Oral Question Period, June 24–27

Topping this week’s agenda in question period were topics related to: Bill 9, education funding, conversion therapy, LGBTQ teacher and educational staff employment protection and GSAs.

Below are highlights of the proceedings of interest to the Association:

Bill 9, June 24

Rachel Notley (NDP—Edmonton-Strathcona) asked Premier Jason Kenney about the government’s plans to interfere in the collective agreements of 180,000 public servants, noting that there will be huge taxpayer cost for lawyer’s fees as unions are launching legal challenges. Kenney answered that government is proceeding on the advice of the senior public service, who indicated that Bill 9 is “fully constitutionally compliant”. He stated that the NDP is simply defending the “bosses” who have formal affiliate membership with the NDP and have helped run it.

Bill 9 continued: Shannon Phillips (NDP—Lethbridge-West) asked Kenney if Bill 9 is really about rolling back wages for teachers and support staff. Kenney responded that the intent of Bill 9 is “simply procedural delay so that we can make an informed, responsible decision on behalf of Albertans”. Phillips said that Lethbridge public school board had written a letter a month ago warning the Minister of Finance that the bill would result in harm to future bargaining.

Education Funding

June 24: Sarah Hoffman (NDP—Edmonton Glenora) asked Minister of Education Adriana LaGrange about the impact of funding uncertainty on the CBE budget. She noted that 22 million dollars is expected to be cut from CBE’s budget, which is 220 teachers. LaGrange answered that government is committed to building schools and funding for enrollment growth and that she trusts boards to make local decisions. She added that she met with CBE last week and they assured her that they are maintaining current staffing levels and keeping teachers in front of students.

June 24: Heather Sweet (NDP—Edmonton-Manning) asked Minister of Education Adriana LaGrange about the funding uncertainty affecting school boards, noting that some schools in her riding will be losing mental health therapists. LaGrange answered that government has provided for schools and knows that they will be able to “continue on”. She concluded by reiterating that government respects school boards’ autonomy to make decisions that are best for them.

June 25: Rachel Notley (NDP—Edmonton-Strathcona) asked Premier Jason Kenney why school boards have yet to receive written confirmation that enrolment will be funded. Kenney answered that the education minister is working with school boards to ensure adequate supports as well as fiscal responsibility, and government has had only 8 weeks to get on top of the “fiscal mess” left by the NDP.

June 26: Sarah Hoffman asked Minister of Education Adriana LaGrange when she will provide funding certainty to school boards, noting that Edmonton Public Schools has pulled millions out of their reserves to balance the 2019/20 budget in anticipation funding cuts. LaGrange stated that as per standard procedure, funding information will be communicated to school boards following approval by the Legislature. She concluded by stating that government has committed to funding enrolment growth and building new schools .

June 27: Sarah Hoffman asked Minister of Education Adriana LaGrange why government still hasn’t provided funding certainty to school boards. House Leader Jason Nixon rose to accuse the opposition of fear and smear. LaGrange then rose to say that information about funding comes at certain times and that she has been in touch with many school boards. She concluded by stating that enrolment growth will be funded and government is committed to keeping teachers in front of students.

Conversion Therapy Use in Alberta, June 25

Janis Irwin (NDP—Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood) asked Minister of Finance Jason Nixon about his connections to Journey Canada— an anti-gay organization. Nixon answered by criticizing the behavior of the Official Opposition, calling it “appalling” and “ridiculous”.

Agricultural Education, June 25

Joseph Schow (UCP—Cardston-Siksika) asked Minister of Education Adriana LaGrange about a career and technology program at Magrath high school and specifically how it could be replicated in other jurisdictions. LaGrange answered that government encourages growth within these programs and school authorities have the flexibility to identify opportunities in their communities.

LGBTQ Teacher and Educational Staff Employment Protection, June 26

Janis Irwin (NDP—Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood) asked Minister of Education Adriana LaGrange why government, through Bill 8, has removed protections for gender minority teachers and staff. LaGrange answered that all teachers and staff are protected under the human bill of rights as well as under the labour code.

School Nutrition Program at Normandeau School, June 26

Thomas Dang (NDP—Edmonton-South) asked the Government House Leader, Jason Nixon about  Normandeau school’s nutrition program funding, noting that the school is asking local business to donate to help keep it operational. Minister of Education Adriana LaGrange added that feeding hungry children is important, that government has been consistent and is committed to funding education and supporting students.

Gay-straight Alliances in Schools and Bill 8, June 27

Rakhi Pancholi (NDP—Edmonton Whitemud) asked Minister of Education Adriana LaGrange why the UCP voted down the NDP amendment to Bill 8 that would allow for the “immediate establishment” of a GSA when a student requests it. LaGrange answered that once requested, a GSA or QSA will absolutely be allowed and there is a “process in place”. Both the Minister of Advanced Education and the Government House leader rose to accuse the opposition of “fear and smear” and reiterated that Alberta will have the strongest statutory protections for GSAs.

School Infrastructure Capital Projects, June 27

Rod Loyola (NDP—Edmonton-Ellerslie) asked Minister of Education Adriana LaGrange about modular units awaiting installation at Father Michael Mireau school and whether she could confirm that they have been approved. LaGrange answered that government is in the process of going through with all of the capital projects and more information is forth coming. Loyola continued by asking if the school projects approved by the former NDP government will be going ahead as planned. The Minister of Infrastructure, Prasad Panda, rose to say that government is going through the budget process, but with a projected $100 billion debt, it needs to be handled carefully.

Members’ Statements

David Eggen (NDP—Edmonton-North West) made a statement highlighting the benefits of school nutrition programs, noting that today more than 37,000 Alberta children receive a healthy snack or meal as well as important lesson about making healthy food choices. He pointed to the many benefits of school nutrition programs including increased attendance, improved physical and mental well-being and improved academic performance. He concluded by imploring the government to not cut the programs to “pay for a big corporate tax cut”.

Previous excerpts of interest to the Association are available under Highlights from the Assembly.