Emily Jaycox editorial

Bill 66, COVID-19, K-6 curriculum and democracy


Alberta is increasingly a province in crisis on several fronts, and it’s difficult to chose just one issue to tackle.

There is the proposed new K-6 draft curriculum that has parents and teachers, and school boards alike up in arms since its launch a month ago and Bill 66 and all its perceived, potential implications in the midst of a pandemic and growing frustrations and impatience with restrictions.

What these all issues have in common, however, is that they all serve to illustrate how important it is to have a conversation about how the democratic process should work, and if it’s working how it’s intended to.

In Canada, we’ve enjoyed so many rights and freedoms not granted in other parts of the world, and we’ve become accustomed to that, and taken for granted, the ability to earn an income, to bodily autonomy, etcetera. However, the ongoing pandemic has given rise to fundamental questions, that perhaps we’ve never had to ask before — at least not in living memory.

When does need to protect the public health override the right to personal freedoms (whether real or perceived)?

Voluntary compliance when it comes to restrictions would seem the most democratic approach, especially if there is any legal question on whether the government really has the authority or purview to mandate such restrictions. However, restrictions will only work to curb the spread of the virus if everyone complies, or COVID-19 and the variants will just keep spreading and mutating and this nightmare will never end.

Is it unconstitutional to mandate everyone to wear a mask in public? Maybe. Should you do it anyways? Yes.

Should we perhaps just choose to do the right thing and sort out any legal implications and deal with the damage once the crisis has passed? Probably.

Is wearing a mask and conceding other personal freedoms, if that is your view, a slippery slope towards eroding more personal freedoms with escalating consequences? Personally, I don’t believe so.

We aren’t living in a dictatorship or totalitarian society where government has complete control, where we need to be concerned about having our rights stripped away. At least, it isn’t supposed to be. A majority Liberal government has proven it can yield power at its whim, however, including proroguing Parliament and failing to table a budget in two years.

In Alberta, the UCP party has had pretty much carte blanche to slash and burn where it sees fit, at an alarming rate, since being elected into office. They seem to ignore the wishes of Albertans and the objections of their counterparts in the legislature and just blaze ahead however they want.

The amount of negative feedback about the draft K-6 curriculum should serve as irrefutable evidence that the curriculum is not what Albertans asked for, nor what they deserve.

Diving into all the details of the problematic document would require its own column to debate all the fine points, however, every Albertan, whether they have children in school or not, should take the time to review this draft and give their feedback.

Quite literally, the future education of our youth depends on a thoughtful, critical review, with some real consideration to feedback given and meaningful changes made before this curriculum can be considered acceptable.

School boards who have stood up and said no to piloting the draft curriculum should be applauded for their convictions and dedication to quality education and their students.

However, one sincerely hopes that by choosing to not participate in piloting the curriculum, those school boards will still be given a fair chance to have their concerns heard and acted on.

This may not be the case though, as education press secretary Justin Marshall told CBC that “If some school divisions do not wish to pilot, they simply will not be able to provide direct, in-classroom feedback on potential change.”

Hopefully the democratic process will be honoured and a curriculum nobody wants won’t just be shoved through.

Another recent concern is Bill 66, though whether those concerns are well-founded or overblown remains to be seen.

For the most part, Bill 66 appears to be an attempt to correct some overreaches from what could be considered reasonable authority.

Bill 66 would, if passed, repeal sections of Bill 10, that gave emergency powers to the minister of health to modify legislation by order.

The Government of Alberta also states Bill 66 would “affirm the rights of individuals while maintaining the ability to respond to public health challenges.”

It would also remove powers to order mandatory immunization and require periodic review to keep the act current.

Although the powers included in Bill 10 are alarming, these changes seem like a good thing, so what’s the problem?

Well, the The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, whose mission is to “defend the constitutional freedoms of Canadians through litigation and education,” is not satisfied.

In a post on April 19, they stated if enacted, Bill 66 that will effectively repeal select provisions of the Public Health Act that are part of existing legal challenges.

However, they are concerned that Bill 66 still contains authoritarian emergency powers and fails to place sufficient democratic checks on the Chief Medical Officer of Health (CMOH).

The Justice Centre also claims that Bill 66 legally validates the existing CMOH orders made in 2020 and 2021.

“This kind of retroactive law-making suggests the government is itself uncertain that previous CMOH orders are legally and constitutionally valid,” said the Justice Centre in their post.

We have a democracy, that has checks and balances. However, it has to be allowed to function as it was intended. It shouldn’t be possible or even desirable for a party to make sweeping, arbitrary decisions when a majority opposes it. Right?

However, even democracy in its purest form is flawed, because there will always be a minority that disagrees, and will be disapointed. It’s just not possible to please everyone, as they say.

However, it should be possible to represent everyone and allow their voices to be heard and considered, at the very least.