As someone who spent seven years as Minister of Education in Alberta, I have considerable experience with the terrain that the current Minister, Jeff Johnson, is treading. He has chosen an unwise and unsafe path. I am surprised that his caucus and cabinet colleagues have not already dragged him off the path, since he is carrying their future with him, as well as his own.
In recent months the Minister has profiled the Report of the Task Force on Teaching Excellence, mused about (‘splitting’) the ATA, challenged the spirit of the province’s freedom of information and protection of privacy legislation, and further marginalized local government. Each of these deserves consideration by citizens, as does the position, in the background, of the government itself.
Let’s consider each of these issues, in a series of posts.
1. Splitting the Alberta Teachers’ Association (Part 1)
The Minister is concerned that one organization, the Alberta Teachers’ Association, represents both the professional interests of teachers and their economic and employee interests. He sees this as representing an inherent conflict of interest that, to him, is both insoluble and unacceptable. (There are Albertans who agree with him.) Mr. Johnson seems much inclined to see a forced dismembering of the ATA as the best solution, with the existing organization maintaining responsibility for economic and employee interests (such as collective bargaining, grievances, etc.) and a new organization responsible for the professional interests of teachers (such as certification, professional development, etc.).
My response is based on having covered much of the same ground, more than 30 years ago.
I agree with the Minister that the ATA is sometimes in a conflict of interest situation, but I strongly disagree that the situation is insoluble and unacceptable.
I say this as the person who, as Minister, revoked Jim Keegstra’s teaching certificate, as the ATA was defending him. And I agree that they had a responsibility to defend him: it was a responsible defense that proved the substance of his position.