Former Alberta Teachers Association president Larry Booi, one of the signatories to an open letter calling on Alberta teachers to reject a mediator’s recommended settlement of agreement (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Three former presidents of the Alberta Teachers Association have written a strongly worded open letter to Alberta public, Catholic and francophone schoolteachers throughout the province urging them to reject an “unacceptable” recommended settlement by a mediator in their current round of contract negotiations.

Former ATA president Frank Bruseker, at right, with Progressive Conservative premier Ed Stelmach, back in the days when Alberta Conservatives and Alberta teachers worked together for the good of Alberta students (Photo: Alberta Teachers Association).

“The mediator’s proposed settlement entirely fails to address teachers’ great frustrations with unacceptable classroom conditions, dismisses your legitimate concerns with teacher compensation and locks teachers into a contract for over two more years at a time of great political and economic volatility,” said the letter signed by Carol Henderson, ATA President from 2009 to 2013, Frank Bruseker, president from 2003 to 2009, and Larry Booi, president from 1999 to 2003.

The letter, pointedly made public on social media yesterday, immediately before the ATA’s first in-person annual meeting in three years was scheduled to begin in Calgary this morning, may not be unprecedented in the annals of labour relations, but it is certainly unusual. 

The ATA Bargaining Committee received the mediator’s recommendation for a province-wide collective agreement on May 6, and ATA President Jason Schilling promised members in a statement “we will not be discussing anything else publicly until after teachers have had a chance to vote on the recommendation.”

However, the ATA confirmed yesterday it has recommended that members ratify the collective agreement. 

So this public assessment by three well-known former leaders certainly doesn’t appear to give high marks to the ATA’s current leadership or the work of its bargaining committee. 

Former ATA President Carol Henderson (Photo: Alberta Teachers Association).

That in turn suggests that the development predicted in this space in early April after Education Minister Adrianna LaGrange introduced legislation stripping the ATA of its power to discipline teachers and replacing it with a politicized process run by a government-appointed commissioner is starting to take place.

It was inevitable Ms. LaGrange’s bill would end the collegial relationship a succession of Conservative governments have enjoyed with the ATA and result in a much more adversarial focus on bargaining and contract enforcement by Alberta’s teachers’ union. 

The ATA complained at the time that Bill 15, the Education (Reforming Teacher Profession Discipline) Amendment Act, 2022, was a “blatant grab for power” and predicted it would lead to the “notoriously bad labour relations” seen in British Columbia, the only other province to use the teacher discipline procedure set out in the law. 

Unsurprisingly, though, on May 4 the UCP majority in the Alberta Legislature passed the bill anyway, setting the stage for union militance and labour strife that will no doubt bedevil future Alberta governments, some of them run by Conservatives. 

The letter from the three former presidents argued voting for the mediator’s recommendation will trap teachers at pay rates well behind compounded inflation for more than two years after they received no pay increases during the terms of their two previous collective agreements. “Instead of offering improvements, the settlement would have teachers vote for their continued financial decline,” the letter said. 

ATA President Jason Schilling (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

This would happen “precisely when Alberta’s government is receiving dramatic increases in revenue due to huge increases in energy prices.”

So, the three former presidents asked: “Why agree to falling further behind when the government is clearly riding the energy revenue roller coaster to among the highest levels ever? Why tie our own hands when there is a clear potential for substantial gains over the next two years?”

The letter says the same arguments apply to dealing with deteriorating classroom conditions. “We were told that the government was broke and couldn’t address the concerns of teachers and parents about not being able to meet children’s learning needs. Well, they are no longer broke …”

The letter also addressed other legislative changes in Bill 15 and Bill 85 that, for example, will pass the cost of required police checks to school boards, which will use funds intended for education, and also require teachers to pay for an unfair disciplinary process they don’t trust. 

Education Minister Adriana LaGrange (Photo: Alberta Newsroom/Flickr).

“This government is obviously trying to once again bully teachers into accepting a wholly inadequate contract, after treating them with contempt over pension issues, curriculum matters, discipline practices in the profession, supports for learning, and virtually every other issue,” the letter states.

“It’s the way they have tried to treat all public services,” the three former presidents wrote. “Other organizations have fought back effectively, and the time has come for teachers to stand up and stand together by defeating this unworthy proposal.”

The ATA’s negotiations are conducted with a group representing school boards called the Teachers Employer Bargaining Association. Bargaining at a central table focuses on monetary issues and matters affecting all teachers in the province. 

After that, individual school boards bargain with local ATA representatives on local matters. At the conclusion of those negotiations, the items in the provincial agreement are merged with the local agreement to form a completed collective agreement.

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13 Comments

  1. Hard to believe the association would not understand the existential threat to the profession posed by the UCP govt.

  2. My wife worked for the ATA for 30 years and she and her former fellow employees along with retired family teachers and family friends have all voiced their displeasure with what these fools have been trying to force down the teachers’ throats.

    1. Alan K. Spiller: One of my siblings works at the ATA, and there are also teachers in my family. I don’t think they agree with the things that the UCP are doing.

