Alberta's Teachers Go to War

The Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA) declared war this March. And it will be brutal.

Their “Stand for Education” campaign says they are “preparing to push for these changes . . . through upcoming school board elections.” The website claims that this is about “well-funded classrooms with small class sizes and appropriate supports.” 

That, we’d support.

The ATA is at its best when it is supporting dedicated teachers and principals at the local level. But Jonathan Teghtmeyer makes it clear that’s not their ambition. Like an NDP candidate, he demands increased taxes.

The ATA also makes it clear that they aren’t standing for education in general. Only “public” education. And their agenda hurts public education.  There’s no mention of the Separate boards, independent schools or home educators that care for hundreds of thousands of students. 

They’re on the same page as the Public School Board Association of Alberta (PSBAA), whose report came out in March as well

No coincidence: if ATA leadership can force the closure of independent schools, they can force their teachers to pay ATA dues. The PSBAA has also long campaigned to end all kinds of education but their own. Abandoning Catholic teachers is likely the price of the ATA’s alliance with PSBAA.

The ATA’s “Stop the Excuses” site torques the numbers to claim that Alberta’s spending on education is the lowest per-student in Canada. However, Alberta turns out to be very good at getting money into actual classrooms. Then to further prove their point they quote a survey that many perceive government spending on education to be too low. 

Facts?  Not needed: the ATA relies on the argument that all your peers agree with them.

So, the ATA is launching an advertising campaign, using “television, radio, billboard, print and online advertisements.” In 2021, they said it was about a provincial issue, curriculum — allowing them to spend $1.1 million dollars during the school board elections. This advertising campaign is going to make a splash — and it is going to help drive their school board election activities.

Their excuse? The threat to democracy posed by David Parker of Take Back Alberta.  At its peak, TBA was able to spend around $40,000 as a third-party advertiser. TBA can’t get within an order of magnitude of the ATA’s spending. Goliath is screaming about David and demanding aid.

SOGI — short for Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity — forms a big part of their platform. The ATA had “SOGI 123” (a BC organization funded mostly by government grants and confidential international donors) publish an article on the ATA website, around the same time they announced their campaign, urging public opposition to Smith’s policies. 

Dennis Theobald, the ATA’s executive secretary, said that “the Association will directly resist and oppose the policy direction announced by government.”  They will try to “mobilize popular opposition,” and offer “moral, organizational, and material support” to teachers, students, and community members. 

Wait, what? What does that mean?

They showed what they meant this March. The UCP’s Calgary-Lougheed Constituency Association had booked an event for March 19 at Calgary’s Canyon Meadows Cinema, entitled “Let Kids Be Kids Town Hall.” A group of activist organizations with names such as “Albertans United to Stop the UCP,” and “Queer Citizens United” circulated missives to cancel the event, claiming that it was “an anti-trans event.” It wasn’t, as the baffled trans speaker pointed out on the stage.  

However, the cinema received more than 600 rather nasty calls and emails. Global’s Paula Tran covered their claims as fact, not trying to confirm their truth. No protestors showed up and Global even got one speaker’s name wrong. The news article was edited to make a call to boycott the theatre. The impotence of the activists and their journalist was on full display.

But there was one more occurrence that was far more significant and we almost missed it.

An employee of Canyon Meadows Cinemas tells us that he received a call from an Alberta Teacher’s Association staffer who identified himself as “Kent,” the week before the UCP event. Kent stated that he was calling to cancel the ATA’s rental of space scheduled for April 11, 2024. He stated that it was because the cinema was renting space to “a hate group.”  The employee asked if he was specifically referring to the United Conservative Party’s Calgary-Lougheed Constituency Association, and Kent confirmed that this is who he meant.

So let’s recap this.

The ATA told us, in public, that they would fund groups to attack the United Conservative Party over the premier’s proposed pro-child policies. They clearly encouraged these groups to attempt to cancel a political meeting. They themselves took action to attack the right of a political party to hold a public meeting.

That’s scorching the earth.  It’s the electoral equivalent of a state-sponsored terror campaign.

Let us say this as simply as we can: The ATA is a public sector union which is specifically created by legislation. For generations, its policies have prevented it from endorsing a political party or candidate. It is intended to be focussed on the well-being of teachers, not activists — supporting principals and classrooms. At the least, it is not fitting that union management should control both sides of the negotiating table.

The ATA’s administration has no business trying to cancel a provincial political party. And it has no business trying to take over school boards.

In fact, the actions that they are undertaking are a matter of grave public concern.  The ATA’s administration, along with SOGI 123, are using public money to control the organs of the state.  This electoral interference takes matters beyond conflict of interest.

This is public corruption.

Danielle Smith’s provincial government needs to take action, now.  Legal options must be reviewed.  Changes to the Local Areas Elections Act and the Teaching Professions Act need to be made. In the meantime, make sure to ask if your candidate is endorsed by the ATA — and vote the other way.

John Hilton-O’Brien is the Executive Director of Parents for Choice in Education,

This article originally appeared in the Western Standard on April 1st, 2024. A printable pdf is available.