By calling for the war, the unions do him a favour, for which they will have to be repaid
Nine Alberta unions and labor organizations announced late last month that they have decided to speak out boldly against the public funding of Protestant Christian schools. They didn’t identify them as such. They called them “independent” schools. But since more than ninety percent are Protestant Christian, and since the unions made it specifically clear they had no quarrel with the public funding of Catholic schools, it’s obviously the Protestant ones that they’re after.
The announcement was not made by the unions directly, but by something called “Public Interest Alberta” which listed fourteen organizations as demanding that the funding stop. Nine of them were unions or federations of unions. Public Interest Alberta itself was another supporting organization, and so was one called “Progress Alberta.” How Progress Alberta differs from Public Interest Alberta, I don’t know. In fact, I’ve never heard of either of them. It’s a safe bet that they’re both hurrying leftward, but perhaps Progress Alberta thinks that Public Interest Alberta isn’t hurrying fast enough. The remaining three are the Edmonton Public School Board, the Public School Boards Association of Alberta, and one called Save Our Students (SOS), which presumably champions higher salaries for their teachers.
The rest are all labour organizations, headed (predictably) by the Alberta Teachers Association, and including (not at all predictably) by four locals of CUPE, the Canadian Union of Public Employees. That is, we are being asked to believe that hundreds of school caretakers, cleaners, bus drivers and clerical workers awakened one night with the sudden realization the that the Alberta government was partially subsidizing the education of Protestant Christian children in independent schools. Tossed and turned all night about it, they did, and couldn’t wait to bring it up at the next union meeting. They were all moved at once by the spirit, so to speak, though probably not the holy one..
Well either it happened that way — i.e., as a curious, spontaneous obsession among numerous people who had never so much as mentioned it before, or else somebody engineered it. Somebody, that is, got to those unions with the message — “Let’s de-fund the Protestant Christian schools. Let’s put that money into our own schools. One might wonder: now who would do that? But one need not wonder long.
Consider the present circumstances of Education Minister David Eggen. He is an ideologue. His party’s constitution enjoins on him the duty bring about a revolution in the way Albertans think, and he embraces that duty fervently. He knows this must be accomplished through the schools. He therefore embarks upon the biggest undertaking of his life — a sweeping reform of the school curriculum aimed (as he sees it) at bringing backwoods Alberta into the 21st Century.
But for this curriculum to bring about such a change in the thinking of the people, it must be rigidly enforced– tyrannically if need be– in the school system. