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Alberta legislature begins third attempt at overhaul of Education Act

Alberta premier Alison Redford.


The Alberta government begins its third attempt today to pass its overhaul of legislation for grade schools.

It's one of 10 bills on the order paper as Premier Alison Redford and her Progressive Conservatives reconvene the fall sitting of the legislature.

Government House Leader Dave Hancock said the new Education Act will be the first out of the blocks.

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It failed to pass earlier this year after coming under heavy criticism from home schoolers because of a clause mandating that all instruction follow the Alberta Human Rights Act.

Critics said that would force parents to teach values to their children that run counter to their religious beliefs.

Mr. Hancock said the bill has been revised to clarify that section.

"People misconstrued, in my view, what that [human rights clause] was intended to accomplish," said Mr. Hancock.

"So we're taking it back to wording that people are comfortable with but still carries the same message that we expect educational materials and educational programming will reflect the values of Albertans."

NDP Leader Brian Mason said they will fight to retain the human rights references.

"We can't have the public education system hijacked by special interest groups," said Mr. Mason.

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Other bills include whistleblower legislation, protection for new-home buyers and a plan to create a single provincial regulator for upstream energy development.

Mr. Hancock said the whistleblower legislation will give public servants the freedom to act without fear.

"[It] allows someone who sees something they believe to be inappropriate or improper to raise it and to raise it with safety to themselves and to their jobs," he said.

Hancock said those pointing out wrongdoing will be able to report it in their office or to a legislative officer.

Liberal Laurie Blakeman said it's a good idea but poorly executed.

"It's really just going to put a whole other administrative level in place in which you now get to go and report to someone you work with who has been deemed to be the whistleblower officer," she said.

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Danielle Smith, leader of the Wildrose Party, said they plan to hold Ms. Redford to her promise to balance the budget by 2014.

Ms. Smith said that's going to be difficult given that the projected deficit of $886-million this budget year has already ballooned to $3-billion.

"Alberta's finances are in serious trouble," said Ms. Smith. "Revenues across the board in this Alison Wonderland budget are beginning to crash to reality."

The sitting will run six weeks out of the next seven, ending Dec. 6.

Mr. Hancock said there will be lots of night sittings to get the work done.

This year's spring sitting, before the election, occasionally degenerated into personal insults and accusations of lying hurled across both sides of the aisle.

Mr. Hancock said he's hoping they'll do better.

"From the government side, I expect a respectful decorum," he said.

"We can disagree without being disagreeable."

Ms. Blakeman said history suggests good intentions won't remain so for long.

"It's going to be short-tempered [with] long evening sittings and brutish," she said.

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