Why are the Redford Tories picking a fight with Alberta teachers?

Why are the Redford Tories picking on Alberta teachers?

Are Alberta teachers about to become collateral damage in a Tory feud?

Education Minister Jeff Johnson dispatched a letter to the Alberta Teachers Association (ATA) and the Alberta School Boards Association yesterday threatening salary cuts if a new contract is not agreed to before the provincial budget is released on March 7, 2013.

Minister Johnson’s statement was made the same day that Premier Alison Redford told the media that her government will not release an austerity-minded budget (a statement made days after Premier Redford told the media that Alberta had a spending problem).

Jeff Johnson Alberta Education Minister MLA

Jeff Johnson

Whether or not an agreement is reached before the provincial budget is tabled in ten days would seem irrelevant considering the budget documents have likely already been shipped to the printers.

Yesterday’s development follows Minister Johnson’s musings earlier this month that he could force an agreement on teachers through provincial legislation.

Alberta may be known for its conservative politics, but it has been a sea of labour calm compared recently to provinces like Ontario and British Columbia. It would make little sense for the Redford Tories to unnecessarily splash tidal waves through its relationship with Alberta’s teachers.

New to the job this year, Minister Johnson may just be confused. He is the Tory government’s third education minister in less than three years to oversee the same provincial negotiations with Alberta teachers, following in the steps of the conciliatory Dave Hancock and the more aggressive Thomas Lukaszuk.

Before the province-wide negotiations came to an abrupt end in November 2012, the ATA had proposed a four-year deal that would freeze teachers’ salaries for two years and implement increases in the final two years to catch up with inflation. The ATA proposal would have ensured continued labour peace and focused on long-standing issues surrounding workload and non-instructional volunteer and supervision roles filled by teachers.

After negotiations at the provincial level stalled in November 2012, teachers turned to school boards to continue contract talks at the local level. School boards have limited autonomy in local decision making and it has always been clear that the provincial government has the ultimate control over funding.

Why would the government pick a fight with Alberta teachers when their union has presented fair and reasonable positions at the bargaining table?

Numerous sources close to the Tory government say that tension and internal politics within the Tory caucus are fuelling animosity towards Alberta’s teachers. Some Tory MLAs, who supported other leadership candidates, are said to blame the ATA for Premier Redford’s victory in the 2011 Progressive Conservative leadership contest. The tension is said to have  led to more than a few heated arguments behind the thick wooden doors of Tory caucus meetings.

While the ATA openly encouraged teachers to participate in the Tory leadership contest, claims that teachers stole the vote for Ms. Redford are just plain silly.

Although Premier Redford led her party to a majority victory in the 2012 election, it is important to note that she had the support of only one MLA when she first entered the Tory leadership contest (former Calgary-Hays MLA Art Johnston, who was twice unable to win a party nomination in 2012).

If the speculation is true, then Alberta’s teachers could become collateral damage in a Tory feud.

UPDATE: The Alberta Teachers’ Association provincial executive council have voted unanimously to reject Minister Johnson’s offer.

31 thoughts on “Why are the Redford Tories picking a fight with Alberta teachers?”

  1. Very well written Dave. The reasonable Nov ’12 4-year offer from teachers you alluded to was quickly rejected by the government, who have had a long time to be more proactive with solutions. I think you are right about the gov’t being confused: after Pasi Sahlberg spoke on CBC about Finland’s first rate education system, the Deputy Premier dismissed Finland’s world standing and claimed Finland doesn’t face the challenges of Alberta classroom. Dr. Sahlberg then soundly dismantled Lukaszuk’s incorrect claims via twitter.

    Not to be forgotten in all of this is the Alberta School Boards Association, who seem to be both provoking teachers and advising school boards to act aggressively.

    If Stelmach had to resign to pass the 2011 budget and Tory sniping is hobbling the current leader, one wonders how much long-term collateral damage is caused by the dysfunction of the PC caucus.

  2. First, Jeff Johnson puts forward the concept of merit pay that has not worked anywhere it has been implemented in North America (and researched).

    Second, Jeff Johnson threatens to legislate my contract and bring about a conflict riddled education system like British Columbia or Ontario. I left British Columbia for Alberta because of the stability of the ATA and this government.

    Third, Jeff Johnson goes into an email database where I had never given him access to my home email, and proceeds to contact me at my home email address.

    Fourth, Jeff Johnson delivers an ultimatium threatening teachers with accepting an agreement that is not fair or reasonable by any means. I can barely make my payments as it is, you think three years from now it will be better?????????

    As a young female teacher, I can tell you that this Minister has completely lost my trust and he underestimates the anger of my community at putting children into party politics.

    This Premier and party has lost my vote forever (and I have been a conservative my entire life). Finally, I can tell you that the parents in my school all came to me this afternoon with a solidarity that I have not seen in my short career. They talked of the bullying from this Minister and not to worry as they would rally around our children.

