Tuesday, December 01, 2020
Monday, August 17, 2020
Based on reports from the annual assembly of The Alberta Teachers’ Association held August 13-14, it is apparent that the senior leadership believes that a policy resolution calling for a vote on non- confidence in the Minister of Education could be counter-productive to building an effective working relationship with the government. Rather than simply refusing to acknowledge the long-standing charade of the minister’s so-called consultation with the profession, ATA officials are still seeking to have “conversations” and to build a “relationship” with the Minister.
This is the same Minister who did not consult with the ATA when the teachers’ pension funds were to be moved from a dedicated fund manager to AIMCo. The same Minister who rolled back curriculum change without consultation and dismissed the hard work of hundreds of teachers and professors of education who worked to build an innovative new approach to teaching and learning in this province. This is the same Minister whose government cut education budgets that led to school boards scrambling to maintain the positions of 20,000 employees – essential workers who were in the front-lines of supporting Alberta’s students as they faced the uncertainty of the pandemic. The same Minister who just announced a right wing ideologically driven team of advisors to oversee curriculum development, all without consultation with the ATA. Adriana LaGrange is not interested in a genuine and meaningful engagement with the teaching profession, any more than her government is committed to working with Alberta doctors.
To be clear, the proposed vote of non-confidence in the minister was not about individuals or personalities. For the past two decades across Canada, policy analysts have lamented the fact key education decisions flow directly from the party operatives within premiers’ offices, often driven by short-term election cycles and ‘dog-whistle’ messaging on social media. We are familiar with the litany this current government has attempted to mobilize: class size really doesn’t matter, kids can’t do math, the environmental extremists are taking over our schools. Yet, despite enduring all of this, the ATA is banking on being able to build a strong collaborative relationship with the Minister – something they have not really had since Dave Hancock was Minister twelve years ago. Since that time there have been occasional polite meetings with ministers and the odd press joint conference – none of which could be considered meaningful partnerships. The results for Alberta teachers and students have not been good. Despite being consistently ranked in the top 3-5 jurisdictions in the world for the past 20 years, the UCP has chosen to diminish trust in Alberta’s public education system and marginalize the profession while attempting to activate its base with the red-meat sloganeering advancing parent choice and privatization – all policies that have proven to be abject failures elsewhere.
Now the political leadership of the ATA faces an existential crisis. These emerged at the recent assembly: huge financial challenges and legacy issues such as the cost-overruns on an ill-conceived expansion to its building and growing concerns about the impacts of current programs in terms of actually addressing the material concerns of classroom teachers. Some teachers want more decisive action, some want a moderate approach and many others are disengaged and powerless - frustrated with no pay increases in the past five years and anxious about the prospect of wage roll-backs. Meanwhile, the ATA has leadership issues – a popular and obviously very competent president, yet the organization continues to flounder with no clear sense of long-term political direction or priorities.
One of the most compelling quotes I fall back on in my strategic foresight consulting and teaching is Margaret Wheatley’s invocation, that “there is nothing more powerful than a community discovering what it cares about.” The same is true for organizations.
If the recent annual assembly of the ATA is any indication, its members need decisive leadership now more than any other time in recent history to decide what it really cares about. Not only are teachers about to be asked to work in unsafe conditions, putting themselves, children and their communities at risk. More importantly in the long-term, they are being asked to go back in time in terms of what they teach and how they teach. Coupled with this are the unfounded assertions that Alberta students, already tested more than any others in the country, need more testing.
Part of the concern of the political leadership of the provincial ATA is that a strike or refusal to work under high risk health and safety conditions would feed into the UCP agenda. The thinking here is that the UCP wants to break unions, break the public trust in unions and professions and to demonstrate that public services like education and health “don’t work” in order to advance their privatization agenda. It’s a risk of course – but the government’s ill-conceived return to school plans are a symptom of a much deeper problem. Individual teachers already have protection under Section 31 of Alberta’s Occupational Health and Safety Act that protects a worker’s right to refuse unsafe work. This law states that workers can refuse work if they believe that worksite conditions are dangerous or that the work constitutes a danger to the worker’s health and safety (or to the health and safety of another worker or person).
