By Stephen Dafoe
Edmonton – Morinville parent Thomas Kirsop arrived at the Alberta Legislature Thursday morning with enough cookies to feed plenty of politicians and government employees as well. But the delivery of biscuits and cookies wasn’t intended as a coffee break snack, it was a symbolic gesture to advise Education Minister Dave Hancock that – in Kirsop’s opinion – he is not doing his job with respect to the secular education issue in Morinville.
Kirsop’s choice of cookies was a reference to dismissed Alberta Health Services President Stephen Duckett, who in late 2010 refused to answer reporter’s questions because he was eating a cookie.
Kirsop, who was joined at the legislature Thursday morning by his wife Marjorie and children Sarah and Leah, brought 100 packages of cookies as well as 42 individual home-baked cookies, each inscribed with the name of a child whose parents feel they are being politically neglected by the minister and his department.
Hancock, who was in Calgary Thursday, sent a staff member to meet the Kirsops and to accept the cookies.
“I am disappointed that the Minister did not deem the event or the represented children important enough to come and speak to the issue, or even send someone who had authority to comment on his behalf, but the young lady who did attend was pleasant and did listen to my opinion as to the Ministers actions in the matter of public education in Morinville,” Kirsop said in a media release Thursday afternoon.
With respect to the minister’s actions and Kirsop’s criticism of them,” Minister Hancock wrote to the Morinville father Wednesday advising he would not be present and expressing his bafflement that Kirsop felt his voice was not being heard.
“I am baffled as to why you believe your voice has not been heard, either by myself or the Greater St. Albert Catholic Regional Division (GSACRD) board of trustees,” Hancock wrote. “You are getting what you want: both the board and I have repeatedly indicated that there will be a secular education program available in Morinville this September.”
The minister went on to reference a previous letter to Morinville Parent Delegation spokesperson Donna Hunter in which the minister said the issue is not whether or not Morinville parents have a right to secular education, but how that education should be provided.
Hancock told Kirsop the exact form that secular education will take could only be decided on when the number of students who would register in such a program is known.
GSACRD concluded a survey May 16 through Edmonton-based pivotal Research Inc. Results of the survey, which was sent to parents of children in Morinville schools and a random sampling of no less than 400 other residents, is expected to be revealed by the end of May.
In Hancock’s letter, the minister defended his relative public silence on the issue.
“It would be a mistake to interpret my relative public silence on this matter as a lack of interest, or as an indication that I am abrogating my responsibilities as Minister of Education,” Hancock wrote. “As I have indicated in previous correspondence with you, given the history and intricacies of this situation, there is no simple way to address the concerns you have raised. I can assure you that my staff and I are working closely with the GSACRD board of trustees to ensure that a secular education program will be available to the parents of Morinville this fall.”
But Kirsop said he believes the situation would be different if the issue were not religion, stating if a public school board promoted one ethnic group above and to the exclusion of all others, the minister would not repeatedly send a group of concerned parents back to the board to work it out. If it were one gender, one age group or one socio-economic class, Kirsop feels Hancock would reach into his ministerial tool box and loudly and proudly battle discrimination.
“I want my public school board to run my public schools for all the public,” Kirsop wrote in reply to Hancock’s May 18 letter. “No correspondence courses for 6 year olds. No kindergarten children riding busses out of a town of 8000, at -40 in January, past four public schools to escape wholly permeated theological views in a public school system.”
Kirsop concluded that the cookies were a reminder that as an elected representative with a ministerial portfolio Hancock is supposed to represent and stand for all of the public.
GSACRD is currently talking to potential partners to provide a secular program beginning this fall for Morinville children whose parents wish it. A picture of just what the program will look like will not be known until the survey results are revealed.