PHOTOS: Interim Alberta Tory Leader Ric McIver and another PC are ejected from the Legislature yesterday by the Sergeant at Arms. Actual Alberta MLAs may not appear exactly as illustrated. Below: The Real Ric McIver and Edmonton Public School Board Chairperson Michael Janz.

Has Progressive Conservative Party interim Leader Ric McIver’s motion demanding the Alberta Legislature continue pouring more than $200 million a year into elite private schools, charter schools and home schooling schemes just completely backfired?

When Mr. McIver introduced Private Member’s Motion No. 504 asking the Legislature to urge the government “to affirm its commitment to allowing parents the choice of educational delivery for their children, including home, charter, private, francophone, separate, or public education programs” the issue was barely on the public’s radar.

Now, thanks in large part to Mr. McIver’s effort, it is on the radar alright – but it’s hardly getting the kind of attention the Tory leader surely envisaged when he first tried to put Premier Rachel Notley’s NDP Government on the spot.

Perhaps it was irritation at this unexpected turn of events that prompted Mr. McIver’s emotional outburst in the Legislature yesterday. He responded with a tantrum to an NDP member’s effort to amend his motion to say the government should confirm its support for private and charter schools plus home schooling only when there are no alternatives in the public system. After refusing to obey Speaker Bob Wanner’s instructions to sit down, he was escorted out of the House by the Sergeant at Arms.

Meanwhile, at today’s Edmonton Public School Board meeting, trustees will debate Chairperson Michael Janz’s motion “that the Board of Trustees reaffirm its commitment to the provincial government that public funding to private or charter schools should be phased out and reinvested in public education.”

On his blog Sunday, Mr. Janz argued for the motion and urged NDP Education Minister David Eggen to use the review of the Education Act now under way “to ensure that public tax dollars are best being allocated to support public education.

“I support the elimination of public subsidies to private schools immediately,” Mr. Janz explained. “But if the minister isn’t ready to go there yet, as a compromise position, (he) could phase out the subsidies over a reasonable period of time.”

Now, school boards don’t command provincial governments, of course, especially here in Alberta. Technically, it’s the other way around. But they do have the power to influence public opinion, and it turns out the public does have an opinion on this matter.

What’s more, it’s not the same as that of either Mr. McIver’s PCs of the Opposition Wildrose Party – both of which support the Ralph-Klein-era policy relics of fully publicly funded “charter schools” and 70-per-cent funding for private schools.

A public opinion survey done by Mainstreet Research for Progress Alberta and released by the advocacy group shows there’s plenty of support for completely defunding private and charter schools – which is surely not what Mr. McIver had in mind when he put this issue back on the agenda in his effort to appeal to the right-wing voter base, which the Tories and Wildrosers are fighting over at the moment.

The poll indicated 61 per cent of respondents are opposed to public funds being used for private schools, compared with 27 per cent in favour and 12 per cent who indicated they were not sure. The negative view of public funding for private schools, interestingly, was highest in Calgary at 72 per cent.

The survey also indicated 47 per cent of respondents were opposed to public funds being given to charter schools – a gap that suggests many respondents understand the differences between charter schools and private schools. Another 31 per cent were in favour and 21 per cent said they didn’t know.

“Progress Alberta is calling on the government to eliminate public subsidies to private and charter schools,” the advocacy group said of the survey. “It is simply ridiculous that in these difficult economic times the provincial government spent over $200 million public taxpayer dollars on private schools.”

Another advocacy organization that focuses on education issues, Public Interest Alberta, stepped into the fray last week with a similar call for the government “to direct public funding to schools that operate under democratically elected school boards, which operate with public accountability and transparency of expenditures, rather than to private entities with private agendas.”

“These are difficult financial times, and that same sum of money could have been used to eliminate school fees for all parents across the province, provide school lunch programs for children living in poverty throughout Alberta, or pay for much-needed programs to support indigenous learners,” said PIA Executive Director Joel French.

Similar statements popped up on social media over the weekend in response to an editorial in the Calgary Herald edition of Postmedia’s Alberta Frankenpaper sympathetic to the idea of continued public funding for private schools

Alberta is the only Canadian province that funds charter schools, which are generally defined as alternative schools that receive government money but are really just private schools that are subsidized by taxpayers.

As argued in this space two weeks ago, this is a bad policy that takes money from taxpayers to bankroll often dubious and poorly monitored specialty programs, many of which cherry-pick students on such grounds as how likely they are to succeed and how much money their parents have. Practically speaking, it also takes money away from public education.

Alberta’s charter schools, which often try to deny their teachers fair pay and union representation, continue to receive the full per-student grant provided to public and separate schools.

This policy was implemented by the late Ralph Klein’s PC government in 1995 as part of its program of undermining any public service where a profit could be made by corporations – even if that ultimately cost citizens more and delivered lower-quality service.

In the same approximate time frame, the PCs also ratcheted up direct public support to fully private schools. They justified this by saying parents deserved choice and claiming subsidies were needed because that choice was expensive. At the same time, they allowed private schools that received public subsidies to have no limits on tuition, presumably so they could keep the un-moneyed riff-raff out. Private school tuition can cost as much as $50,000 a year in Alberta today.

Up to now, this had continued to be government policy under the NDP government of Premier Notley, and certainly would have remained so without much controversy but for Mr. McIver’s ill timed grandstanding.

It’s pretty clear the NDP doesn’t really want to pick a fight with this particular highly engaged special interest group.

