Question: How will the policy resolutions adopted at the United Conservative Party’s 2020 annual general meeting affect teachers and the Alberta Teachers’ Association?
Answer: With respect to education and labour, the policies passed by the UCP at its 2020 annual general meeting run the gamut from the merely naïve to the extraordinarily bad, and teachers would be entirely justified in regarding them as an attack on the profession and the fundamental culture of education in Alberta.
Of 30 policy resolutions considered in virtual space by the party stalwarts, two specifically targeted teachers as a union and profession.
Policy 23, approved by 84 per cent, would “prohibit any professional body charged with regulating Teacher/Principal certification or professional conduct and practice from conducting activities related to: i. collective bargaining; ii. the administration of a collective agreement; or iii. any matter under the jurisdiction of the Labour Relations Board,” effectively splitting the Association into a union and a separate professional body.
Policy 28, approved by 77 per cent, would “create a self-governing professional regulatory association for Alberta Teachers [sic] that is responsible for Teacher/ Principal: i. certification, ii. professional conduct and practice, iii. professional qualifications, and iv. continuing teacher competency.” This would download to a new professional body duties currently performed by the ATA (policing of conduct and practice) and the Government of Alberta (certification), while providing a structure for compulsory, government-directed assessment of competency, all to be paid for out of the pockets of working teachers.
A third policy, (No. 3, conveniently), was not specifically targeted at teachers but would sweep up all organized labour. Passed by 81 per cent of voting delegates, the policy would “make Alberta a right-to-work jurisdiction.” As defined in the accompanying rationale, this would entail legislation “such that no worker can be required to join a collective bargaining unit to be awarded or hired in any role. Further, no employer [could] be compelled to deduct union dues with out [sic] the prior written confidential consent of the employee.”
Taken together, these three policies (and indeed many of the 27 others passed) reveal the United Conservative Party base to be a radical, ideologically-driven political clique that is deeply hostile to public services in general and to public education and the Association in particular. And this is why my concern is somewhat tempered—I believe that the several hundred delegates who voted on these misbegotten proposals are deeply out of touch with mainstream Alberta and entirely ignorant of the culture of the school and classroom that has, over the course of many decades, made Alberta a world leader in education.
As Premier Kenney has said previously, he “holds the pen” and will determine which of these bad ideas might metastasize into legislation. Whatever your personal beliefs about the premier, he is a shrewd politician with a shrewd politician’s instinct for self-preservation, and so I expect that, discretion being the better part of valour, these bad ideas will be left to moulder on the shelf.
There are some important learnings to be had here. First of all, politics in Alberta are intensely local, and the importance of ongoing contact with individual MLAs cannot be underestimated. Teachers need to exercise the skills that they have honed in their classrooms and communicate directly to their MLAs, and particularly to UCP backbenchers, why the directions proposed by these resolutions are bad for students, teachers, parents and the province. Our elected representatives need to know how having both professional and union functions united in the Association creates an organization that rises above the immediate interests of its members to consider and advance the greater public good.
Second, Albertans tend, at the end of the day, to be pragmatic and will reject politicians who advance “solutions” that are nothing more than an attack upon deeply beloved institutions, including public education, and respected individuals, including teachers. In the midst of a fundamental economic transition and a global pandemic, Albertans do not want their government to go to war with teachers. Your MLA may need you to remind them of this.
There are some who will regard my comments above as being anti-UCP and in contradiction to the Association’s commitment to being nonpartisan. This is mistaken. The ATA, as provided for in its legislated objects, will always take a position on education policy; what we won’t do is support for election any given candidate or party. In my 20 years on Association staff, we have taken on various Progressive Conservative governments and even the New Democratic government. I assure you, we are equal-opportunity irritants. ❚