When two bills that were supposed to deal with school bullying were introduced at Queen’s Park in November — the Liberals’ Bill 13 and the Conservatives’ Bill 14 — there was a chance to take the best of both and come up with something that would help keep kids safe.
But the prospects of that happening looked slim earlier this week, judging from the rhetoric on the legislature floor.
Only one bill was up for second reading debate on Monday — the Liberals’ Bill 13.
And it could easily be mistaken for not being about bullying, because it’s called the Accepting Schools Act.
Lisa MacLeod, the Conservatives’ education critic, accused the Liberals of walking away from negotiations to deal with both bills together, by “unilaterally” putting its bill back on the table for debate.
The Conservatives want both bills sent to committee at the same time so they can be merged.
Education Minister Laurel Broten responded with syrupy platitudes about how much her government supports kids who are bullied and wants every school to be “an accepting school.”
It was left to her colleague, Liberal House Leader John Milloy, to defend the Liberals’ actions. Milloy says his party was ready to send both bills to committee but accused the Conservatives of being obstructionist.
MacLeod says the real problem is Broten and the Liberals are too focused on taking credit for what ultimately emerges and so want to tightly control which elements of the Conservative bill will be considered.
A copy of Liberal minutes from a Feb. 23 meeting between Broten, MacLeod and Elizabeth Witmer, the Conservative MPP who put together Bill 14, suggests what the Liberals thought was “best” in the Conservatives’ bill were five relatively minor parts, all to do with creating and posting a bullying prevention plan.
Not mentioned were the Conservative bill’s strongest features.
Those are requiring bullying incidents to be reported and investigated and for those stats to be publicly reported by the education minister, along with what she’s done to address bullying over the past year.
The bill would also require protections and supports for a bullied child.
These are things parents of bullied children tell me are lacking at present.
Beyond that, the Conservatives’ bill speaks about bullying, full stop, recognizing that reasons given for bullying — homophobia, racial differences, body type, disability — are simply different cloaks for an underlying drive to overpower and subject kids to the bully’s will.
The Liberals’ Bill 13 contributes by upping the discipline ante through providing that repeat bullies be expelled (although not automatically).
But its main focus is on shaping attitudes so kids with differences are “accepted” at school. It proposes to measure how well that’s going by surveying students about their “school climate.”
London anti-bullying activist Corina Morrison says by Liberal definitions, her family had “an accepting school,” but that didn’t stop bullying by a profoundly influential few.
And there was no way to hold the school accountable for fixing it or protecting their kid.
The debate is scheduled to carry on at Queen’s Park Thursday, when the Conservatives’ bill will also be introduced for second reading.
The NDP view is eventually we’ll get a blend of both bills.
But whether it’s a blend that makes a real difference for kids remains to be seen.