New UCP leader at odds with government on numerous fronts

November 7, 2017 Kim Dewar, ATA News Staff

Strengthening school choice and repealing curriculum changes are among the top educational priorities for Jason Kenney, the new leader of the United Conservative Party (UCP).

Jason Kenney, UCP Leader

Kenney won the party’s leadership on the first ballot on Oct. 28, capturing 61.1 per cent of eligible party members’ votes. The party formed in July after a merger between the Kenney-led Progressive Conservative Party and the Wildrose Party led by Brian Jean, who finished second in the UCP leadership race.

Early in the leadership race, Kenney said he would not make policy announcements but would instead allow grassroots members of the party to decide its direction. However, he has since made available a collection of videos and posts at that outline his positions on a variety of issues, including school choice and the government’s curriculum rewrite process.

“I’m deeply concerned about the NDP’s ideological plan for our education system. I think there’s already too much politics in our classrooms,” the website states.

“We’ll wait and see what the final outcome is, but my inclination would be to repeal the NDP curriculum changes, and do a review from square one to ensure that the education system is very focused on the transmission of critical knowledge and skills to equip young people for success in the future.”

On school choice, Kenney supports “a plurality of choices.”

“Then you can ensure that you can pick a program that responds to the unique aptitudes or interests of your child. That’s one way to keep the whole system more accountable as well through a kind of positive internal competition of school choice, which has helped to lead Alberta to have some of the highest standardized test score outcomes in the developed world.”

Kenney has criticized the fact that the names of educators undertaking the curriculum rewrite are not being released publicly and has repeatedly flagged the draft social studies curricula as being “social engineering” on the part of government.

Vocal critic

Kenney is also at odds with the government on the subject of gay–straight alliances, stating that parents should, in some cases, be notified if their child joins a gay–straight alliance at school.

And Kenney was vocal in backing a plan by Catholic school superintendents to write an alternative sex education curriculum that reflects faith-based teaching, stating that Catholic jurisdictions have every right to teach students sex-ed in a manner consistent with the faith.

Kenney has also suggested that a way to balance the Alberta budget is to reduce per capita spending by as much as 20 per cent, which would bring Alberta in line with spending levels seen in BC. He feels that a budgetary reduction of this magnitude could see Alberta’s $10 billion dollar deficit erased within three years.

Trevor Tombe, an associate professor of economics at the University of Calgary, told the ATA News that it’s difficult to foresee how Kenney’s budget ideas would affect education.

“It’s tough to say since it’s a high-level goal without much meat on the bones. How that trickles down into individual program areas is an open question,” Tombe said.

Kenney, a former federal cabinet minister under Stephen Harper, does not hold a seat in the legislature but is in charge of the 27-member official opposition. On Oct. 29 he announced that he will run in a provincial byelection in the riding of Calgary-Lougheed, where longtime MLA Dave Rodney has announced his retirement.

On day two of the fall legislature sitting, which began on Oct. 30, Kenney announced his critic portfolio lineup. The education critic is now Drayton Valley–Devon MLA Mark Smith, a former teacher of 30 years who had a previous stint as the Wildrose education critic. In that role, Smith had been critical of the government’s instruction to school boards not to notify parents about children joining a gay–straight alliance. The most recent education critic, Chestermere-Rocky View MLA Leela Aheer, is now the deputy leader and the critic of the Children’s Services and Status of Women ministries. ❚

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