on a website that the Alberta government has been recommending to students struggling with issues of sexual identity and expression.
Theresa Ng with the Informed Albertans blog uncovered a whole slew of inappropriate links a few months ago, and the government took them down, but last week, another link surfaced, this one entitled “Sex from A to Z”. It resembles an electronic set of alphabet flash cards but with extremely graphic descriptors for each of the letters in the alphabet. (A description of those flash cards can be found here, but with a strong parental warning: this link includes some very explicit and disturbing content.)
Ng says she was surprised to find this new link. “When I first wrote my blog article in the middle of March, talking about the sexually graphic material that I had found, I actually didn’t find these ‘A-Z cards.’ It was actually somebody else, afterwards, that found them and sent to me and said, ‘did you this?’ I was shocked. (The links) are very inappropriate, especially for kids.”
The links she highlighted talk about the promotion of pornography and anonymous sexual encounters.
There is no longer any direct online link from the Alberta Education website to any of this content. Ng says the government continues to recommend the organizations behind these links as being “appropriate resources” for students. And she says the governance of these organizations continue to raise some fundamental questions. “The Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services actually shares a director (with) the CHEW project – the “Comprehensive Health Education Workers” project – which has posted these A-Z cards on their website. So why are these people who are putting these very inappropriate materials on their resource page providing services in our K-12 schools for kids?”
Ng is also wrapping up a letter-writing campaign on this issue this week. She’s collecting letters to be forwarded to Education Minister David Eggen. To learn more about that project, you can click here.
ARPA Canada’s first-ever youth edition of their signature God and Government is kicking off in Ottawa today. We Need a Law Director Mike Schouten says the idea for this conference goes back to last year. “The past couple of years that we’ve done the G&G there’s always been a couple of young people that attend, and last year we had a trial process whereby we took in some students from Southern Ontario, and that sort of sowed the seeds for this year.” He says ARPA decided to have a conference dedicated to youth to hopefully “set the stage for these young people to either pursue careers in politics or careers in advocacy organizations or, if not that, just (getting them to realize) the importance of our calling to be a salt and a light in the culture.”
The students will take in lectures on everything from pornography to pre-born human rights and sphere sovereignty, and they also have meetings booked with MPs and Senators from all three major parties. There will also be an opportunity to sit in on various Parliamentary Committee meetings. “Interestingly enough,” Schouten says, “the Justice Committee is going to be debating Bill C-16, so we’re hoping to be able to get a few of the groups in to those Committee meetings.”
The students have also been invited to participate in Thursday’s national March for Life on Parliament Hill.
Ted Byfield. He was the publisher of the Western Report and Alberta Report magazines from the late 70’s to the early 90’s. He was involved in the formation of the Reform Party back in that period, and he’s the man widely credited with first coining the phrase “the West wants in.”
After the magazine folded, he edited a book series on the history of Christianity.
Ted Byfield, for a lot of western Canadians at least, is an icon of the modern conservative movement. Mr. Byfield is almost 90 years old now, and this week, he’s our special guest on Lighthouse News. We reached him by telephone, at his home in Edmonton.
LN: I’d like to start by asking you about a series of blog posts you’ve been writing on the controversies in the Alberta education system. And I’d ask you, “What’s actually going on there?” I mean, we know, in a sense, what’s going on, with the promotion of the so-called “alternative lifestyles” and gender issues and such. That’s the political reality. But what’s underlying all of this? Is it just because the NDP has a different worldview, or is there an underlying philosophical and societal shift on these moral questions?
TB: Well what’s underlying it – as I try to make out in a little book I published not long ago – was a revolution that nobody in the media covered. And it was probably the most important revolution insofar as the western world’s concerned in the 20th century. And that was in our educational system. And very succinctly it has to say…they switched from objectivism to subjectivism. That is where the educator – the teacher – used to have a body of skills and information that he or she had to impart to the pupil, it became a question of imparting to the pupil a certain attitude, so that feelings became more important than facts. And this permeated the entire educational system over the latter half of the 20th century, and it resulted in the feminist revolution for example, the sexual revolution. They’re all sort of the children of that educational revolution which nobody covered at all. If you go back over the press coverage of that one, there’s hardly any mention of it. Occasionally, some editor will write an editorial deploring something they’re doing in the schools, but nobody put all the pieces together. And what they were doing in the schools was radically changing society. And that revolution is what’s causing the symptoms that you notice socially. We all do.
