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Debate on Parents Bill of Rights legislation is now on

Daily Leg Update: Second reading debate finally under way at Saskatchewan Legislature, as special sitting continues.

REGINA - Second reading debate has finally gotten under way for the government’s Bill 137 - the Parents Bill of Rights Act.

The legislation, which calls for schools to require parental consent for gender based name changes for children under age 16, was introduced in the Assembly for first reading last week but had been mired in procedural delays since then over the rules. 

Opposition MLAs spent most of Monday speaking against a government motion from Government House Leader Jeremy Harrison setting the rules and procedures for the special sitting, with the government proposing 40 hours of debate and hours of sitting from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily. In response, the Opposition has repeatedly accused the government of ramming Bill 137 through the special sitting without proper scrutiny.

During Monday night's sitting, Harrison's procedural motion on the rules finally passed on a recorded standing vote, with members voting on party lines. At that point, the government finally entered into second reading on Bill 137. 

Education Minister Jeremy Cockrill and Opposition Education Critic Matt Love opened debate with their remarks on the bill, but Love's proved to be the most extensive.

During his lengthy address Love said the government “have not done not their homework” and accused them of not reading the Court of King’s Bench ruling from Justice Michael Megaw that had issued an injunction on the government’s parental consent policy.

Love then asked the Legislature pages to hand out 47 printed-out copies he had brought of the court ruling to each member of the government, as well as to Sask United Party leader Nadine Wilson. 

That attempt drew a rebuke from the Deputy Speaker, who said it was against the rules of the House. Love was allowed to table one copy of the ruling instead. Love then said he would happily provide a copy to members any time they want.

Love then proceeded with his remarks, which ended up so lengthy that they ran out the clock on the day’s sitting at 11 p.m. Monday. When debate resumed the next day, Love was back on his feet in the Assembly on the issue and he was still speaking as of the early afternoon on Tuesday.

In speaking to reporters Tuesday morning, Opposition Leader Carla Beck was asked about the opposition’s strategy, which it was pointed out seemed to involve their members using their maximum allotted amounts of time to speak.

“What is in front of us right now is a bill that contemplates not only stepping on the rights of vulnerable kids in this province, using the notwithstanding clause to get around the Charter and the Saskatchewan Human Rights Code, and also provide immunity to the government.”

Beck said the bill “clearly requires as much debate as we are able to provide…. we intend to provide all the scrutiny that we are able.”

Moe insists goal of legislation is to standardize policies already in place

Meanwhile, Premier Scott Moe was fielding questions from reporters over another hot issue that flared up in recent days: that of government ministers pointing to the administrative policies brought in last June, 2022 at Regina Public School Division as an impetus to move ahead with Bill 137.

The RPSD policy related to privacy and confidentiality states: "Division staff will respect confidentiality and privacy and not disclose sexual orientation, gender identity, and/or gender expression of students unless the student has given permission or there is an impending safety concern.

Moe confirmed to reporters that "that was the policy that was added or changed from what was historically in place."

"That's, I would say, one of the precipitices that would have spurred a number of parents to start reaching out to their elected members. Another would've been some of the information provided in school in Lumsden during the byelection, yes, but I would say there has been an increased communication of parents to elected members over the course of the last year or two or three with respect to policies that are in their schools. And as we have always said, and continue to say today, as we make what has historically been the policy in Saskatchewan schools consistent across all of our school divisions, this is an opportunity for parents to reassess their involvement in their child's life, reach out to your teachers, principal, school division directly, board representative, and become even more involved in your school community council. At the end of the day, the most responsive education system is really going to be evident, present when parents are involved in their child's life and in their child's education."

When asked to respond to RPSD's claim that they had not received any complaints from either the government ministers or from parents to their policy, Moe pointed to the need for a consistent policy across the province.

Moe once again said the Parents Bill of Rights legislation “mirrors what has largely been in practice in our classrooms in our schools and in school divisions for a number of decades now.”

“We are making consistent in all school divisions what was largely in place already,” said Moe.

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