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A UCP-dominated committee has likely put an end to a proposed NDP bill that would require Alberta government departments to collect race-based data, by recommending it not be debated in the legislature.

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Bill 204, The Anti-Racism Act, was tabled by NDP MLA David Shepherd last month. As a private members’ bill it requires approval from a standing committee before it can be debated by all MLAs in the legislature.

At a meeting Thursday evening, the committee vote split along party lines with UCP members, who make up the majority, arguing in part that there needed to be more time for consultation while at the same time refusing to allow community members to speak at the meeting after the NDP missed the deadline to formally submit names.

Instead, more than a dozen people sat and watched in the gallery as Shepherd and other NDP MLAs argued the importance of debating the issue of systemic racism in the legislature — even if the UCP majority chose later to amend or not pass the bill.

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Shepherd said the collection of race-based data is not a luxury, but an essential policy.

“There are very real and pressing impacts on racialized communities every single day because of systemic racism — bias — that exists within the systems, the programs and services that are operated by government,” Shepherd said.

Bill 204 would require all government departments in Alberta to collect race-based data and report on key measurements around equity. It would also create an anti-racism office and commissioner to analyze data and spot inequities in policies, programs and services.

Shepherd told the committee those who voted against a debate are sending a clear message to racialized communities about how important they think addressing systemic racism is.

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“What they are saying is that they don’t feel that addressing this issue is worthy of their time and effort. They are saying that it is not worth taking the time to debate and discuss this on the floor of the legislature,” he said.

“They are saying that there is no value in the members of the assembly sitting down and having actual fulsome debate on this issue.”

UCP MLA Devinder Toor, who voted against recommending debate, called the bill “noble” but told the committee that there needed to be more consultation.

“I think consultation on this bill is important and making consultation as robust as possible. For me to vote on this bill, I need more information,” he said.

Collecting data was recommended by Alberta’s Anti-Racism Advisory Council. The government has previously said it is developing methods to appropriately collect, store, and use data but has so far offered no specifics.

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Thursday’s meeting was supposed to be a chance for three members of the public chosen by each side of the aisle to speak to the bill. The NDP missed the April 11 deadline to submit the names of those they had invited and while they tried to ask for an exception so speakers could present, UCP members did not agree, citing procedural fairness.

At a press conference Friday, Shepherd acknowledged the missed deadline but said red tape created by the UCP meant they only had about four days to confirm speakers before the date of the meeting had even been determined.

“When we are talking about systemic racism that’s it in a nutshell. When a system puts forward so many barriers that it makes it difficult, almost impossible at times, for racialized individuals to be able to succeed,” he said.

It’s unclear whether members of the UCP had invited anyone to speak. Non-stakeholders did.

The committee’s recommendation to not debate the bill could be reversed in the legislature but that’s unlikely to happen. Shepherd promised Friday that if his bill is dead, an NDP government would resurrect and pass it.

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