UCP leadership candidate Brian Jean addresses the Alberta Teachers Association’s summer conference in Banff yesterday while the other five contenders at the meeting await their chance to speak (Photo: Twitter/Allison McCaffrey).

Hey! Never mind defunding the police. What about defunding public education? 

Complaining about a call by Public Interest Alberta to phase out funding for independent schools, Danielle Smith once asked: “How about we go the other way? 

Candidate Daniel Smith not so long ago during the time she worked as a right-wing talk radio host (Photo: Screenshot of Globe TV video).

“Maybe every independent school needs to be fully funded and we need to phase out every government-run, union-controlled public school more interested in indoctrinating students than teaching them critical-thinking skills,” Ms. Smith said. 

No, Ms. Smith didn’t say that at the Alberta Teacher’s Association’s summer conference forum for United Conservative Party leadership candidates in Banff yesterday – at least as far as those of us who weren’t there could tell from the not-very-extensive media coverage of the event. 

The quotes are accurate, though, and come from an essay Ms. Smith wrote for Global News back in 2018, during the time she was temporarily out of politics and working as a right-wing talk radio host. 

In the same essay, she assailed university students who criticized far-right culture warrior Jordan Peterson at a lecture in Ontario, sympathetically described a defender of the residential school system, and dismissed the academic review process at Canadian universities as “kangaroo courts.”

Candidate Travis Toews, who was missing in action yesterday (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Of course, all this was pretty standard stuff in the right-wing Canadian commentariat in 2018, before that crowd moved on to calling failed convoy coupsters “patriots” and spreading pandemic conspiracy theories and quack COVID-19 cures.

But you can take it to the bank that’s what the frontrunner in the race to lead the UCP still thinks.

Depend on it, if Ms. Smith is elected leader of the UCP, becomes premier and puts her extreme market fundamentalist program into action, that’s exactly the direction she’ll try to move Alberta education funding as quickly and irreversibly as possible. 

Now, some might think it was naïve of the ATA to invite the seven UCP leadership candidates to a forum at its annual summer conference at the Banff Centre. (Six of them showed – Travis Toews, acting like he thinks he’s still the frontrunner, declined.) 

After all, the Alberta teachers’ union has recently seen its role as professional college for public school teachers ended through UCP legislation despite its leaders’ strong objections, its members’ pensions handed over to the government’s controversial Crown investment corporation in defiance teachers’ and retirees’ fierce protests, and an outrageous 1950s style curriculum imposed on the school system in the face of the opposition of almost everyone. 

ATA News editor-in-chief Jonathan Teghtmeyer (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Perhaps anticipating such a reaction by members, ATA News editor-in-chief Jonathan Teghtmeyer wrote in May that, “Now is the time to get these wannabe premiers on the record stating how they plan to handle the education file.”

Under the heading “Leadership race a chance to reset relationships,” he wrote: “I am sure that regardless of ideology, most of them will want to differentiate their future approach from the hostility and disrespect that had become the hallmark of the soon-to-be last premier.”

Judging from the few quotes in the stories published by the CBC and Postmedia, the six candidates in attendance were far too cagey to get caught saying anything about public education that would get them run out of Banff on a rail.

Former cabinet ministers Rajan Sawhney and Rebecca Schulz both proposed the new curriculum should be paused … although for how long wasn’t clear from the news coverage.

“The first thing I’m going to do if I get elected premier is take the ideology that is currently in our curriculum, and was before, out of it and make sure that it never happens again,” said candidate Brian Jean – who like Ms. Smith is a former Wildrose Party leader. 

Candidate Rajan Sawhney (Photo: Twitter/Rajan Sawhney).

This is a reference to departing premier Jason Kenney’s repeated false claim that between 2015 and 2019 the NDP tried to insert “socialist” ideology in to the curriculum rewrite started by the previous Progressive Conservative government.

“I think we have an opportunity to fix and correct any of the issues we have, both on implementation and actually the curriculum itself,” said candidate Todd Loewen, who now sits as an Independent MLA after running afoul of Mr. Kenney.

We can take from this that in the highly unlikely event Mr. Loewen won, rather than throwing his support to Ms. Smith in hopes of snagging a cabinet post, nothing would actually change. 

As for Ms. Smith, according to the CBC account of the ATA summer conference she proposed putting the curriculum implementation on hold until, post-pandemic, the system can “stabilize what is going on in the classrooms.” Whatever she meant by that. 

Ms. Smith’s attitudes about public education were well enough known, though, that she was met by a few boos when she tried to tell one of her cheerful anecdotes, this time about a Grade 9 student who had trouble reading. And there were groans and chuckles when she said she’d consulted with Postmedia hockey reporter turned opinion columnist David Staples about the curriculum. 

About a dozen delegates to the conference walked out during Ms. Smith’s remarks – no doubt to the intense discomfort of the association’s leadership. 