  3. I am disappointed that three former presidents feel they are more in touch with the issues today than the current president and staff. You have had your day please step aside.

  4. The three presidents were much too tactful to put it in their letter, but a much more succinct message would be, ‘You are being bullied by the government; stand up to the bully’.

    The rabid UCP supporters will always feel teachers are overpaid, regardless of how much they are paid, so they will never be appeased. At the same time, after already enduring a few months of on-line classes, I expect parents have little appetite to have their kids home for a few more weeks for a strike.

  5. Well, it is not just about the money. The UCP is aligned with extreme, right-wing libertarian ideals that aim to impose their notion of “freedom” on the rest of us. The ATA and others who assume that these negotiations are just business as usual need to consider that the hard ball the UCP is playing with the ATA comprise just one part of a multi-pronged strategy to take control away from the profession and parents and place it firmly in the hands of idealogues who don’t want children to learn anything outside of a narrowly proscribed domain.

    The UCP doesn’t want children to learn that tolerance for diversity is a good thing or that climate change caused by carbon emissions is reaching a critical point, to mention just two examples. They see teachers who teach tolerance and diversity as “groomers” and a science-based curriculum that warns of imminent danger from climate change as a species of eco-terrorist brainwashing. Nor do they want children to learn how to think critically about the media and messaging the children are constantly bombarded with and consume.

    Consider that soon after Adriana LaGrange (https://www.sprawlcalgary.com/lagrange-alberta-minister-profile) defunded the parents council (https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/edmonton/alberta-government-decimates-funding-for-parent-council-support-organization-1.6321240), a new group led by Jeff Park (of Kenney Kamikaze fame) and apparently funded by the Alberta Institute, a right-wing libertarian think tank with ties to the Koch Foundation, suddenly emerges.

    The aim of this group is to create the illusion of informed parental advice, but the group is likely to reject any views other than those that don’t align with the group think within the UCP. It is a group that is strategically and carefully curated to create the illusion that the UCP is listening to parents regarding education.

    I tend to see the UCP as a bunch of buffoons, but sometimes I am pulled up sharp by the realization that there are some very smart people who are leveraging the UCP as useful idiots to mold AB into a place that favors corporations and the rich above the welfare of its citizens.

    Here is an instructive Twitter thread about an early meeting of the group: https://twitter.com/SarahZagoda/status/1527777777713221632?s=20&t=K75A-HVbkT3mYhUdYvePEQ.

    The UCP has told us many times who they are. We and the ATA should believe them. I worry that the ATA does not appear to fully realize the gravity of the situation or the lengths to which the UCP will go to weaken and destroy it.

  6. Sounds to me like the ATA needs to be headed by a president who has the teachers’ best interests in mind.

    The purpose of a union is clear, and the purpose of a union president is even more clear. Your members’ interests come first – easy!

    If the present ATA president wants to work for Kenney’s regime, then he should apply for a job like that.

  7. So provincial energy revenues belong to teachers? I thought the NDP hated oil? What a farce. Pay increases tied to inflation?? Wow. That’s a bit rich…. If ya feel ya under compensated, go start a business that requires more than 200 working days a year that pays $80k with a defined pension plan.

    1. Taras, your point about oil revenue not belonging to teachers is valid. Unfortunately, governments don’t hesitate to play the oil price card when times are difficult, so they have pretty much set the precedent that teachers can play it too.

  8. “Scotty saw this on logging camp wall:

    The Six Phases of a Project
    1. Enthusiasm
    2. Disillusionment
    3. Panic
    4. Search for Guilty
    5. Persecution of Innocents
    6. Praise of Non-Participants. “

    Since I copied this aphorism into my notebook, I’ve noticed its crude applicability in so many aspects of life that I thought it might stand a test with regard the flagging partisan right in Alberta—and with other provincial and federal right-wing parties, too. However much the supercharged, neon-blue umbilicus between Alberta and Ottawa neo-rightism overwhelms conservative factors elsewhere, “The Six Phases” is certainly good enough for the size-49-pants-size-2-hat crowd that I fondly remember from decades gone by, some in the great Wild Rose Province.

    One pattern I’ve noticed is that an organization in full throes might be characterized by every single Phase on the list, all at once. But where is the UCP, post-K-review, in this schema? Surely it must have progressed to “Panic” by now, and probably to “Search For Guilty” (as I recall, K-Boy blamed “lunatics” in the party for its current schizophrenia), but I’m not so sure about the last two Phases. Does that mean the UCP is not quite as unravelled in its throes as we might imagine— or even hope? The party’s only five years old and its first mandate only three…

    Focus on Panic. Given that almost all nominal “conservative” parties have been usurped by globalizing neoliberals, and given this ‘neo-right’ movement seeks to undermine sovereign democracies’ ability to tax and regulate private investment of stateless lucre, it must ply its agenda by stealth else voters twig to its effectively disenfranchising objective. In practice, it’s not ‘if’ voters balk at worthless cookies like “trickledown” but, rather, ‘when’ they inevitably do. That means from the time a neo-right party wins a government, it has a limited amount of time to get its sabotages of the jurisdiction’s sovereignty done: to bankrupt public enterprises in preparation for privatization (usually to crony insiders); to disparage government itself as the enemy of the people; to accuse (or worse) critics of treasonous subversion. And to at least get these perfidies past the point of no-return by the time voters wake up—if they can, in time.