    I am speechless! I don’t know why this government wants to attack teachers when our representatives have continually tried to be reasonable with their offers of a settlement.

    At first I was confused by Jeff Johnson, then I got scared when he emailed me at home, and now I am furious with his disrespect for my profession and his threats.

  3. Well, if it’s the old guard that’s out playing political games and settling scores – then the King Ralph standard for the treatment of educators is likely in effect.

  4. The ATA proposed 0,0,1,3% The Minister proposed 0,0,1% bonus. 2% +1%bonus. How does the difference become an insult to teachers and picking a fight? Do parents and the public understand the cost and implications of all the other items asked by the ATA such as not bring able to draft any new regulations regarding teacher practice as the new Education Act is being implemented or transformation talked about? That boards may have had to close schools and make larger classes if there were hard caps on teacher time? Hard caps not only take the flexibility away from administrators ( who belong to the union by the way) but turn teachers into hourly workers versus professionals.
    I don’t doubt there are arguments in caucus as it is not fun to be in government right now. Johnson’s letter was not a public one —wonder who leaked it? Blackmail or a reality check for both the ASBA and the ATA as both were stamping their feet and neither are happy with this one.

  5. What on earth is with all the references in the comments section of this blog to the fiscal success of Norway and the brilliance of Finland’s education system?

    This is Alberta, not Scandinavia; we do things the American way.

  6. Redford built a new constituency to get elected. It included teachers, nurses, and a whole raft of middle-income professional types. She seems to be now vilifying that same constituency in order to stave off a palace coup. She may save herself from a negative leadership review in the fall, but she won’t get re-elected – at least not with the same constituency that supported her last time.

  7. The Tories have overplayed their hand this time and the price will be dear for them over the next few years. The teachers of Alberta have long memories and Klein is still fresh for many of them.

    This Minister of Education is done. Redford may not have many friends in caucus, lending to her reluctance to shuffle Johnson back to the hinterlands. But at some point when the missteps are every other week she has to cut him loose.

    As a parent and member of the community, I can tell you the teachers are working like dogs. They are there late at night and are dedicated to our children.

    There are also rumors in our local PC association of the things in your blog. One of the things you hear around town is Redford is in the way out and Horner is taking over.

    For Johnson anyone connected with him as supporter or advisor will be tainted by all of this bullying. Any way you look at this he is hurting our kids with his political gamesmanship.

  8. Tories, whether they are this Premier or any other, its a culture of blame, corruption and ineptness. Alberta Tories never take responsibility for things they have run into the ground.

    The last few years of nonsense is testament to the genius, the ability of Alberta tories to get it all wrong, even though oil has been at $100/bbl for years.

    Tories have become an overbloated, dysfunctional group of self entitled invidividuals that are incapable of mending their ways and destroying the potential of Alberta.

    The Alberta Tory Party ceased being a source of solutions a long time ago.

  9. Health, Energy, Education, Finances, its truly a collosal trainwreck, courtesy of the P-C AB Party and its might band of high IQ, highly intelligent, functional, highly literate and competant MLA’s. We got a Preem, more interested in acting like a lawyer than being a real leader with integrity.

    ND, WR or Libs, I would take them any day over this nonsense.

  10. I am truly amazed at the teachers…why not give our primer a chance to stabilize the oil problem and then ask for a raise. Do you not think that she has more than enough problems? I am 100 per cent sure that you teachers can live comfortabley on the salaries you are getting now…be patient she was very good to you in the past…NO?????

  11. Betty, what do you think 0% the first year, 0% increase the second year and 1% the third year was? It was to allow the government to stabilize the oil problem (actually revenue problem).

    NO RAISE WAS BEING ASKED FOR BY TEACHERS FOR TWO (almost THREE) years. That is beyond fair while inflation is going to rise in Alberta.

    This is all about a bully Minister, a weak government, a dysfunctional Premier and a bloated education bureaucracy called Alberta Education that is trying to take professional teachers and put them under their thumb.

    They wanted a fight, they got one. Now let’s see how that works out for them in the short and long term.

    Bad business and customer relations for a Xerox salesman, oops I mean Minister of Education.

    Parents are peeved, and I am one of them.

  12. 100 percent sure? So you are a teacher, too? Negotiations have been happening for over a year. We aren’t asking for a raise just now. It’s been long over due. But, you’re a teacher, right? You could only be 100% sure if you are in the profession.

  13. @Betty was there another offer by teachers that we aren’t familiar with? A two-year freeze followed by inflation related increases doesn’t seem to be reflected by that comment.

  14. The main point I get from this and other posts Dave is that if you want to provide a consistent message, you need to have a consistent, well-thought-out plan.
    What I read in the traditional and social media every day is a phenomenal set of mixed messages, contradictions and muddled thinking by the Government.
    Best explanation for this situation – disorganized panic, soon to be followed by intense infighting.

