Executive secretary Gordon Thomas delivers the ATA’s annual report to ARA delegates.
Future is bright with new government taking office, executive secretary reports
Delegates got a history lesson that covered attacks on teachers and changeovers in government at the Annual Representative Assembly (ARA) as executive secretary Gordon Thomas presented the Alberta Teachers’ Association’s annual report.
Much of the Association’s work in 2014 was focused on dealing with the report of the Task Force for Teaching Excellence, Thomas reported. “The task force dominated 2014 for this organization, and it’s important to recognize that the threats to the profession and this organization were very real,” he said.
Thomas reminded delegates that the task force membership didn’t include the Association, but did include four hand-picked MLAs who participated only at the beginning and the end of the task force process. It was ultimately “an assault on the teaching profession and the Association” on the part of then education minister Jeff Johnson.
“The minister had a very clear agenda ... and aided by his friends and hand-picked MLAs, was very nearly able to carry it out,” Thomas said. “The fact that he did not, and ultimately could not, is very much the work of our members.”
Teachers around the province gave MLAs an earful on the task force report, Thomas said. Also, Association executives spent much of the summer working with Alberta Education officials to formulate a plan for moving forward that included “none of the hostile task force recommendations and could take the profession forward in very constructive ways.”
Johnson, however, had two issues with the plan. He wanted to remove the Board of Reference as the mechanism for dealing with teacher discipline and remove the requirement that all teachers be certificated. “The minister wanted only two things,” Thomas said. “The ability to terminate the employment of any teacher without cause at any time and the ability to hire anyone, not just a certificated teacher, to be a teacher.”
Thomas drew chuckles from the crowd by making numerous references to Johnson as the “now defeated” minister.
He also pointed out that two of the MLAs assigned to the task force were defeated in the spring election, while one is under investigation for alleged bribery and the fourth, Sandra Jansen, suffered “the worst fate of all,” by being “re-elected for a four-year term to the third party PC caucus of nine.”
Thomas then went on to describe how past education ministers have also suffered defeats after taking on the province’s teachers. For example, George P. Smith, Liberal education minister from 1918 to 1921, belittled the fledgling Alberta Teachers’ Alliance everywhere he went, but he was voted out of office along with the Liberal government in the election of 1921.
“Colleagues, we must be ever vigilant,” Thomas said.
When it comes to new governments in Alberta, Thomas suggested that history may provide a reason for optimism in the current climate. “It’s particularly instructive to note that the first term of a new government has delivered successful initiatives for teachers,” he said.
When Bill Aberhart was first elected in 1935, there were extensive improvements for teachers, including security of tenure and a requirement that teachers be offered contracts of employment. The government also gave the Board of Reference teeth, recognized the Association and took steps to establish the teachers’ retirement fund, Thomas said.
By Aberhart’s second term, the Association had won full collective bargaining rights and had taken over responsibility for teachers’ conventions, and universities were delivering teacher preparation rather than normal schools.
After Peter Lougheed unseated the Social Credit government in 1971, the new government introduced early childhood education, provided funding for special education, convened the Worth Commission on the future of education, lengthened teacher certification requirements and entered into a dialogue with teachers about full self-governance of their profession, Thomas informed delegates.
“Colleagues, I do very much look forward to working with premier-designate Rachel Notley and the newly elected government,” Thomas said. “We will be reaching out, as we always do, to offer our support to government to build the education system in this province and to build the profession, so that members can practise the profession they love, do their best work and co-create the next Alberta.”
Thomas ended by contrasting teachers’ futures with those of the defeated MLAs and education minister who were involved in the task force. “Colleagues, a year later, Alberta’s teachers aren’t defeated,” he said. “It’s a historic time in Alberta, with new opportunities and new ideas. We have a great future ahead.” ❚