    The devil is in the detail of reality. Perhaps the omertà of complicity is breached by an unguarded comment (perhaps besotted), or one of the culpable gets too greedy and blows accomplices’ cover, or—most often, I think—a small faction of interested voters for whom the beggaring of their sovereign democracy is not beyond its ken blows the whistle on neo-right treachery and, usually under a hail of maudlin reaction and accusation, alerts the hitherto befuddled electorate.

    In this case, and depending on what stage its sabotage and forensic armouring to hide it, the neo-right government might find its window of opportunity closing before it’s quite ready. The panicked rush to complete its agenda before it’s too late can be as damaging to the public weal as the original sabotage planned. While that might seem the neo-right ideal from the culprits’ point of view, the real difference is potential jail time if they’re caught red handed (which is why the party of the right in Saskatchewan isn’t called “conservative” anymore).

    The HarperCons were Canada’s first federal neo-right government; having been delayed by its second minority and, despite cheating the Commons out of a confidence vote the CPC minority would have lost, and cheating election funding laws (the party convicted, a hack prosecuted, an one MP jailed), found its popularity tanking during its only majority. Harper was forced to rush his centrepiece Northern Gateway pipeline, cutting the huge corner of Aboriginal Right, Title, and treaties constitutionally owed BC First Nations along the pipeline route. The rush job was eventually— inevitably— shit-canned by the courts (by this time, the CPC was defeated and sitting in Opposition while the new Liberal majority set about repealing HarperCon legislation the SCoC hadn’t already struck down).

    Christy Clark was the BC Liberals’ accidental leader until 2017 when the Green-Dipper alliance toppled her fresh minority and she resigned her seat. Under her predecessor, the epitome of neo-right government undertook the most systematic beggaring of public enterprises and services in recent Canadian history. But its leader was forced to resign when, during his third majority mandate, he was caught up in a scandal that rankled even BC Liberal supporters. Only because the NDP Opposition was too ideologically hamstrung did Christy, caretaker premier for two years already, win a fourth BC Liberal majority, but this mandate was definitely in the Panic Phase: just when the agenda was about to deliver the coup de grace to a number of large public monopolies, the government was suddenly forced by withering popularity polls to get all in a hurry trying to complete sabotages and cover up a mountain of culpability, all while under the leadership of an incompetent. One of its panic products is the Site-C Dam on the mighty Peace River, rushed to a fault to get it past the point of no return before the approaching election and now saddling BC with massive debt whilst still only half built (it was intended, along with stashing general debt in the Crown Corp and money-losing Independent Power contracts, to bankrupt BC Hydro ).

    We could also cite Mike Harris’ Ontario conservative government which, as its “common sense revolution” became increasingly suspect, attempted a rush privatization of Ontario Hydro—a caper luckily stopped by injunction, condemned by common-sense public revelation, Harris jumping ship and his successor losing the next election by a margin that could be fairly described as a thrashing.

    Kenney’s UCP is probably the most intense example, being so severely ideological, so ethically unscrupulous and, now, so unpopular that it turfed its leader with only a year left in its very first mandate —only a year in which to elect a new leader and recuperate for the approaching contest against its much more popular NDP rival. It’s impossible for it not to be in a rush and, considering the challenges likely ahead, not to feel panicked by the prospect of losing the election, if not the unity and existence of the party that was born in a rush.

    So far, there’s every indication that Kenney is overstaying his welcome in order to get certain of his uber-ideological policies implemented and as armoured as possible in case it loses power in a year from now. If history be our guide, there’s plenty of potential for the UCP’s Panic Phase to really hurt Alberta—and that should really concern Albertans. Remember: the reason Kenney lost a billion bucks of public money on the controversial Keystone pipeline was his rush to get the total dog of a deal done before the 2020 US presidential election. Not only was it a rush, but in retrospect it was also extremely rash since the odds were pretty good Biden would beat tRump and do what he openly campaigned on: scrap Keystone (and, unintentionally on his part, leave Albertans with a billion-dollar hole in their already stretched treasury—but we know who’s to blame for that).

    It’s guaranteed to be interesting how the UCP might survive as a party or a government after such a spectacular first term. Then there’s the last of the Six Phases: that’s gone be interesting, too (maybe only to the shrunken heads that’ve survived the bygone era of logging camps on the West Coast and all a them Alberta Reports squirrelled into the toilet stalls). “Search for Guilty”? Well, K-Boy already bagged Sasquatch. “Persecution of Innocents”? Well, would teachers, nurses and doctors fill that bill? We already know the answer. And “Praise of the Non-Participants”? It’s worth waiting for.

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