Q & A: Association obligated to protect the profession and the public

March 8, 2016
Gordon Thomas, Executive Secretary

Question: A parent made a professional conduct complaint against me, alleging that I had acted unprofessionally in dealing with his son. The complaint took several months to resolve and the investigator found no evidence of misconduct. In this complaint, I was not represented by the Alberta Teachers’ Association and the complaint was frivolous and vexatious. I’d like to sue the parent who made the complaint, but you won’t take this on. Why won’t the ATA represent me, and why won’t you sue the parent?

Answer: Under the Public Education Collective Bargaining Act (PECBA) and the Labour Relations Code (LRC), the Association has union functions, including full collective bargaining rights. The organization represents its members as it is required to do. But the Association is not established as a trade union alone.

The Association is established under its own legislation, the Teaching Profession Act (TPA), which makes the Association the body that represents the teaching profession in Alberta. The TPA outlines our objects, which include statutory professional regulation of the conduct and competence of active members of the Association. PECBA and the LRC outline our obligations to act to protect our members’ interests through collective bargaining, but we also have obligations in law to protect the interests of the profession and the public, ensuring that the conduct and competence of active members meets appropriate standards.

With respect to professional conduct, the TPA gives the Association the authority to set conduct standards for active members, and we do so through the Code of Professional Conduct, which is binding on all active members. With respect to competence, the Association is responsible for a practice review process, authorized in the TPA and detailed in the Practice Review Bylaws, which requires the Association to address concerns about the professional practice of an active member who is subject to the Teaching Quality Standard. These are both statutory obligations that require us to protect the profession and the public, not the member. This is about safeguarding professional conduct and ensuring professional practice, not union representation.

Given that our statutory obligation is to protect the profession and the public, it would be difficult to also defend the member, so our practice to date has been not to provide representation where the Association’s obligation in law is to protect the profession and the public. From time to time, a complainant’s allegations are not substantiated and there is no further action. Some complaints are frivolous and vexatious.

This is a reality in a profession that has an open and transparent way to address allegations of unprofessional conduct or unskilled practice. The open and transparent process also helps provide assurance to the public that complaints about conduct or competence are addressed, and that teachers who do not meet the standards and expectations of the profession face consequences or sanctions, including their removal from the teaching profession when it is in the public interest.

Of course, the Association continues to seek full self-governance for the teaching profession in Alberta. We believe that all certificate holders should be members of the Association and subject to conduct and professional practice standards set and maintained by the teaching profession and applicable to all certificate holders. The minister of Justice does not determine the standards to become and remain a lawyer; the minister of Health does not set conduct and practice standards for doctors or nurses. The teaching profession, through the ATA, should be able to regulate itself in the best interests of the general public and the profession.

That would mean significant changes to our own governance, as we would grow from an organization of all (with few exceptions) certificate holders employed by public and separate school boards to an organization of all certificate holders in Alberta. Membership and possession of a teaching certificate would become synonymous, we would have an expanded mandate of professional regulation, an expanded membership and revised governance structures appropriate to the expanded membership and regulatory functions. We would retain our union responsibilities and expand our professional responsibilities in a unified, collegial teaching profession. ❚

Questions for consideration in this ­column are welcome. Please address them to Gordon Thomas at Barnett House (gordon.thomas@ata.ab.ca).