There is no question that Adriana LaGrange’s back to school plan (just days away) is a threat to public health, as evidence from around the world makes clear. The real leadership opportunity is not to only to insist on reconsideration of the pandemic planning and to advise its members to refuse to work as is their legal right already. Instead the strategic leadership opportunity for the provincial leaders of the ATA is to work with local presidents and their school representatives to develop a sustained political action plan that stands up for what Alberta students deserve – a quality education for all. The risk is that short-term concessions on the return to school plan offered by this minister and the premier will serve only serve as a distraction from the long-standing issues facing the profession, many of which are shared across the public sector.
Stop trying to snuggle up to the UCP government. Stand up for public education. Confront them. It’s time.
Tuesday, July 21, 2020
The term “fascist” brings to mind Nazi’s, but that was just one manifestation of this political ideology. Mussolini was a fascist and supported Nazi’s, but his version of fascism was different from Hitlers. Sir Oswald Mosley was a British fascist whose version of fascism was different from both Mussolini and Hitlers. So what is fascism?
Fascism is a political ideology and form of government which has been seen to have several key components: (a) opposition to Marxism and socialism; (b) opposition to democracy and a preference for autocracy; (c) a commitment to conservative economic programs which favour the wealthy over the poor and a reduction in the rights of labour and the power of unions; (d) a strong sense of nationalism and a rejection of inter-nationalism; (e) mixture of church and state and the blurring of the separation of these two institutions, which church meaning Christian church; (f) education as being in the service of the state and the development of character; (g) scapegoating – blaming certain groups for the failures of the system; (h) populism coupled with an anti-intellectualism; (h) sexism and misogyny; (i) a disdain of human rights, unless they relate to the wealthy and privileged; and (j) fraudulent election practices to secure and retain power.
We can look at Alberta in the light of these ten features and see that:
1. The current party in power is subject to investigation over its creation and election practices, with fraud being the key charge. The RCMP continue to investigate and fines have been levied.
2. The party in power is clearly opposed to any form of socialism or liberalism – just listen to speeches and read statements about their view of “liberals” and “the NDP” and socialist regimes.
3. There is a clear and explicit commitment to demonstrable failing conservative economic policies – trickle down economics (tax cuts), wage reductions for those on the lowest wages; denuding and reducing the public service; privatization of education and health.
4. Erosion of democracy has already occurred in Acts of the legislature which give hitherto exceptional powers to government Minsters to legislate and regulate without reference to the legislature.
5. The anti-intellectualism is demonstrated by cuts made to university and college budgets and decisions made about the innovation eco-system in Alberta and the lack of attention to science in policies related to re-opening Alberta in the midst of a pandemic or to the re-opening of schools.
6. The Alberta nationalism is evident in many statements made by the Premier about Alberta separatism, an Alberta pension, an Alberta police force and the need for Alberta to have a greater role in confederation. The hypocrisy of comments made by the Premier about federal transfer payments which he approved when a member of the federal cabinet is further evidence of the “new” Alberta nationalism he is courting.
7. The curriculum review, changes to the way schools are funded and the focus from K-PhD on “job ready” skills tells us that education is an instrument of the state and is intended to serve the economy.
8. The recent changes in labour laws coupled with the treatment of doctors and teachers shows us the disdain the UCP has for organized labour and its preference for “divide and rule” and rule by dictat. The inability to negotiate either contracts of employment in good faith or pension management are further examples of their conservative ideology.
9. Scapegoating began on day one of the UCP government with the establishment of the “war room” and the pointless pursuit of the enemies of oil and gas through an inquiry into the funding of opposition to the sector (based on the disproven conspiracy theories of a blogger).
10. The introduction of the choice in education bill shows the beginning of the conflation of church and state, with its intention to enable the creation of more charter schools, many of which will be religious.
So when some say that Alberta is headed down the fascist road they are not wrong. They are not suggesting that Kenney is behaving like Hitler, Mussolini or Sir Oswald Mosley. They are making the simple observation that, when we look at the ten key components of fascism, they are evident in the words and actions of our current Alberta government.
Sunday, May 31, 2020
As a result of deliberate and specific cuts made by the Government of Alberta, 3,500 jobs have already been cut from Alberta college and university sector in 2019 and 2020, with more to come. These job losses have also led to program closures – Media Studies and Professional Communication Diploma and Acting and Live Entertainment majors within the Bachelor of Applied Arts in Film, Theatre and Live Entertainment at Red Deer College; nursing and rehabilitation programs at the University of Alberta’s Augustana campus in Camrose; carpentry at Keyano just to name a few.
