Question: Bill 15, enabling the government to take over the Alberta Teachers’ Association’s regulatory responsibilities for professional discipline and competence, has now passed. What now?
Answer: As I am writing this column, Bill 15 has just completed third reading in the legislature. Given the broader political uncertainty facing this government, there is an outside possibility that proclamation of the legislation might be delayed, possibly indefinitely. While admittedly remote, this possibility is not unprecedented. Bill 85, passed just last fall, promised helpful and substantive improvements to current professional discipline processes, but was superseded by Bill 15. Perhaps another change of policy direction is not out of the question.
But hoping that Bill 15 provisions will not proceed to implementation is a bit like whistling past the graveyard, so the Association is already considering the bill’s implications for our operations and the culture of the profession. Much, of course, will depend upon the regulations adopted by government to facilitate the bill’s implementation. The Association was not meaningfully consulted on the bill’s content, and I’m not holding my breath that we will have much input into potential regulations.
A critical problem, then, will be the transition to the new order. At the risk of providing government with information that it will cynically misrepresent and weaponize, we currently have more than 200 cases that are active with more than 150 currently being investigated. Some of these cases, due to legal complications, competing criminal processes and lack of capacity of respondents, have been ongoing for a number of years and will not be easily or quickly resolved.
The Association, consistent with its commitment to upholding the public interest and to ensure the integrity of the professional disciplinary process, will want to facilitate as smooth a transition as possible. I anticipate that government will expect us to complete a number of the investigations and hearings that are currently underway, although that will be challenging given that the minister has maliciously misrepresented and denigrated our efforts, saying “Simply put, parents can’t trust the Alberta Teachers Association [sic] to act in the best interest of students.” (email to UCP members, March 31, 2022)
But this is a temporary problem that will, in fairly short order, be resolved, one way or another. More profoundly, teachers will have to consider the Association’s future and the culture of the profession in Alberta. The government’s stripping from teachers their capacity for self-regulation forces us to consider some fundamental questions about the Association’s role in a post–Bill 15 province, including,
- What will be the Association’s relationship with the commissioner and functionaries responsible for implementing the new professional conduct and practice review processes?
- Will the Association now actively represent teachers who are caught up in the government’s process, and what are the policy and financial implications of providing representation?
- What role and what attendant services might the Association undertake to resolve conflict between members, should the government decide that it does not wish to deal with complaints made under sections of the Code of Professional Conduct relating to colleagues and the profession?
- How will resources be allocated to remaining professional functions (apart from discipline), advocacy and “core union” work?
- In what ways will the Association embrace its new, more “union forward” identity, and how will it co-ordinate its efforts with those of other public and private sector unions and labour organizations?
- How will the Association respond to other threats, including potentially the removal of school administrators from membership or the elimination of the Board of Reference and teacher tenure?
These are profound questions that we ought not to attempt to answer in haste. How teachers choose to respond will have profound strategic and existential implications for the Association and the culture of education in Alberta. ❚
Questions for consideration in this column are welcome. Please address them to Dennis Theobald at firstname.lastname@example.org.