  15. The last teachers’ contract tied the increase in teachers’ pay to average pay increases in the private sector. The ATA would have been well within their rights to demand the same thing again. Why, after all, shouldn’t public sector pay increases match at least the average in the private sector? The ATA asked for far less, but it’s clear that this government expects its employees to simply lose out to inflation in order to maintain a ridiculously low tax regime. And that’s what this is all about. Redford promised more programs without any additional revenue. Now we see on whose backs at least some of that will be delivered.

  16. @Betty

    for every year a teacher takes a 0% their spending power is reduced due to inflation and cost of living increases. a 1% increase over 5 years leaves the teachers standing to lose approx 3% in inflation over 3 years and anywhere from 3-6% in cost of living increases. Why should the government get to balance their books on teachers backs? Maybe it’s just me but I would prefer to see stricter governance on where the money is spend while paying a small amount extra in taxes to ensure the future of this province than try and squeeze the people educating our futures for the $

  17. I don’t understand Alberta politics – in Québec the rules are simple: piss me off and I vote for the other party – there are no loyalties. So Alberta teachers are going to vote for either Lib or NDP, while the rest of the population will habitually vote PC because they’re not pissed off enough (even if they were it might not matter). If it is true that teachers influenced the PC leadership race, it sounds like they won’t do it next time, so the result will be a harder-edged PC leader wanting to squeeze teachers more! Arg.

  18. Contrary to popular public belief teachers voted how they wanted as individuals, Max. This has nothing to do with Karma. The simple fact is, no matter who was in office trying to prepare a provincial budget that is directly tied with oil revenue it was going to be a poopstorm. This is what happens when the province has put itself in the position where the only income it has is directly tied to a non-renewable resource. One’s whose value is directly related to what President Obama is doing or not doing and that gong show in south of the border. That is the problem here not who’s in office. I don’t think for one second that any of the other leaders would be in any better condition going into this fiscal budget. I especially don’t think that Danielle and her crew would be able to handle it any better. We all know how well she did with the education system when she was on her brief stint on the school board in Calgary…Its actually unfortunate she wasn’t in office dealing with this mess, because then it would put an end to her little foray in the political arena. Then we wouldn’t have to worry about her and her FAR right ideas again.
    The comparison of our education system to that of Finland is appearing because Finland has an excellent world standing in education. As well, Finland has a very similar population and population demomgraphics as that of Alberta. And education is ran and financed in a similar socialist fashion as it is here. There is much to be learned about education from them as they have an incedibly successful system. I shudder to think of our system going the American way of doing business. God help us all if it went that route of doing business.
    So no matter its a gongshow and no one in the public sector is going to be happy, not just the teachers and doctors. Its just how the cookie is crubling because our province hasn’t figured out that it shoudn’t put all its eggs in one basket.

  19. The Permanent Crisis party is in survival mode (again). Without credible leadership, lesser lights are pursuing their wish fulfillment fantasies: bully their teachers, push smarty-pants doctors down a notch (or three), save the patch with public service cuts (again). Always a dangerous time for reasonable, progressive people (in and out of caucus). Why are they picking a fight with Alberta teachers? It’s easier than thinking.

  20. In the rush to bask the government, people are overlooking the anger of teachers towards the ATA and the ATA executive in particular. In order to be able to tell teachers that they have won labour peace in the executive elections, they have sold the membership down the river without a paddle or pay raise. Let us be real about this, a 0% pay raise is a pay cut. Jeff Johnson threatened salary rollbacks and the ATA President rejected this, then barely a week later she is suggesting that members should accept four years of pay cuts.

    What is more, teachers are livid about the fact that the ATA executive went behind the back of the membership in October to propose an almost identical deal to the province. Teachers were told that the executive were listening to those concerns and that this was a tactic to force local bargaining. So much for listening, the provincial executive went behind teacher and school boards backs again and accepted a provincial offer without consulting the membership. Again.

    This offer is going to be rejected by the membership when they get a vote – go into any school and ask teachers whether they are going to vote in favour of this deal and the answer is a resounding ‘No.’ They are fed up with the provincial ATA dictating terms and conditions, misleading the membership and acting like the propaganda unit for Alberta Education. On top of that, the ATA is asking for a 3% increase in membership fees from teachers, which as you can imagine has gone down like a lead-filled balloon.

    This saga isn’t over yet.

  21. Apologies – that should read rush to bash the government, not rush to bask the government. There’s not much glory to bask in right now!

    Cheers

    Dave

  22. Hey Dave,

    Tell me how you plan to get a raise with this government. Doctors are getting cut 22%, so it is not looking like anyone in the public service is getting a fair shake. A 0 increase is nobody’s best offer, but where is the money going to come from? They hold the purse strings in the government and school boards and their association are powerless. After you simmer down, let’s see how teachers react to this deal. Not a lot the provincial ATA could have done with this PC government being so disruptive and threatening around legislation. Do you want four years of 0 and stripped contracts? Chill out until we talk about this with our own local ATA bargainers.

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