The issue they were avoiding, and to a large extent the issue local and provincial politicians are avoiding, is the blatant discrimination that took place in Clearview School Division during the trustee elections when an Erskine woman was told -- flat out -- that she couldn't vote for public school trustee because she was Catholic. Sure she had three kids in public school, but she was of a certain religion and living in “their division” and well, that just won't float these days. Go vote where you belong, with your kind....
If you think I'm being glib here, consider this: It is absolutely true in Alberta that a Catholic cannot vote in a public school trustee election if they live in a Catholic school division. They can also not hold public school office. It all stems from the Alberta Act of 1905 in the federal constitution that gives Catholics the right to form separate school districts where they are the minority. It states that if a district is established in an area, all members of the minority faith are obligated to support and vote in that system regardless of where their children attend school.
It's true and a hell of a lot of people here have no idea. Getting the story out was a challenge. I called both school boards who were weary of commenting. Politicians were completely ignorant and even provincial human rights groups couldn't say for sure if the law violated any laws. It was only after I contacted the Canadian Civil Liberties Association in Toronto and waited two weeks for them to research the issue that we got to the crux of it:
“On the basis of one's religion, one can't vote for one's school board, where other people can,” Noa Mendelsohn Aviv of the civil liberties association told me. "I think it's fairly obvious that both her equality rights and her freedom of religion [were violated]."
But who actually knows that? That quote and a whole story never made it to print because people like McLaughlin don't bother to look into matters for any number of reasons. Other papers (national) wouldn't buy the story for their own reasons (never explained) and politicians including some school trustees and superintendents don't even understand the issue.
But people do, and forgive the long preamble. Often in elections serious issues get overlooked because an editor or some other lazy sot decides it's not important. When both sides of this issue (Catholic and Public School Boards) backed out of arranged interviews on a radio show I was hosting, we did it anyway and opened the phone lines up. We never received as many calls. People were concerned about all sides of the issue: where the tax dollars go, what Catholic divisions actually mean, what busing agreements would solve and what would eventually happen to small, rural schools when two sides compete for the same students.
The constituents, as they're called, understood all too well the issue, or at least what it would mean for them. The politicians didn't and they backed out of it like they did last week when I called the Drumheller-Stettler candidates to ask their opinion on it. If this election comes down to leadership as has been suggested, then D-S is sorely lacking. None of the candidates knew much about this separate school stuff. And fine, if people think human rights and discrimination don't matter. The truth of the issue is that the province can amend the Alberta Act if they so choose. But they haven't been approached because the school boards associations have displayed their own cowardice in not addressing the issue.
But it remains today that not many people in Alberta know that's still a law, because some think it's too political or too hot or too whatever to stand up for or against. Or to even write about it. It comes down to what's important to everyday people and the sense that politicians, those soldiers of 'change', those caring, sensitive compassionate men who lend their ear for one month every four years might actually start doing something about an issue they've heard about from the people it affects. Even if it means being a real leader.
The debate Thursday showed the parties do have a grasp on some of the major issues, but what about those ones that don't make for good 30-second clips? The ones that are more difficult to solve than party leaders blaming one another? Those issues that require thought, understanding and a dose of common sense?
Elections are full of buzz issues, in some cases started by different parties themselves as a means of distraction. Take the seemingly now dead issue of car insurance this election. This annoying frenzy has been brought up in just about every provincial election since 2000 and nothing ever gets solved. The media, for whatever reason, love hopping on these things and trying to make them something they're not. The people have to speak up and let their representatives know what's important to them. Don't rely on out of touch editors to set the agenda. One week to go......