Alberta Politics
Alberta Teachers Association President Jason Schilling (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

UCP slaps Alberta Teachers Association … probably not for the last time

Posted on August 18, 2019, 1:30 am
8 mins

Almost completely missed in media coverage of Friday’s purge of NDP appointees to agencies, boards and commissions by Alberta’s United Conservative Party Government was the revelation that the same day the government abruptly cancelled a three-year-old memorandum of agreement with the Alberta Teachers Association to co-operate on curriculum development.

While all eyes were on the Friday Morning Massacre, the government informed the ATA late in the day that it was pulling the plug on the curriculum agreement, ATA President Jason Schilling revealed in a statement yesterday. It was done “without meaningful advance notice or any consultation,” he said.

Education Minister Adriana LaGrange (Photo: Facebook).

“The decision followed on statements made by Premier Kenney the previous day that made unfounded claims about the content of the draft grades K to 4 curriculum and about Alberta student achievement,” Mr. Schilling’s statement said.

Mr. Schilling, according to the statement posted to the ATA website, “received the news with disappointment and resignation.”

Mr. Schilling was sworn in as president on July 1 after beating incumbent Greg Jeffrey in a contested election. So this will probably not be his last difficult day with the UCP Government.

The ATA, which acts as both the union for 40,000 public and Catholic schoolteachers and their regulatory and disciplinary college, is nowadays a bête noir to the united Kenney party, which resembles the Progressive Conservatives of yore in name only.

The PCs of old had many teachers in their ranks and an often mutually satisfactory relationship with the ATA over many years. So much so, indeed, that I’ve teased the ATA in this space by calling them “the Alberta Tory Association.” Even under Ralph Klein’s premiership, teachers were influential in the government. The late Halvar Jonson, an ATA president before entering politics, served as Mr. Klein’s minister of education and in other important portfolios.

Former ATA president Greg Jeffrey (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

But that seems to have ended with the departure of most traditional progressive Tories from the UCP’s ranks under Mr. Kenney’s leadership. As a private-school-educated religious zealot with strong anti-union leanings, Mr. Kenney would have been less sympathetic to the ATA than previous Conservative premiers even if it hadn’t dared to sign a memorandum of agreement with an NDP government.

But since the UCP narrative is that election of Rachel Notley’s NDP in 2015 was a fluke at best, and that any legislation or policy of the New Democrats is therefore not legitimate, the willingness of any group to work with that government was bound to be treated as ideological unsoundness bordering on outright betrayal.

Moreover, under Mr. Kenney, the UCP made common cause with the operators of private religious academies, including overtly homophobic groups that objected to PC and NDP policies on gay-straight alliances, as a wedge issue to split the NDP from religious voters.

In an apparent response to Mr. Schilling’s statement, Education Minister Adriana LaGrange tweeted yesterday afternoon: “By withdrawing from the MOU Alberta Education now has the ability to work equally with all partners in #abed, including @albertateachers.” Interestingly, there was no statement making this point on the government’s website yesterday.

UCP inspiration and disastrous New Zealand politician Sir Roger Douglas (Photo: Alan Liefting, Public Domain).

Mr. Schilling said the ATA “rejected the notion that the Memorandum excluded participation by other stakeholder groups,” arguing the government could have done that anyway without walking away from co-operation with the ATA. “This decision and this government’s approach seems to be motivated more by ideology than by a desire to ensure authentic engagement to benefit students.”

Friday’s slap at the ATA is unlikely to be the end of the organization’s troubles with the Kenney Government.

The ATA has determinedly defended its professional conduct function, a dual role that is controversial not just in conservative circles but in the union movement as well. Past Conservative governments have often talked about splitting the ATA into separate regulatory and collective bargaining organizations, but with its connections to the PCs the organization has always been able to forestall any action on that front.

Many observers of the UCP believe it will now move ahead with such a change, which ironically could have the effect of creating on the union side a collective bargaining organization much less inclined to accept the depredations of the government with just disappointment and resignation.

Since Mr. Kenney is an acolyte of the blitzkrieg political tactics of Sir Roger Douglas, author of New Zealand’s failed experiment with radical market fundamentalism in the late 1980s, we may soon discover that Albertans other than the ATA are also reeling from unexpected announcements made at the last moment. And if not, they likely will be as soon as that pesky federal election is out of the way.