Getting back to Ms. Smith’s 2018 essay, you could argue it was a sort of education policy version of the Legislature’s Her Vision Inspires essay contest for young women in which the third-place winner, announced on Monday, argued in her 500-word submission that women are best suited to bear babies and ought not to try to break into careers that men dominate. 

Only in this case, instead of $200 to spend at the Legislature gift shop, the winner gets to be premier. 

Join the Conversation

13 Comments

  1. It is a good idea that the candidates for UCP leadership should get out and talk to various groups that are a part of the diversity that is Alberta. Perhaps that may cause them to think or rethink about some of their ideas, or not.

    I realize it seems old fashioned these days and instead sometimes hysterical rallies playing to the base seem in fashion now, at least for certain candidates. However these can just become echo chambers reinforcing what those candidates and audiences already think.

    So, it was good that most of the UCP candidates got out to talk to at least one crowd different than their usual one. Whomever wins the leadership is going to have to quickly move from rigid and in some cases unworkable ideas to take a more practical approach to governing.

    If they can’t, they will likely face the same fate as the current leader – a negative vote outcome. However, the next vote after this will not be just party members but the broader Alberta public.

  2. Contrary to what the UCP would have everyone believe, especially “MSM” the ATA has always, and still, functions as a professional association.

    It sees as its mandate to develop and foster knowledge and practice amongst its members about pedagogy, curriculum studies, and acts as an advocate for better public education.

    It hires specialists in these areas and promotes and develops best practices with its members and advocates to the public and government on behalf, not only of its members, but for students, parents and the educational system.

    Previous governments in Alberta had recognized this function and included the expertise of teachers, through the Association, in discussions and decisions about education, including curriculum. One of the first things the UCP did was unilaterally tear up the memorandum of understanding which allowed the government to access this expertise.

    Subsequently it has acted to remove the disciplinary function the Profession had with respect to its members. All the while it has insisted on calling the professional association a “union”, and while it cannot be denied that collective bargaining on behalf of its members is one of the functions the ATA has performed, historically, it does not recognize the contribution the Association has made, and continues to keep trying to make, to the education of children and society, in Alberta.

    Unions, also contribute to a healthier society. I would not have been able to attend university and become an educator without the financial support of my father’s union. Unions also raise the bar for economic well-being and health and safety for all citizens. But to buy into the UCP’s attempt to rebrand the ATA, by adopting their language in referring to the ATA, also diminishes the important role public education plays in creating a democratic society.

    The ATA is not objecting to the ill-conceived and rushed curriculum reforms of the UCP because it is a “union”. It is doing so because as a profession, teachers have a responsibility to advocate on behalf of their students and the society public education helps to create.

    So, David, please don’t buy into the UCP’s nomenclature when referring to the profession of teaching in Alberta.

    1. The ATA is a union. It is also a professional association. Until very recently it was also the regulatory body — although with some caveats on that, as it did not have the legislated authority to suspend or revoke a teacher’s certificate, only the Minister of Education had.

      As a member of a different regulated profession — in the field of health care — I have a certain perspective on these matters. Once upon a time, my professional association also served as the regulator and the collective bargaining agent. After a Supreme Court decision out of a case arising in — if memory serves — Saskatchewan, the collective bargaining component of the Association was hived off to become a true union (the one that now employs our host in his day job, in fact). This occurred way back in 1977. The Association continued to operate as a regulator & a professional association, governed by profession-specific enabling legislation. When I came to Alberta in 1985, I had to register with that association in order to be be able to practice here.

      Then the Health Professions Act (HPA) came about in the early 2000s, and the Association was required to rebrand to include the word ‘College’ in its name, and it’s regulatory functions were strengthened and prioritized under her that legislation, which was also umbrella legislation that covered almost all regulated health professions in Alberta (including physicians) and supplanted the profession-specific legislation that governed us before. Under the HPA, Colleges themselves had authority over what were now called ‘practice permits’, and Hearing Tribunals could suspend or revoke them. But under the HPA, there was no mandatory separation of Association functions from the regulatory ones: the Act at the time simply delineated what specific roles were off-limits, but Colleges were not explicitly barred from promoting the profession or advocating for excellence in practice. So, my College remained named also as an Association, although not all did. I actually served a total of seven years on the governing Provincial Council of my College, two as President, in the decade 2010-19.

      In the past couple of years, however, this has all changed. The most recent amendments to the HPA explicitly prohibited Colleges from also functioning as professional associations, and also prohibited them from collecting fees on behalf of any other organizations or bodies. The Provincial Council actually anticipated this might happen and started the process about a year before the legislation was passed, so they had a head start on it. But it is unpopular with the profession.

      So this year, when I renewed my practice permit, I was unable to purchase my professional liability insurance directly from the College as I had for the previous 36 years of my career. Instead, I had to go to the insurance carrier’s website and buy it as a separately transaction. Similarly I had to buy my membership in the newly formed separate professional association if I wanted to have one — it is not mandatory — and also to get the member discount on the aforementioned professional liability insurance.

