In a move causing heightened tensions and widespread criticism, Premier Danielle Smith refuses to dismiss Jason Stephan, MLA of her UCP caucus, in response to Alberta NDP’s cries for his exclusion. This comes following Stephan’s controversial appearance as a speaker at the ‘1MillionMarch4Children’ protest.
Stephan, representative of Red Deer-South for a.. second term, insisted his involvement at the event revolved solely around upholding parental rights, rebuffing allegations that the protests were hateful. The criticism intensified after he shared the stage with a school trustee notorious for equating the LGBTQ2S+ community to Nazi Germany.
Opposition leader, Notley, expressed stern disapproval, stating Stephan should not be engaged with the caucus and his removal should have been prioritised by the premier. During press briefings on Thursday, a visibly moved Notley passionately reassured queer and trans youth of their love and respect.
This message followed her recollection of a disheartening incident in Calgary involving a young boy who publicly labeled gay individuals as “psychopaths” and “disgusting.” The incident at hand was viewed as a significant failure in leadership by Notley, who criticized Premier Smith’s lack of condemnation towards such actions.
Meanwhile, protest organizers in the Alberta capital argued for “healthy boundaries” at educational institutions, claiming topics related to sexuality and gender identity are unsuitable for children. Conversely, counter-protest leaders contended that inclusive school policies play an important role in ensuring queer and trans students feel secure and accepted.
In response to inquiries about these nationwide marches, Premier Smith expressed empathy towards parents wishing to preserve their children’s innocence. She also acknowledged the need for responsible protest behavior and remedies in law to address transgressions.
MLA Stephan found support in Premier Smith’s office, which defended his peaceful exercise of free speech on behalf of parents and constituents. Furthermore, a spokesperson for the UCP reaffirmed their stand supporting “peaceful protest and open, grassroots debate.”
Despite the support within the caucus, prominent individuals and organizations, including Notley, Edmonton Mayor Amajeet Sohi, the Alberta Teachers Association president, and the Alberta Federation of Labour leader, vehemently condemned the ‘1MillionMarch4Children’ events.
Critics such as Mount Royal political scientist Duane Bratt accused Smith of lacking courage and neutrally stepping lightly so as to not aggravate her socially conservative base. In contrast, Notley pledged to continue defending the human rights of queer and trans youth, condemning the premier’s tacit approval of an MLA’s involvement in a hateful event.