Curriculum ‘expert panel’ being cobbled together

Meanwhile, we know Mr. Kenney’s promised “expert panel” on school curriculum is in the process of being cobbled together, but we don’t yet know who will be on it.

Here are some of my bets for potential panel members:

  • Donna Trimble, Executive Director of Parents for Choice in Education, an advocacy organization influential with the UCP that describes itself as supporting “maximum parental choice.”
  • Brian Coldwell, a member of the PCE board, pastor of New Testament Baptist Church in Edmonton, and chair of the Independent Baptist Christian Education Society, which defied the law requiring GSAs to be allowed in all schools.
  • Neil Webber, President and founder of Calgary’s Webber Academy private school, a former four-term Calgary-Bow MLA and PC cabinet minister first elected in 1975.
  • Jeff Wilson, a former Wildrose MLA who is now board chair of the Foundations for the Future Charter Academy in Calgary.

Whatever happens next, it seems likely there will be serious consideration of topics like “creation science” and abstinence-based sex education in Alberta school curricula.


9 Comments to: UCP slaps Alberta Teachers Association … probably not for the last time

  1. Bob Raynard

    August 18th, 2019

    So is it the UPC’s intention to forego the expertise that teachers can bring to curriculum development in favour of their own self appointed experts, whose expertise is a result of spending 12 (or more) years in a classroom?

    Will the new curriculum present climate change as a fact, or present it as a theory that the science is still not settled?

  2. Farmer Dave

    August 18th, 2019

    The ideology of Kenney and the UCP for scrapping the new proposed school curriculum is to dumb it down so it appeals to the religious right and those of little education or intelligence. And the UCP government can play these people like a fiddle such as making them believe that the $15.00 minimum wage is the reason Alberta is hurting financially. The same can be said about replacing many professional members of Boards and Commissions and appointing UCP political hacks and this is why regulatory hearings are referred to as Kangaroo Court, unprofessional members making decisions for political gain. Under the Notley government many Board and Commission members hired were professionals and unfortunately Alberta has returned to the cronyism of the past.

  3. Kang

    August 18th, 2019

    Unlike the the Notley NDP, the UCP have read and understood their Machiavelli. The Westminster type system has always been an elected dictatorship. The feckless Ab NDP have nobody to blame but themselves for ignoring the experience and advice of their long time activists. We ain’t seen nothing yet.

    As per M. Machiavelli, the new prince will swiftly and brutally execute all his enemies including those who are not enthusiastic enough – “resignation” will not be enough. Later everything the prince does will be seen as benign by comparison. Look for a lot of sympathetic hand wringing from the prince later on as the effects of his policies and those of his clan start to bite. He will feel our pain, and no doubt enjoy it.

  4. Dave

    August 18th, 2019

    Well the UCP seems to be going out of its way to make enemies and antagonize anyone it suspects may not be totally in sync with its agenda or way of thinking.

    I suppose the heady honeymoon days can lead a new government to think it has more of a mandate than it really does. It would be wiser for them to take a big tent approach rather than rush to implement their sometimes narrow ideological agenda.

    Aftet the cuts start, the UCP will find it needs all the friends it can get and unneceassiily alienating a lot of people is not a good way to start. They will find the support for cuts in theory is much greater than ones that impact peoples local libraries, schools and hospitals.

    Perhaps they think early surprise attacks will give them an advantage over all their perceived enemies, but it may just add to and deepen the opposition to them.

    • Dwayne

      August 18th, 2019

      The UCP are just like the Alberta PCs were, since Peter Lougheed was not the premier. Very corrupt, and good at wasting very large amounts of money. The same applies to Doug Ford. When will people ever learn?

  5. Simon Renouf

    August 20th, 2019

    First shot at teachers from the Harper Valley PTA. It won’t be the last.

  6. pogo

    August 20th, 2019

    You’re slowing down. I can’t complain. I’ve tried to learn but, much is same. No poet or firebrand can save us now. It’s up to us. Right? Is this the theme?

    • David Climenhaga

      August 20th, 2019

      I’m not slowing down. I’m on vacation. For one (1) week. DJC

  7. Keith McClary

    August 21st, 2019

    “expert panel” “blue ribbon”

    I had to look up “blue ribbon”- it seems to be the opposite of “Grassroots”::

    (of a jury or committee) carefully or specially selected.

    (in Britain) a badge of blue silk worn by members of the Order of the Garter

    (US) a badge worn by a member of a temperance society


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