Question: So now that teachers have voted non-confidence in the minister of education, what happens next?
Answer: I really don’t know, and much depends upon the minister and the government.
The motion of non-confidence that passed at the Annual Representative Assembly on the May long weekend came from the floor of the assembly and reflected the grassroots frustration of teachers who have had to endure attacks and insults from this government over the last two years.
While the motion referred to the minister of education and was driven largely by her approach to the curriculum rewrite and her dismissal of teachers’ related professional concerns, other members of the government, including the ministers of labour and finance, have been the authors of malignant policies and pieces of legislation.
Among these have been attempts to muzzle teachers’ advocacy for public education and to hijack control of the teachers’ pension plan. The premier himself has repeatedly dismissed teachers’ legitimate concerns and falsely claimed the Association is a partisan supporter of, and provided financial support to, the New Democratic Party. The entire government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic has appeared to be ad hoc, uncaring and unresponsive to the challenges faced by teachers throughout the pandemic. This is what underlies that ARA motion of non-confidence, a motion that is really a cri de coeur from thousands of teachers across the province.
What was not mentioned in much of the press coverage of the non-confidence vote was that in the same meeting, the Assembly previously had passed a number of resolutions that set out a co-operative path forward. These were developed by Provincial Executive Council and communicated to the minister weeks before ARA, but elicited no response. In fact, the Association has always attempted to focus on problem solving, and the untold dozens of you who follow this column closely will note that I have taken care to outline some of those solutions in this space.
So what does happen now? Good question. I’ve been in the profession for more than 35 years now and have seen ministers who have not exactly been friends of the profession or the Association come around to understand and respect our role and insights. I would include among their number Lyle Oberg, Ron Liepert and Jeff Johnson, each of whom had something of a Damascus Road experience in their dealings with the Association.
And before them, David King as minister of education in the government of Peter Lougheed originally proposed dismantling the Association, but after some experience in the ministry and, later, with the Public School Boards Association of Alberta, came to be one of our best friends and most ardent supporters. In 2010, he was bestowed with the Public Education Award at the 93rd Annual Representative Assembly.
Of course, things are somewhat different today. The UCP government is ideologically driven to an extent that’s unprecedented in recent history. The premier, under attack within his fractious party, sees beating up on the “teachers’ union” and its “bosses” as a way of uniting his political base. The minister of education is relying on advice provided by political appointees who have no knowledge of Alberta’s unique education culture or environment. And, over the course of decades, the department of education has seen the departure and systematic removal of officials who had first-hand experience as teachers or administrators within Alberta’ public school system. All this will make it more difficult to chart a co-operative and positive path forward.
Yet solutions that serve the interests of government, the Association, teachers and, indeed, all Albertans are possible and I would be delighted if, some years from now, I could attend an ARA where a redeemed Honourable Adriana LaGrange was awarded a Public Education Award for her leadership. ❚
Questions for consideration in this column are welcome. Please address them to Dennis Theobald at firstname.lastname@example.org.