The Alberta Teachers Association yesterday accused the Kenney government of planning ‘a massive power grab’ with Bill 15, legislation to strip the association of its power to discipline members and replace it with a politicized process headed by a commissioner appointed by the government.
Bill is not best for students or education, the ATA said in a press release. “It’s a vindictive attack and a sad effort to distract from the government’s infighting and the minister’s inability to handle the education file.”
But ATA President Jason Schilling’s warnings about the flaws he sees in the Education Amendment Act (Teaching Discipline Reform) Act 2022are unlikely to dissuade Premier Jason Kenney and his United Conservative Party from fighting with the 46,000-member organization that now acts as both a professional teachers’ association and their union.
After all, picking fights and creating divisions that can be turned into election problems has worked well for Mr Kenney, and he is not about to change course now that many polls suggest he has big problems with voters and members of his own party.
If there is an opportunity to start a fight with the ATA and then accuse the NDP opposition of being too close to the unions, Mr. Kenney is unlikely to listen to the ATA’s arguments on the why Bill 15 is bad legislation – or realizing that the UCP should be careful what it wishes for, because it just might get it.
Mr. Kenney is fully prepared to set aside years of mutually beneficial cooperation with the ATA and hand over to Alberta the worst model of teacher-government labor relations in Canada – already a strike-prone failure in British Columbia – for transitory political gain.
But that’s exactly the kind of guy the Premier of Alberta is.
Speaking at a virtual press conference, Mr Schilling identified three fundamental flaws in the UCP legislation, which was introduced in the Legislative Assembly a week ago today by Education Minister Adriana LaGrange, who is actually a pretty minor player in this drama because she just does what her boss tells her to do.
First, because the government will be able to hire and fire its so-called commissioner, “the design of the whole new bottom-up system is very susceptible to political influence, and the whole disciplinary process risks being more politicized. said Mr. Schilling. “This is nothing less than a blatant power grab.”
“No other profession in Alberta has a commissioner to govern the profession,” Schilling added. (Other public sector unions, however, might argue that previous UCP legislation effectively stripped all health professions of self-regulation by requiring 50% of their board members to be appointees. the government.)
Second, Schilling continued, because Bill 15 removes the notion of self-government for teachers, the legislation will deprive teachers of their ability to regulate their own profession, “a mark of professionalism.”
He asked, “How can teachers trust the people who appointed Chris Champion to write the curriculum?” (Dr. Champion, of course, is the right-wing historian and former Kenney aide known for attacking First Nations reconciliation as “agitprop” and “an ongoing fad.”)
Third, Mr. Schilling argued that the government plans to adopt a model used only in British Columbia which is “fraught with conflict”.
He also pointed to other flaws in the bill, including its half-baked structure which will take much longer than the assigned eight months to come into place when no one knows what to do with disciplinary cases of new and continuing teachers.
The problem is that with the possible example of British Columbia’s notoriously bad labor relations with the teaching profession, none of these points are likely to engage the public much.
The ATA has treated the reality that the Kenney government is about to create a militant teachers’ union with caution, presumably lest it sound like it is making threats.
Obviously, however, the current leadership of the ATA does not have much enthusiasm for this approach. But Bill 15, once passed, will likely quickly put behind it the ATA’s long history of “collegiality and collaboration” with successive Conservative governments.
The moderating influence of teachers in the caucus and cabinet of the former Progressive Conservative Party was part of the long success of the Conservative dynasty. But Mr. Kenney’s UCP apparently has little time for moderation or public education.
The government argues that the ATA’s role as a disciplinary body for teachers conflicts with its functions as a collective bargaining agent for members – a view shared by some unions representing public sector professionals.
The Alberta Nurses Union split from the Disciplinary College in 1977, a change that benefited members of the United Nurses of Alberta.
When the government claims that Alberta is the only province where teachers’ unions also act as professional regulators, it is misrepresenting the facts. Teachers’ unions with disciplinary roles are found in Manitoba, New Brunswick, and Newfoundland and Labrador, as well as in the Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut.
In Saskatchewan and Ontario, there are teacher-run disciplinary colleges in addition to separate teachers’ unions.
So far, only British Columbia, with its poor labor relations with teachers, has a government-appointed commissioner to regulate the profession.
The militant new teachers’ union likely to emerge in Alberta from this situation is sure to aggressively represent its members in disciplinary cases, as unions are required by law in all Canadian provinces to do.
ATA Executive Secretary and CEO Dennis Theobald, attending the press conference, acknowledged that this part of the change proposed in Bill 15 could benefit some teachers, especially those facing discipline.