But this is the beginning of the beginning, not the beginning of the end. The government has issued a call for proposals for the transformation of Alberta’s higher education system. The RFP was issued on March 6th 2020 and submissions closed on April 6th. It calls for:
“… improved outcomes for learners and all Albertan’s, and shape a more affordable and accessible system that is reflective of Alberta’s future economic demands. Through this review and strategy, the Province is looking to respond to recommendations made in the MacKinnon Panel Report on Alberta’s Finances (specifically, Recommendations 7, 8, 9 and 20) as well as aligning with the Government of Alberta Strategic Plan and Fiscal Plan and the Advanced Education Business Plan 2020-2023.
Post-secondary education and training are critical to building an Alberta that is open for business and keeps pace with changing industry needs, with talent and a strong economy that is competitive on the world stage. Education and skill development feeds Alberta’s talent pipeline of entrepreneurs, educators, tradespeople, highly qualified personnel, innovators, job creators and community leaders.”
The RFP then outlines the kinds of “transformations” it seeks to create:
· Transforming our workforce – to ensure students have the skills and education to solve problems and be resilient in response to emerging demands and opportunities;
· Transforming learner experience – to create a system, including pathways to learning and skills development, that is more open, accessible and affordable throughout the lifetimes of Alberta’s diverse learners;
· Transforming funding – to strengthen predictability, sustainability and accountability, empowering institutions to become less reliant on unstable levels of public funding and improving outcomes-based funding;
· Transforming government engagement – with learners, industry, entrepreneurs and innovators and other key stakeholders, enabling co-creation of strategies and implementation plans going forward;
· Transforming governance, collaboration, culture and capabilities – in the Ministry and across Post-Secondary System leadership as a condition for success.
Put simply: what the Government is seeking is for colleges and universities to “produce” work-ready workers for the Alberta economy for less money than is currently the case and with less structure and complexity. It is also seeking to decrease public funding and increase student fees and private investment.
Even though the world changed after March 6th, the government is still pursuing the agenda is outlined in October 2019 and reaffirmed in the February 2020 budget and outlined in this RFP in March. For example, while Ontario has postponed the introduction of performance-based funding for higher education as a result of COVID-19, Alberta insists it will implement this scheme in full, even though it makes little sense in the face of a global recession. While other parts of the country are investing in colleges and universities as a way of kick-starting upskilling and reskilling, Alberta continues to cut and claw back funds. You may think the world has changed; Jason Kenney is even more determined to implement his “cunning plan”.
There are a variety of speculations:
· Merging NAIT and SAIT into a single Alberta Polytechnic, as Saskatchewan did many years ago.
· Merging all the Colleges into a single entity – The Colleges of Alberta – based on the recent merger of all of the New Zealand polytechnics (colleges) into a single entity – something that also happened in New South Wales.
· Privatizing Athabasca University, which is already funded at less than 35% of its operating budget by Alberta.
· Cancelling the transition of both Red Deer and Grande Prairie Colleges into universities, something that has been in the works for many years.
· Creating two Universities (North based around the UofA and South based around the UofC) so as to simplify governance – perhaps with a single governing body.
But we don’t know.
What is interesting is that there is almost no public debate and conversation about this. Such a major change being “plotted” yet no real consultation or engagement.
Wednesday, May 20, 2020
Thursday, April 23, 2020
- Introduce a completely new fiscal framework based on progressive taxation, especially taxing those with most money and using a sales tax to create real sustainable revenue.
- Accept deficit and debt as key instruments of sound strategy (especially with very low interest rates). While government should always be efficient and seek to evaluate return on investment and social and economic impact, debts are fine.
- Expand public spending, especially on future-focused investments in schools, colleges, universities, training and infrastructure. A particular focus should be on dramatic improvements in literacy and numeracy.
- Strengthen health care and attract and retain high quality health care talent and invest especially in prevention and public health.
- Work to diversify the economy – invest in future-focused bio-economy, technology, creative industries and design and new manufacturing systems.
- Leverage ATB, AIMCo and tax credits to stimulate investments in Alberta companies across all sectors which show potential for growth through sound leadership, business planning and marketing. Support a strong innovation eco-system.
- Rekindle and re-energize the fight against poverty, homelessness and unemployment through real support for both for-profit and non-profit social enterprise.
- Give support to municipal governments for future-focused investments in safe and compassionate communities.
Friday, April 10, 2020
Until a proven vaccine is available for COVID-19, face-masks should be compulsory in public places and restrictions on large gatherings should be mandatory.
Friday, March 20, 2020
Thursday, February 20, 2020