It’s not often that New Brunswick makes the national news. It’s rarer still for a New Brunswick premier to become a Canadian household name. But that’s exactly what’s happened to Premier Blaine Higgs.
Last month, New Brunswick’s education minister announced changes to Policy 713, which deals with sexual orientation and gender identity. The change which attracted the most attention is that schools must now inform parents before changing a student’s name or pronouns.
It didn’t take long for the education minister to receive substantial pushback from various lobby groups and even from within his own caucus. Unlike more risk adverse politicians, Premier Higgs jumped right into the controversy and said that his government would not back down on this issue. He argued that parents have a right to know what is happening with their children in school.
Interestingly, public opinion surveys show that most people agree with Higgs. A national Leger poll revealed that 57 per cent of Canadians believe that a school should have to tell parents if a student wishes to change their gender identity. Support for this position is highest in Atlantic Canada, where 69 per cent of parents agree with Higgs.
Never one to miss an opportunity to virtue signal, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was quick to wade in. Trudeau said that it was important to “stand against” changes to Policy 713 and denounced the Higgs government as “far-right political actors” that were inflicting “cruelty and isolation” on transgender kids.
You know that a prime minister has lost perspective when he paints 57 per cent Canadians as “far-right.”
In addition, the proposed changes to Policy 713 are quite moderate. First, the change only applies to students under the age of 16, which means that older teenagers will still be able to change their name or gender identity on their own. When it comes to younger students, however, there is a much greater need for parents to be kept in the loop. Nothing good comes from hiding important information from parents.
Higgs’s critics argue that this new policy will put students at risk. However, it’s the height of absurdity to paint all parents as potential child abusers. This is one of the fastest ways to destroy trust between parents and educators.
As for the rare cases where there are legitimate concerns about how parents might react, the new policy requires students to work with a professional such as a social worker or school psychologist to come up with a plan to inform parents. Obviously, if the school suspects actual abuse, it should report these concerns immediately to the appropriate authorities, something that has aways been required in every province.
If parents must give consent for their children to go on a field trip, receive medication, or be placed on a modified academic program, it hardly seems unreasonable that they be informed about something as important as their child’s name and gender identity.
What many people lose sight of in this debate is that public education relies on trust. Once that trust is lost, it’s very difficult to regain.
Premier Blaine Higgs is correct that parents have the right to be informed about what is going on in school. The prime minister might consider this position “far right,” but most Canadians consider it common sense.
Michael Zwaagstra is a public high school teacher and a Senior Fellow with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.