Alberta School Boards Association Alberta School Councils' Association Alberta Teachers' Association Dave Hancock Ed Stelmach

dave hancock sends trustees to the principal’s office.

PC Education Minister Dave Hancock scolded members of the Alberta School Boards Association at their annual general meeting today in Edmonton for their participation in the Stop the Cuts campaign. Here is an excerpt of Minister Hancock’s speech:

…the Stop the Cuts campaign is greatly exaggerating the impact to education.

I think all of you know how disappointed I was by this campaign.

In recent months, we have had many honest, informed discussions about what we must accomplish to improve learning in the future. Stop the Cuts has not contributed a single idea to this process.

Don’t get me wrong — I truly value and appreciate advocacy. I certainly appreciate Albertans engaging in a discussion about education, its value to our community and society, and our current issues and concerns.

But Stop the Cuts is not aimed at constructive discussion — it really amounts to a digital march on the Legislature, and we’re well beyond that.

Public appreciation for education can never be built on fear. Fear is no way to embrace our students’ optimism, passion, curiosity and talents — especially when there are so many great learning experiences taking place around our province.

We build public appreciation for education by sharing these learning experiences with Albertans.

So I look forward to the ASBA, ATA and the ASCA putting at least as many resources into a positive campaign about how we are preparing Alberta’s students for their future.

The motive behind this speech was likely an attempt to drive a wedge between the traditionally timid group elected school trustees and their coalition partners in the Alberta Teachers Association and the Alberta School Councils’ Association, but it would be a mistake to underestimate the effectiveness of the Stop the Cuts message in eliciting this reaction.

Recent comments from Premier Ed Stelmach and other cabinet ministers about “tough economic times” have reminded many Albertans of the devastating cuts made by the PC government in the 1990s. In August 2009, Minister Hancock announced that $80 million would be cut from the education budget, including over $50 million from school boards. He is in a tough position, Minister Hancock is the most important ally that the education sector may have inside the PC Cabinet, but it is questionable how much political clout the urban Red Tory-esq Edmonton-Whitemud MLA has in a Cabinet dominated by rural heavyweights like Lloyd Snelgrove, Luke Ouellette, and Ray Danyluk. It is not hard to imagine that many of his PC MLA colleagues are not pleased that the three education groups put aside many of their traditional differences to jointly warn Albertans about the cuts.

During the 2006 PC leadership race, Minister Hancock branded himself as the education friendly candidate and reached out to educators, but his recent party solidarity-influenced defence of the controversial Bill 44 raises the question of how much political capital he still has at the Cabinet table. While Premier Ed Stelmach continues to push billions of taxpayers dollars into the unproven science behind the Carbon Capture Scheme and pro-budget cut backbenchers try to make a name for themselves, Albertans should be asking how many of the 70 PC MLAs are standing up against budget cuts for essential public sector services?

In his speech, Minister Hancock criticized the Stop the Cuts campaign for not offering solutions. This is not a completely unfair comment, but Minister Hancock has hardly given the education groups any reason to believe that another round of budget cuts are the real solution to the PC Government’s fiscal problem. Minister Hancock is easily one of the brightest members of the provincial cabinet, so instead of scolding school trustees, he should step up and challenge his Cabinet colleagues to debate a critical question:

After years of record-breaking surpluses and unheard of wealth, why is Alberta still dependent on cyclically-priced natural resource commodities?