Highlights from the legislature

January 16, 2018
Kim Dewar, ATA News Staff

Fall session wraps up

The fall session of Alberta’s legislative assembly, which officially began Oct. 30, wrapped up on Dec. 13. Below are highlights of education and labour issues raised from Dec. 4 until the end of the session.

School construction and modernization in northeast Edmonton

Dec. 4 - Heather Sweet (NDP—Edmonton-Manning) asked Minister of Education David Eggen about the government’s plans to build a new elementary school in the neighbourhood of Pilot Sound, as well as modernizing existing schools to increase capacity. Eggen answered that the government uses lists provided by school boards to prioritize funding for schools and noted that southwest Edmonton just received a much-needed high school. Sweet noted that the government has announced a new school for Pilot Sound, as well as funding for redevelopment of Ben Calf Robe Catholic school.

Half-day kindergarten school transportation fees

Dec. 5 - Mark Smith (UCP—Drayton Valley–Devon) asked Minister of Education David Eggen about the impact that Bill 1 (An Act to Reduce School Fees) has had on the transportation fees of school boards that offer half-day kindergarten. Eggen answered that the government has provided more than $54 million to school boards in order for them to reduce school fees and it is up to boards to disseminate kindergarten education. Smith added that multiple school boards have cited Bill 1 as a reason that they are no longer able to offer transportation services. Eggen said that all of the reductions to school fees were “backstopped” by the government funding to school boards, and if a board is suggesting that they are short on those funds, they did receive money from the government.

Education concerns

Dec. 6 - Rod Loyola (NDP—Edmonton-Ellerslie) asked Minister of Education David Eggen to explain the rationale for why the government has struck the word “specialized” from the School Act in section 16.2 (the section currently reads that a parent has the responsibility “to co-operate and collaborate with school staff to support the delivery of specialized supports and services to the student”). Eggen answered that removing the term will make the legislation clearer and does not in any way reduce or alter the supports that students receive. He added that school boards are obligated to respect the rights of parents when it comes to decisions around education and for programming, and that includes the ability of parents to choose school programming that they think best ensures their child’s success.

Public service pension plans

Dec. 7 - Bob Turner (NDP— Edmonton-Whitemud) asked Minister of Treasury Board and Finance Joe Ceci about the viability of public sector pension plans, noting that under the previous Conservative government there was a great deal of uncertainty. Ceci answered that excellent strides have been made toward full funding of public sector pension plans at 90 per cent funded, and the local authorities pension plan is

94 per cent funded. As a result, the pension contribution rates have been reduced for both of those pension plans, which saves the government and workers money.

Viscount Bennett Centre

Dec. 11 - Karen McPherson (AP—Calgary-Mackay-Nose Hill) asked Minister of Advanced Education Marlin Schmidt about the government’s announcement that Chinook Learning Services’ operations at the Viscount Bennett Centre in Calgary will cease at the end of August 2018, and also about the plans announced by the Calgary Board of Education (CBE) to reduce its upgrading capacity by 500 students. Schmidt responded that the government has invested much more money in teachers, smaller class sizes and additional learning supports for students in Calgary. He added that the government has increased the funding to the CBE by more than $63 million and they are concerned with reports from the CBE about budget deficits. McPherson noted that many teachers and staff are concerned about layoffs, and reducing the number of classes will likely mean an increase in the size of classes. Schmidt reiterated the investments made in the CBE and noted that cuts to the education budget would not do anybody any favours.

Educational curriculum redesign

Dec. 11 - Leela Aheer (UCP—Chestermere-Rocky View) asked the government house leader Brian Mason about the NDP’s byelection candidate's accusation that parents concerned about curriculum redesign are being melodramatic. Mason answered that some of the curriculum is over 30 years old and a more modern one will empower children with the skills needed to realize their dreams.

Social studies curriculum

Dec. 12 - Mark Smith (UCP—Drayton Valley-Devon) asked Minister of Education David Eggen about the historical knowledge and content included in the new curriculum and expressed concern that the government is asking children to become activists without providing them with the context and the knowledge to make their own decisions. Eggen answered that the work right now is foundational and the curriculum is not yet written. He added that 35,000 Albertans contributed to the first round of building the curriculum, and the government will continue in the spirit of “building with history, critical thinking, and a respect for tradition and culture.”

Education budget

Dec. 13 - Karen McPherson (AP—Calgary-Mackay-Nose Hill) asked Deputy Premier Sarah Hoffman about the education minister’s order to school districts and education organizations to reduce costs. She noted, “This is the second time this week that we’re learning about big cuts to critical programs from the media rather than from the government.” Hoffman answered that the government has been very focused on stopping the deep cuts that were coming from the now official opposition, and made sure that those funds went toward school districts. McPherson added that education professionals’ conference, travel and professional membership fees are on the block. Hoffman responded by noting that through the ATA agreement, a Classroom Improvement Fund was created and that the government is deeply committed to making sure Alberta has a very strong education system.