It’s official. Alberta teachers have no confidence in Education Minister Adriana LaGrange.
On Sunday morning, delegates of the Annual Representative Assembly (ARA) voted 99 per cent in favour of a non-confidence motion.
The minister’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and curriculum renewal dominated the discussion as 25 individuals spoke in favour of the motion during a debate that lasted for more than an hour.
“We are living this catastrophic failure every day,” said one delegate. “No one and nothing in public education will be left harmless as long as she continues down her path of destroying public education.”
Other concerns raised about LaGrange’s tenure included legislation that reduced protections for LGBTQ-plus individuals, the closure of the Alberta Distance Learning Centre, funding cuts within the public sphere while increasing support for charter and private schools, and a general refusal to engage in meaningful consultation with the education profession.
In introducing the motion, Edmonton Public local president Heather Quinn noted that a similar motion during last year’s ARA did not proceed due to concerns about potential damage to the relationship between teachers and the minister. She had no such concerns this time.
“What has this minister done in the last year to show that she is interested in maintaining or improving our relationship?” Quinn asked.
“From where I sit, the answer is clear. Regrettably, instead of supporting, protecting and enhancing public education, the minister has in fact led the way in underfunding, diminishing the capacity and unfairly demeaning our public education system and the work of teachers,” Quinn said.
Delegate after delegate expressed similar sentiments.
“It’s time to wake the sleeping elephant of us as Alberta teachers and to engage in an even further and deeper capacity to show this minister that we are the ATA and that we are not here to take their nonsense any longer,” said one delegate.
“I am tired of the hit and run tactics of the minister announcing things to bomb and sabotage our education system. Our kids deserve better. We deserve better. This province deserves better,” said another delegate.
“We have given her time and she has yet to give us the basic respect that we more than deserve,” said another.
Likely the most poignant moment during the debate came when one delegate tearfully described the stress and hardship being experienced within her local due to uncertainty related to switching back and forth from in-class to remote teaching, from teachers feeling unsafe in schools, and budget cuts leading to job losses and questions about job security.
“I’m sick and I’m exhausted and I feel broken,” she said.
Past-president Greg Jeffery said that he’d planned to vote against the motion out of “grave concerns over the consequences,” but he said that listening to teachers’ emotion, passion and stories changed his mind.
“We’ve had vindictive governments in the past that have punished us for this sort of action and that may happen again but we will find a way to manage that,” he said. “Damn the torpedoes. Full speed ahead.”
Current president Jason Schilling also endorsed the resolution.
“I understand why teachers feel disrespected. I have been disrespected,” he said. “To have our concerns about public education so arbitrarily dismissed is a slap in the face to the dedication teachers have shown to their students and schools.”
In a subsequent interview with media, he said he’ll continue to do his job as normal.
“If the government wants to be vindictive about this motion … that is on them,” Schilling said.
“I can’t control government’s decisions or how they react to this. All I can control is the fact that I’m still willing to do my job every single day and advocate and find a way forward for public education and teachers in this province. We’ve indicated that to the minister throughout this last year … and I just hope maybe at some point the government will start listening to the profession.”