Cheryl Oates | CUPE Staff
In the spring of 2019, former federal cabinet minister Jason Kenney was running to be Premier of Alberta. He stood behind a podium in a classroom filled with colour wheels and diagrams, and promised to bring common sense back to the education system.
Three years into its mandate, the United Conservative Party (UCP) has brought anything but order to classrooms in Alberta. They have starved the public education system year after year, and funnelled money to the private sector.
Earlier this year, Jason Kenney announced $25 million in new operational funding for Alberta’s charter schools. He paired that with an additional $47 million in charter school capital. Meanwhile, the measly 1.7% increase in UCP’s budgets didn’t even cover the cost of inflation and population growth.
The UCP have also done their best to silence those who oppose their agenda through anti-democratic legislation intended to limit unions’ abilities to organize and muzzle working people speaking truth to power.
Jason Kenney and the UCP would have Albertans believe that these sweeping changes are in the public’s interest. They cloak their anti-worker ideology in the rhetoric of personal choice, efficiency and responsible budgeting. But behind those buzzwords is a dangerous political agenda determined to decentralize and privatize Alberta’s public services.
In reality, the last few years of underfunding and education cuts have had significant impacts on the quality of Alberta’s public education and students’ experience .
Class sizes are getting bigger, and education workers are continually asked to do more with less. This year alone, there are 1,000 fewer teachers funded by the government than when the UCP took power in 2019, and the ratio of teachers to students continues to balloon.
Education assistants, who provide support to students in need of extra attention, have had their hours cut, eating away at salaries already below the poverty line. The students they support are no longer getting the extra help they deserve in order to succeed – they are falling behind.
Morale is low, and the Kenney government’s ideology-driven curriculum review is salt in the wound for public education workers trying to find a silver lining in their current situation. After forming government, the UCP scrapped an extensive in-progress curriculum review favouring a rewrite driven by an appointed advisory committee.
The curriculum they have come up with has been criticized by a diverse group of Albertans as racist, Eurocentric, and age-inappropriate. Despite public outcry, the curriculum is slated to be taught in some schools as early as this fall.
As more voices join the chorus speaking out against Jason Kenney and the UCP, the government is doing all it can to silence its detractors.
In July 2020, the UCP brought in Bill 32 – legislation that eliminates important employment standard protections, and attacks the ability of unions to represent their members and advocate for better working conditions. These changes specifically affect the work of unions in Alberta, but all Albertans should be concerned by the prospect of their charter-protected rights being undermined.
The consequences of changes like this often ripple out to all corners of society.
Burdened by the implications of COVID-19, the UCP hasn’t had the capacity to truly implement its agenda. On May 18, Jason Kenney resigned, proving that we are making progress and our voices are being heard. But our fight against the UCP government’s anti-worker, anti-union, anti-Alberta agenda must continue, no matter who their next leader is.
The conservatives are still pushing ahead with a plan to privatize and dismantle public services, Bill 32 remains on the books, and the party is staying focused on itself and distracted by internal disarray and infighting, instead of focusing on the things that matter to Alberta families. If emboldened with a fresh mandate in the upcoming provincial election – scheduled for May 29, 2023 – public services will be the UCP’s target as they prop up private options.
At risk is the quality of Alberta’s K-12 education, thousands of public sector jobs and workers’ constitutional rights. Though the UCP promised it, there is no common sense in this government.