Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
April 1, 2002
Bill 12 disastrous for education
The Alberta government has taken what could easily prove to be a disastrous step for education in this province. Its imposition of Bill 12 forces teachers to undergo a sham of arbitration that will cause bad feelings that will last a long time.
People could have honest disagreements about how the government should have handled the teachers' strikes that lasted for up to 14 schooldays in some places. Certainly, the government had no coherent strategy for dealing with the off-the-job teachers. One day, the strike posed no emergency to the Alberta public - even though thousands of students had been deprived of their teachers for more than two weeks - and two days later, it was a full-scale emergency necessitating the immediate return to work of the teachers.
Chief Justice Allan Wachowich brought some sanity to the situation by ruling the government had shown no evidence that there was a state of emergency in Alberta. The teachers graciously returned to work anyway, perhaps hoping their good will would earn them some points from the government.
Then the hammer fell. The provincial government quickly imposed its sham of arbitration with a panel comprised of one government appointee, one person named by the Alberta School Boards' Association and one by the Alberta Teachers' Association. There was little hope for the teachers to expect a fair deal from that group.
Worse than that, however, was the legislation's fiat that the arbitration panel could not discuss working conditions such as maximum hours of work or classroom sizes. It further was banned from imposing a settlement that would put a school district in a deficit position. Teachers will be barred from striking for 18 months and no work slowdowns will be permitted.
Learning Minister Lyle Oberg piously proclaims that the government was simply trying to protect the students' right to an education. Well, that was an issue Oberg chose to ignore for almost three weeks during the strike and now raises only after the teachers have voluntarily returned to work.
Of Bill 12, ATA president Larry Booi said, "This action will inflame teachers, destroy cooperation and undermine our classrooms right across the province."
Booi is right.
There are the incommensurables that are so important to having a good education system. A good school system is utterly dependent on a spirit of cooperation among government, local administration, teachers and parents (and parishes, in the case of Catholic schools). Without that spirit, teachers' morale and the state of the classroom can only deteriorate.
Despite what the government may think, it is in the classroom, not the legislative assembly, that the quality of education is most clearly determined. And if the classroom deteriorates and teachers withdraw from voluntary activities, then we can look forward to a poorer quality of education and a less rosy future for the province.
If there is an Alberta Advantage, the first place it should be evident is in the school system. Eroding education for the sake of lower taxes today is a policy of short-term gain, but long-term pain. Education is the future of our province and woe to any government that does not give it the priority it deserves.
This does not imply that teachers should get whatever they want. But it does mean there should be a spirit of cooperation within the school system. The government's Bill 12 is one way of ensuring that cooperation does not happen. The bill should be repealed and a fairer mechanism of adjudicating teacher contract issues put in place.
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