The claim by Education Minister Adriana LaGrange that the ATA has a conflict of interest respecting teacher discipline is neither original nor new. It’s hardly the first attempt by a minister to undermine the teaching profession.
Most recently, in the fall of 2013, then education minister Jeff Johnson launched the Task Force for Teaching Excellence without informing or engaging the Association. At the time, Premier Alison Redford was embroiled in numerous scandals that ultimately lead to her resignation in March 2014, but the work of the task force continued. Its final report, released in May of 2014, included recommendations to remove the Association’s professional functions in policing teacher conduct and competence as well as removing principals from membership in the Association. In September, under a new premier, a cabinet shuffle brought in a new education minister and ultimately ended the threat of the task force.
In the two decades prior to Johnson’s tenure, the profession found itself under attack on a couple of occasions. In the 2000s, the Alberta Commission on Learning recommended a number of professional changes, including the end to legislated teacher conventions and the removal of principals from the Association. Daunted by ATA resistance, the government did not proceed with the changes. In the 1990s, Innisfail–Sylvan Lake MLA Gary Severtson twice brought forward unsuccessful private members’ bills to end the Association’s “dual function.”
In the 1980s, Education Minister David King took two cracks at the ATA. In 1981, he proposed breaking up the Association, separating the union and professional regulatory functions, but the proposal was dropped after significant outcry from teachers. He tried again in the aftermath of the scandal involving notorious Eckville teacher Jim Keegstra (he taught students that the Holocaust had not happened), which raised charges that the ATA had a conflict of interest in policing teacher conduct.
The government struck the Committee on Tolerance and Understanding chaired by MLA Ron Ghitter. The Ghitter Report made powerful recommendations on how teacher discipline should look going forward post-Keegstra, but did not recommend the removal of the discipline function.
In fact, the report suggested that the ATA be granted the capacity to certify and decertify its members, rather than leaving that power in the hands of the education minister.
“It is time teachers have control of their own profession,” the report stated, calling for an ATA that would be recognized as “more than a union.”
The report asserted that the public would benefit by knowing, once and for all, exactly who is responsible for the discipline and decertification of teachers: the ATA. However, the government chose to stick with the status quo, leaving discipline with the ATA and certification with the minister. ❚