Earlier this week I had the privilege of sharing some of my thoughts about the Progressive Conservative leadership contest with delegates at the Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA) summer conference in Banff.
On Wednesday morning, all six candidates for the PC leadership (Doug Griffiths, Doug Horner, Gary Mar, Ted Morton, Rick Orman, and Alison Redford) attended a forum organized by the ATA which gave delegates at the conference an opportunity to submit questions to the candidates on a wide variety of education issues. It said a lot about the strength and importance of the teaching profession in Alberta that all six of the candidates traveled to Banff for the day to participate in this forum.
The six candidates answered a variety of questions focusing on transformation, funding, and the future of education in Alberta. Some candidates did better than others.
Mr. Griffiths was clearly the crowd favourite. A teacher himself, he was able to speak from experience and connected well with the audience of politically active educators. This was Mr. Griffiths coming out party in the leadership contest.
Ms. Redford and Mr. Horner did well, though the general focus around “outcomes” and other buzz words used by all the candidates left an uncomfortable amount of ambiguity in the discussion. The more conservative Professor Morton and Mr. Orman were clearly sailing in unfriendly waters.
In typical front-runner fashion, Mr. Mar said a lot without saying much. He also did not let the facts stand in the way of telling a folksy story. During the forum, Mr. Mar told the audience a story about his time as Education Minister in 1999 when his office wrote a memo to the Minister of Health. Only weeks later, he said, he was shuffled into the Health portfolio and then had to respond to his own memo (cue the laugh track). It was a folksy story, only Mr. Mar forgot to mention that he was actually shuffled from Education to become the Environment Minister in 1999. He was appointed as Health Minister over a year after he was appointed Environment Minister.
Being in the auditorium at the time, there was a few points during the forum when it felt like the candidates were on the verge of having a real discussion about the future of education. Unfortunately, most of the candidates fell back into safe and inoffensive “education is good” language.
Following the leadership candidates forum, I participated in a panel discussion with the ATA’s Dennis Theobald and Mount Royal University Professor Keith Brownsey where we engaged in a good discussion about the leadership candidates and what the political winds of change mean for the education system in Alberta. Although I had hoped that we could have had a broader conversation about the future of Alberta politics, time only allowed us to have a good discussion about what the leadership candidates had said that morning and what they might do as Premier.
Thank you to the ATA and to the teachers who participated in the discussion for a great day.