I’m a keen follower of Education politics across Canada (peopleforeducation in Ontario is the gold standard of parent advocacy) so it is with great interest that I learned Premier Doug Ford is flying into Alberta this week for a pep-rally with opposition leader Jason Kenney to reveal their new strategy to address climate change.
I’m sure it will be controversial for a number of reasons. Already groups such as Women’s March Canada are preparing to protest: “This is more than a carbon tax, this is a meeting of minds intent on inserting narrow viewpoints into our health and education.”
Would Jason Kenney Copy Premier Ford’s lesson plan? What does Education in Ontario Hold for Alberta?
While Mr. Kenney was gleeful when Premier Ford was elected, if Mr. Kenney tries to follow Doug Ford’s lesson plan, our classrooms are in big trouble. In Jason Kenney’s own words, his “bromance” with Doug Ford is such that they “finish each other’s sentences.”
I sure hope they aren't talking about education!
Would Mr. Kenney follow Premier Ford towards a radical social conservative agenda?
Ontario’s students no longer learn about topics like consent, gender identity, and technology safety. To make matters worse, in response to teachers who are outraged by these changes, Premier Ford set up a “snitch line” for parents to report any teachers who continue to teach these topics. (Teachers: imagine the chill that looms over the classroom when a student asks a question about the supreme court hearings in the United States...)
The repeal of modern sex-education (back to 1998) has thrown the province into legal limbo with multiple lawsuits in front of the courts, and a massive student-led action: 33,000 students walked out of school in protest of changes to the elementary sex education curriculum, cancelation of curriculum writing from an Indigenous perspective, and cancelation of much-needed school repairs:
"We find it appalling that we don't have a curriculum that is up to date," said Frank Hong, a Grade 12 student who helped organize the rallies. "For some vulnerable teens, these are issues of life or death."
Mr. Kenney and the UCP already seem to have been captured by Alberta's most radical social conservative elements, who they continue to regularly dog-whistle on issues of sexual orientation and gender diversity. In case you missed it, Rick Mercer called out Jason Kenney for his homophobic policies last year:
Much of the hard work we as educators have done to build the welcoming, supportive, inclusive classrooms, not to mention young people’s health and lives, would be put at risk.
Would Mr. Kenney follow Premier Ford's radical fiscal agenda?
We need new schools in Alberta, and we need to modernize many of our existing schools. In Ontario, Premier Ford slashed the classrooms, cutting $100 million for much-needed school repairs, failing to address the millions in deferred maintenance looming.
Mr. Ford implemented a hiring freeze on school boards and has signaled further cuts will be forthcoming. As I shared last week, if there was a hiring freeze or if education funding was cut back to 2015 levels, per capita growth funding was lost, or an austerity budget was implemented, there would be much larger class sizes, deleterious effects on the classroom, and thousands of job losses across Alberta to teachers, support staff, and more.
Will Premier Notley follow Ontario’s lead and end the hundreds of millions of dollars subsidizing elite private schools?
One area that Mr. Ford appears to deserve credit is that it seems he has no plan to subsidize private school businesses with public tax dollars.
Alberta continues to misspend hundreds of millions of dollars every year subsidizing elite or extreme religious private schools, while Ontario wisely does not spend a cent of public money subsidizing those who opt-out of their designated public school system.
Call to action: Ask your candidates the tough questions: Do they want Doug Ford's extreme education agenda imposed on Alberta?
Now is the time for more spending on education, not less!
Now is the time for more school construction and modernization projects. Parents should not be fundraising for playgrounds and bike racks!
Now is the time for valuable investments in mental health and school nutrition.
Now is the time for more support to address special need students, English language learners, and the enormous ethnocultural and linguistic challenges that are present in the modern classroom.
Now is the time for a modernized curriculum with Indigenous perspectives, modern sex education explicitly including topics like consent, that teaches students to resist racism and intolerance, and prepares students for the economy of tomorrow.
Just as many of us shudder when we hear nostalgia for the deep and brutal cuts of Ralph Klein or Jim Dinning, I shudder to think that a dangerous social conservative and austerity agenda could be imposed on Alberta.
So let's get organized! Talk to your school council, trustee, and political candidates. Talk to your parents and friends at the grocery store, on social media, and at the playground.
It is up to all of us as education advocates to make sure that ALL parties and ALL leaders to turn away from the regressive social policies and fiscal austerity that would compromise our children’s future. We must turn towards the future, not only in sex education and social policy but also in making our public education system even stronger and our youth ready to face tomorrow.
What do you think? firstname.lastname@example.org