Hey! Never mind defunding the police. What about defunding public education?
Complaining about a call by Public Interest Alberta to phase out funding for independent schools, Danielle Smith once asked: “How about we go the other way?
“Maybe every independent school needs to be fully funded and we need to phase out every government-run, union-controlled public school more interested in indoctrinating students than teaching them critical-thinking skills,” Ms. Smith said.
No, Ms. Smith didn’t say that at the Alberta Teacher’s Association’s summer conference forum for United Conservative Party leadership candidates in Banff yesterday – at least as far as those of us who weren’t there could tell from the not-very-extensive media coverage of the event.
The quotes are accurate, though, and come from an essay Ms. Smith wrote for Global News back in 2018, during the time she was temporarily out of politics and working as a right-wing talk radio host.
In the same essay, she assailed university students who criticized far-right culture warrior Jordan Peterson at a lecture in Ontario, sympathetically described a defender of the residential school system, and dismissed the academic review process at Canadian universities as “kangaroo courts.”
Of course, all this was pretty standard stuff in the right-wing Canadian commentariat in 2018, before that crowd moved on to calling failed convoy coupsters “patriots” and spreading pandemic conspiracy theories and quack COVID-19 cures.
But you can take it to the bank that’s what the frontrunner in the race to lead the UCP still thinks.
Depend on it, if Ms. Smith is elected leader of the UCP, becomes premier and puts her extreme market fundamentalist program into action, that’s exactly the direction she’ll try to move Alberta education funding as quickly and irreversibly as possible.
Now, some might think it was naïve of the ATA to invite the seven UCP leadership candidates to a forum at its annual summer conference at the Banff Centre. (Six of them showed – Travis Toews, acting like he thinks he’s still the frontrunner, declined.)
After all, the Alberta teachers’ union has recently seen its role as professional college for public school teachers ended through UCP legislation despite its leaders’ strong objections, its members’ pensions handed over to the government’s controversial Crown investment corporation in defiance teachers’ and retirees’ fierce protests, and an outrageous 1950s style curriculum imposed on the school system in the face of the opposition of almost everyone.
Perhaps anticipating such a reaction by members, ATA News editor-in-chief Jonathan Teghtmeyer wrote in May that, “Now is the time to get these wannabe premiers on the record stating how they plan to handle the education file.”
Under the heading “Leadership race a chance to reset relationships,” he wrote: “I am sure that regardless of ideology, most of them will want to differentiate their future approach from the hostility and disrespect that had become the hallmark of the soon-to-be last premier.”
Judging from the few quotes in the stories published by the CBC and Postmedia, the six candidates in attendance were far too cagey to get caught saying anything about public education that would get them run out of Banff on a rail.
Former cabinet ministers Rajan Sawhney and Rebecca Schulz both proposed the new curriculum should be paused … although for how long wasn’t clear from the news coverage.
“The first thing I’m going to do if I get elected premier is take the ideology that is currently in our curriculum, and was before, out of it and make sure that it never happens again,” said candidate Brian Jean – who like Ms. Smith is a former Wildrose Party leader.
This is a reference to departing premier Jason Kenney’s repeated false claim that between 2015 and 2019 the NDP tried to insert “socialist” ideology in to the curriculum rewrite started by the previous Progressive Conservative government.
“I think we have an opportunity to fix and correct any of the issues we have, both on implementation and actually the curriculum itself,” said candidate Todd Loewen, who now sits as an Independent MLA after running afoul of Mr. Kenney.
We can take from this that in the highly unlikely event Mr. Loewen won, rather than throwing his support to Ms. Smith in hopes of snagging a cabinet post, nothing would actually change.
As for Ms. Smith, according to the CBC account of the ATA summer conference she proposed putting the curriculum implementation on hold until, post-pandemic, the system can “stabilize what is going on in the classrooms.” Whatever she meant by that.
Ms. Smith’s attitudes about public education were well enough known, though, that she was met by a few boos when she tried to tell one of her cheerful anecdotes, this time about a Grade 9 student who had trouble reading. And there were groans and chuckles when she said she’d consulted with Postmedia hockey reporter turned opinion columnist David Staples about the curriculum.
About a dozen delegates to the conference walked out during Ms. Smith’s remarks – no doubt to the intense discomfort of the association’s leadership.
Getting back to Ms. Smith’s 2018 essay, you could argue it was a sort of education policy version of the Legislature’s Her Vision Inspires essay contest for young women in which the third-place winner, announced on Monday, argued in her 500-word submission that women are best suited to bear babies and ought not to try to break into careers that men dominate.
Only in this case, instead of $200 to spend at the Legislature gift shop, the winner gets to be premier.