      As for the ATA, I have long felt, despite the objections of their leadership, that the regulatory function should have been hived off from it long ago. But the way the UCP went about it lacks integrity. I see no incompatibility between their role as a collective bargaining agent, and a professional association that has no regulatory authority.

  3. I’m certain these pretend conservatives and Reformers are very intent on supporting more cuts to the public education system in Alberta, so they can make the excuse to privatize it. This was what their hero, Ralph Klein was trying to accomplish. The same thing with public healthcare in Alberta. People are still fooled by these politicians. There is no sense in that at all.

  4. Now that, as he claims, Jordan Peterson is no longer a tenured instructor at U of T, as he is now a fully-minted professional-blogger/angry old man screaming at the clouds, I suspect that the legions of angry Incels and terminally single & lonely elderly men will buy into his grift and pay him lavishly for it.

    As for Danielle Straitjacket stepping into the lion’s den at an ATA conference, one person I know gave her credit and the courage for speaking truth to power. Being mindful that the person telling me this is another one of those childless, terminally single middle-aged men, he probably still thinks Smith would be a hot date, as Rick Mercer learned …

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T5P5OxlP6KY

    So, here’s Danielle waxing on and on and the merits of cottage industry healthcare practitioners and the little red school house and demands she be respected. It’s a two-way street, people. You respect Danielle, and she will run over everything that works. Civilization, especially the working ones, suck!

    Of course, Mr. Toes didn’t show up because he was attending another fundraiser, probably c/o Brett Wilson.

  5. Ever since that government-endorsed, racist, misogynist, hate speech of an essay reared its ugly head, all I can see at this and future UCP leadership events is a bunch of hate-filled racists and misogynists. Did anyone ask them about critical race theory?

    Michelle Bellefontaine of the CBC has discovered that the Camrose Jackie and Fort Saskatchewan Jackie have owned up to this fiasco, begrudgingly, but the UCP government wears the badge of shame for making Alberta an international disgrace once again. They can’t walk this back. The cattle are out of the car. This is what they really think.

    So will girls be banned from public schools in the future, in favor of staying home darning socks and scrubbing laundry on rocks down at the river? Think of all the future money they can make per head from the fruit of their wombs (see sexist, racist essay). Will parents make their sons drop out of school at age 13 to work, like in the old days? I hear some coal mines in the Rockies are looking for minors (sic).

    Such exciting times ahead with these folks. I hope this is all a dream sequence.

  6. I’m always troubled when someone claims a policy is “irreversible.” Only death is irreversible. Government has the power to reverse policy and has no obligation to anyone to pay for the consequences. Just ask any Japanese Canadian who had everything stolen in the Second World War, all those murdered indigenous kids, or anyone whose home district is suddenly re-zoned to industrial carnage.

    The other problem with “irreversible” policies is that means there is no point in discussion and debate.

  7. For years my wife was one of the ones who organized the Banff Summer Conference each year and I think that it was a clever idea for them to invite these UCP leadership candidates to show case their stupidity, especially Smith. With her being hellbent on privatization its not hard to understand why she got the response she did.

  8. Brother, talk about tone-deaf! Brian Jean is going to remove “the ideology that is currently in our curriculum, and was before”? What ideology from “before” does he mean? The NDP simply continued a curriculum review that was started by the Old Tories. Does ol’ Brian mean the Old Tories weren’t Tory enough?

    And this to the ATA! If as many as one in 10 teachers supported the UCP’s curriculum, I’ll be very, very surprised. Did anybody boo this claptrap? They should have.

    Maybe this is why we haven’t heard much of anything from Brian Jean or his campaign to be Leader of the UCP World. Is he keeping the Word between himself and the UCP Faithful? That might be a better strategy than Danielle Straitjacket (thank you to Just Me for the nickname) is using. Keeping the crazy hidden in the family might scare a few less of the heathens who don’t understand the Word of Cod (yeah, the whole UCP program seems fishy to me).

    Now, maybe I’m being harsh. After all, Brian Jean has actual experience as an MP. He would have learned to keep his turnip trap shut when the Leader said to. Danielle Smith never benefited from that level of discipline. Here in Oilberduh, Danielle’s foot-in-mouth disease may actually be beneficial. For sure, there are some who like to hear from someone who’s just as ignorant and isn’t afraid to show it.

  9. Was thinking the other day, if you believe the goal of the school system is to educate citizens, Alberta’s actions (and Canada’s in general, to a lesser extent) make very little sense. However, if you assume the goal of the school system is to produce docile workers whose opinions, votes, and spending habits can be easily manipulated and won’t grow up to unionize, volunteer, or get uppity with their betters, things make a great deal more sense.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.