They may continue with that strategy, but Mr. McIver has made it much more difficult for them to do so by getting the attention of the apparently much larger group of Albertans who oppose these subsidies.

Arguably, the interim Tory leader has also done the conservative cause little good by demanding austerity and less for essential public services at the same time as he calls for continued public subsidies for a special interest group that traditionally supports his party.

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  1. re: ‘a bad policy that takes money from taxpayers to bankroll often dubious and poorly monitored specialty programs’

    In one sentence Climenhaga captures the essence of many conservative/PC/WRP favored programs since Klein took over from Getty.

    e.g. taxpayer funding for tarsands research; or, taxpayer funding for carbon capture and storage

  2. I really think the point needs to be made that charter schools should not be lumped together with private schools. I taught at a charter school for more than ten years, and it really seemed no different than the public school I taught at in rural Alberta before that. I wrote at length about this in the comment section after David’s article two weeks ago, but unfortunately the discussion had pretty much wrapped up by the time I posted it. I would encourage people to give it a look (unfortunately I don’t have cut and paste ability at the moment).

    When the charter school legislation was first written it specifically prohibited charter school teachers from being members in the ATA. I have always been surprised the ATA didn’t mount a charter challenge of it. Anyway, our school did apparently negotiate a collective agreement in the past year or two.

    I also don’t think it would be that big a deal for Edmonton Public to absorb my former school.


  3. Although I agree that subsidizing private schools and funding poorly operated charter schools is bad public policy, not all charter schools are the badly run, elitist organizations you seem to be portraying them as. The Calgary Arts Academy ( is a public charter school that is highly regarded by parents and educators, has a program that produces excellent academic outcomes for its students, and a long waiting list because their admissions policy is egalitarian (there are a limited number of spots and they are all first come, first served without exception). Maybe the CAA is an aberration, but I would hate to see good charter schools like it defunded because there are others that are problematic. In the interest of full disclosure, my family has ties to the CAA in that we are acquainted with the chair of the CAA Board of Directors, my daughter is registered for the CAA’s 2018 Kindergarten class, and my son is on the the waiting list for Grade 1 this fall.

  4. This is germane to this discussion:

    I think that this story perfectly demonstrates Hanlon’s Razor, which is commonly thought of as ‘Do not attribute to malice that which can adequately be explained by stupidity’. Allow me to explain as simply as possible:

    Motion 504 (proposed by McIver) is on the floor.

    Robyn Luff wants to amend that motion, but isn’t sure that’s cool with the rules so she goes to the parliamentary counsel office (bunch of lawyers and rule experts)

    Parliamentary counsel’s office says ‘Yeah, you can do that’, and they give a bunch of reasons why she can
    Here is where the mix up happens.

    Luff proceeds to write a memo (with all the reasons the counsel office gave her) which contains no mention of which office it originated in (pictured in cbc article)

    Ric McIver receives memo, and (seeing no indication of where it actually came from) goes ‘Da fuq?’ Did this come from the speaker’s office?”

    Ric loses his shit on the speaker, who then loses it on Ric.
    On first glance this doesn’t look like some massive abuse of power, or an attempt to pull the wool over the eyes of the public. It looks like something that could have been avoided with the effective use of…well…letterhead. If the memo had just said ‘From the desk of Robyn Luff’ at the top, or ‘Parliamentary Counsel’s Office’ at the top, we might have avoided this whole kerfuffle. Its far more likely that this was a monumental screw up than a concerted effort to sneak in a nefarious amendment.

    (Please Note:
    I’m the last guy to defend Ric McIvor. In this case however, the mix up was just that…)

    1. I believe that home schooling should be allowed, based on standards that public schools must meet.

      Public funding should be for public schools only. If you want to teach privately? Fine. Prove your relevance and value.

  5. My wife and I have elected to Home School our children, because we feel he public school board has neglected to take the needs of the children into consideration when providing and education. The public school board does not seem to take into consideration the different learning styles of individuals which is like forcing a square peg in to a round hole. No different than the rest of Albertans my wife and I are both tax payers. if we had a choice we would not be funding what is a broken public school system.

    1. Public education is not broken. You are disadvantaging your children with your wrong-headed thinking.

      Education works best when it is left to the professionals, and then supported and enhanced by the home. Neither one is meant to replace the other.

      Too bad for your kids.

    2. I live in the West Kootenays of BC so I have only an academic interest in this whole thing, mostly because I taught in the public system in Saskatchewan for 30 years.

      I noted with interest your comment about a “broken public school system.”

      Given that public school systems in many provinces have been starved for adequate funding, I’m just wondering what you think would have to happen to mend the public system in your province. Is it adequate supervision, or adequate funding or a host of other things…?

  6. School funding can be tricky. The concept of funding faith based schools, at least in Ontario, proved to be a millstone around the neck of Ontario PC leader John Tory during the 2007 election campaign.

    Leading in the polls, Tory proposed the idea in the midst of the campaign. Almost at once his party went from favourite to underdog and Dalton McGuinty’s Liberals won a clear majority. Since then the Tories have stayed away from such a contentious issue.

    Tory went on to replace Rob Ford as Toronto’s mayor. He plays the game much smarter now.

  7. I don’t think this backfired on Ric McIver at all. It think it showed his strong concern and support of the children and parents of Alberta, and of proper democratic process. It also brought to light that the NDP might be changing their tune from last year when Eggen spoke about school funding, which is concerning to me.

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