Saskatchewan needs to do better

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Gene Makowsky sits beside Andrew Scheer’s vacated chair at URPolis’ Meet Your Representatives event.
When part of your job is to be accountable to people, maybe do not look this annoyed by people. Allister White

No good news these days in the province

by allister white, contributor

Red hats. Bold white text. Some of us have seen them, and even more of us have read their slogan: “Make America Great Again,” reading like an order, not a request.   

“Make America Great Again” didn’t begin as an order, and it didn’t even truly begin with Trump, but the phrase reemerged with his presidential campaign. Since then, we’ve watched in horror as politicians promising to “Make America Great Again” have advocated for horrific policies targeting minorities under the guise of their battle call – the promise of greatness. Now, a policy mirroring the ones that we witnessed in America has come to Saskatchewan.  

Former Education Minister Duncan’s policy on “Parental Inclusion and Consent…for Saskatchewan Schools” forcibly outs transgender students under the age of 16 to their parents and requires permission if they wish to be referred to by their preferred name and pronouns at school.  

Outing has been proven to increase rates of suicide amongst 2SLGBTQIA+ people of all ages.  

The policy also gives parents the option to opt their children out of participation in the sexual health education curriculum and subsequently bars any third-party involvement. Planned Parenthood has, in the past, provided evidence-based sexual health information in partnership with educators in schools. Planned Parenthood Regina’s executive director says that, as a result of the policy, “[Planned Parenthood Regina is] routinely hearing from educators that they… don’t have the training, the tools, or the comfort level with the material to be able to [provide the information Planned Parenthood does].” Leaving sexual health education to parents, even teachers, some of whom may not have received accurate or comprehensive education themselves, puts children at higher risk of STIs, adolescent pregnancy, and intimate partner violence. 

This isn’t making Saskatchewan “great again.” In fact, “great again” seems too generous a phrase. In an article for Global News, Brody Langager points out that Saskatchewan’s STI rates are among the highest in the country. In fact, according to CATIE, 2020 HIV statistics showed a steep increase in the rate of HIV infections, placing our province among the top three rate increases in HIV infections in the country. In addition to shockingly high STI rates, Saskatchewan also has one of the highest rates of live births from adolescent mothers in the country.  

In this case, at least, Saskatchewan was never that great. Comprehensive and evidence-based sexual health education can even serve to make our province a healthier, safer place to live, but Duncan and Cockrill do not seem to care.  

When questioned at a URPolis event about the risk of abuse that transgender students face should they be outed by this policy, Gene Makowsky, the only SaskParty MLA who did not leave early, refused to mention the word “abuse.” He refused to admit, even to himself, that child abuse will take place as a direct result of this policy.  

Makowsky opted instead to call the abuse a “situation.” When pressed, he stated that “anytime in, in a school, uh, that there — someone is, is at risk of something, uh, there’s processes in place… that would help that student if there’s any sorts of, uh, those situations taking place.” Makowsky was shaky, his answers on the topic were differing and uncertain, and his wish to follow after Andrew Scheer and Warren Steinley in their rush out the door was evident. The hands of the SaskParty are red, yet they refuse to face the grim reality of the consequences to their actions.   

Furthermore, Jeremy Cockrill’s office declined to provide substantiation for the claim that “concerns were raised by Saskatchewan parents about needing to be notified and included in their children’s education in these important areas.” Their basis for refusal? The matter is currently before the courts. The government’s unwillingness to provide evidence for their claims demonstrates a longstanding aversion to accountability and makes the involvement of private, unelected groups in the creation of the policy more concerning.   

It’s worth noting that both Duncan and Cockrill lack relevant qualifications. Duncan received his Bachelor’s degree in History at the University of Regina. He went on to be employed as a researcher for the Saskatchewan Party and has never been employed in a school. Jeremy Cockrill, our current Education Minister also lacks background in education.  

At the URPolis event, Carla Beck, leader of the opposition, questioned Makowsky’s suggestion that the default position of school boards and schools was to not involve parents in major decisions about their children’s lives. She asserted that the suggestion is “patently untrue,” and went on to say that the government ought to have consulted the Saskatchewan School Boards Association and Saskatchewan educators. “That’s not what happened here,” she said. It’s true, and the issue lies with the fact that Duncan and Cockrill, lacking relevant experience of their own, did not consult those with relevant qualifications.  

Our saving grace is that, as Beck noted, Makowsky’s suggestion is untrue. Small towns, for example, are a model for parent and community involvement in schools.  They’re not perfect, I grew up in one and I’ll be the first to admit it. However, despite its pitfalls, I’m proud of my town.  

Our schools did not have a single event that lacked parental support and community involvement. Small businesses helped our SRC manage unique fundraisers in support of schoolwide activities, clubs, and events. Saskatchewan educators have always been important threads in the fabric of our towns. They are involved in their communities outside of schools – they act as coaches, friends, volunteers, and citizens. In turn, high levels of trust are granted by small-town communities to the educators within them. The relationship between good educators and their communities further proves Beck’s point – if anyone was to be consulted by Duncan it ought to have been teachers. 

Beck’s final declaration was that governmental decisions should be about improving people’s lives, and that while that can be “difficult” she notes that “at the very least it should be [about] do[ing] no harm.” Beck goes on to say that “it should never be the case that decisions are made full well knowing they are going to harm and divide people… in political self-interest.” Focusing on exclusion, persecution, and the interests of religious groups is not what the people of Saskatchewan truly value. We are better than that. We are more than that, and while we have lots of work to do. greatness exists in our province already.  

We cannot allow this policy to divert our attention from the fact that the SaskParty is doing damage to our province in more ways than just this one. After the Q and A session came to a close, Beck mentioned that “they (Moe’s government) want us to be talking about nothing but this right now – and that makes me mad.” We should all be angry. What’s more, we should all be involved

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