MEDICINE HAT, ALTA- Despite a weak turnout at a Friday night meet and greet, Jeremy Williamson thinks his schoolboard campaign is gaining traction in Medicine Hat.
Williamson held his event at the Medicine Hat Reformed Church on Friday evening, from 6:30 p.m. to roughly 8:00 p.m. According to Val Olson, who promoted the event on social media, supplies for the event were bought with 50 attendees in mind. Olson also asked for those coming to “pack the place” to hear Williamson.
During his address, which focused on why he was running and what he was running on, Williamson’s audience had grown to four people. Views of the live-streamed speech had risen to around 180 by 11 p.m.
Despite the turnout, however, Williamson was in good spirits.
Asked about the public response to his platform, which is focused on the question of parental notification by schools when students join gay-straight alliances (GSA’s), Williamson said he’s had an “overwhelming, positive response”. He also stated he had door-knocked at 300 houses so far.
Despite the door-knocking, Williamson has had some issues with his campaign signs. Three have been damaged so far, and one had to be moved due to the possibility of vandalism.
“I’m not sure whether it’s somebody intentionally, or whether it’s just kids, bashing signs because it’s a schoolboard (sign),” said Williamson.
“I have had to warn people. Some went missing on Vista Drive, and I had the one that was covered in dirt, with a log on top of it.”
Williamson said he was looking forward to the forum for schoolboard candidates being held on October 11, and stated he didn’t think he was making himself a one-issue candidate. He mentioned busing as an area of interest, as well as the possible exemption of the public schoolboard from Alberta’s carbon tax.
“I’m not sure why schools weren’t exempted from the carbon tax,” said Williamson.
“That would have been a substantial help in funding.”
As for whether or not the original supporters of the Concerned Parents of SD76 petition will come out to vote for Williamson, he was optimistic.
“I think so, I hope so,” said Williamson.
“I’ve always been about parental involvement, and being a voice for parents in the public education system, and I would think that the people who signed the position would also stand for what I stand for on education.”
Williamson also commented on the recent news from Alberta Education Minister David Eggen, who has announced plans to introduce legislation which would make it illegal to out students who join GSA’s.
The minister has said no student who belongs to a gay-straight alliance intended to foster understanding and give LGBTQ students a haven from bullying should be outed. Under a law passed by the Progressive Conservatives in 2015, all schools must set up a gay-straight alliance if students ask for one.
“He seems to be on an agenda to exclude parents from knowing what their kids are doing at school,” said Williamson.
“That’s a violation of the U.N Charter of Human Rights. Parents have a prior right to choose the education for their children. Canada is a signatory on that charter, so to go back, independently as Alberta, and say parents no longer have a prior right to know, I think it will probably get challenged. He might pass laws, but it wouldn’t be very long before they got challenged in court.”
Williamson also outlined his response if a student told him they didn’t want their parents to be notified of their membership in a GSA.
“I would have to know the situation, with the parent,” said Williamson.
“If there is legitimate concerns, and the child seems legitimately afraid, that there might be some negative impacts from their parents, I would contact the services necessary, like child services or the police, and investigate whether there really is an issue there. It is the law, in Alberta, under the Family Law Act, to inform parents of their (the students) extracurricular activities at school. If the child is not in any danger, I think that there can be a way that we can work with parents and work with the child to see his concerns eliminated.”
As for what he would say if a hypothetical student told him they had a negative experience due to their parents being informed, Williamson indicated he would feel sorry they had to “encounter that experience.”
“Like I said before, I would want to investigate, if the child was afraid of their parents I would want to investigate and confirm whether the fears were legitimate or not,” said Williamson.
“I would hope that we wouldn’t fail them, by not realizing the fears were legitimate beforehand.”
Medicine Hat residents head to the polls to elect a new school board on October 16.
-with files from the Canadian Press
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