LN: So how should Christians respond to what’s going on? I mean, it seems conservatives – especially social conservatives – are always fighting a rear-guard action on this stuff. Trying to make up for lost time and playing defense. Is there a way to get pro-active on this stuff?
TB: Yes, of course there is. And that is to get into two things. The media – the general media, not the religious media – the general media. And also the education system. The way that some parents are very effectively reacting. I’ve had quite a bit to do with the homeschool movement because we are running a program that involves it. When you see how much better a mother can do with her three or four kids than a teacher with 30 or 40 students; so a kid that’s being homeschooled has a high-value education that you only recognize when you figure that he can write and he can understand grammar and he’s good in math and this kind of thing. That’s where the fruition occurs. But that’s one thing we can do.
And the other thing to do is do exactly what you’re doing. Get into the media. You know, young kids starting out who have a religious vocation immediately think of becoming a pastor or something like (that), and heaven knows we need good pastors, but we also need good journalists and we also need good playwrights that can get into the public mix and write things and produce things that are gonna cause people to think “I better take a look at this Christianity thing.” That’s what we should be stirring up in the public mind. And I see young people coming out of the system now – many as homeschoolers, some from Christian schools – who are gonna be able to do that, and we should give them every possible encouragement.
LN: Would you include in that the notion that we need more Christian politicians?
TB: I think that politics is in itself a very dicey thing for any Christian, because our system – and it’s I think the best there is – is built on compromise. Christianity says “these statements are true”, and if you’re being called upon to compromise truth, then you’re compromising your religion to some degree. And very few politicians are prepared to say “this is where I stand. If you don’t like it, vote me out of office.” A few do, but most haven’t got the courage to do that, and you can hardly blame them because the media will do everything possible to kill them.
LN: And that leads to something else to close the interview. I want to shift gears a little. It’s not every day we get to speak to you, and I don’t want to let this opportunity pass without asking (for) your impressions of the federal conservative leadership race. What do you think of the crop of candidates that’s there?
TB: To tell you the truth, Al, I have hardly followed it. Mainly because we are so preoccupied in Alberta with this provincial government we’ve managed to elect, that it takes the centre of our attention away from Ottawa to a large degree, and focuses (us) upon what’s going on here, in our own backyard.
LN: OK, so you haven’t really been paying attention, but some people have described this leadership race as “a battle for the soul of the party.” A battle between social conservatives and fiscal conservatives. What’s your thought on that?
TB: The divide between what they call “social conservatives” and “fiscal conservatives” is phony. The fiscal conservatives seem to think that they’re not dealing with moral questions; they’re dealing with practical facts. And then, in the next breath, they say: “Why do people so easily involve themselves in these enormous debts? We shouldn’t be doing that.”
That word “shouldn’t” means morality, because using your head and being wise with money is a virtue. Now, if you discredit all the social virtues – sex, and that kind of thing – because they don’t matter anymore, (then) don’t be surprised when all the fiscal virtues disappear as well. Because they’re all standing on the same ground.
So what we see is people dismissing the social conservatives as irrelevant and then whining because we allow the debts to go so high. Well they’re going so high because the same disbelief that enabled us to reject the old sex rules also enables us to reject the economic rules. They’re all standing on the same ground.
“I ought to.” “I should.” “We should.” We ought to.” “We ought not to be building up debts like this.” They’re all moral values, and if you discredit morality, don’t be surprised if it spreads into areas you take as sacrosanct. So we should get rid of the idea of “social conservatives” and “fiscal conservatives”. What they’ve gotta “conserve” is good and bad, and it applies in both regions.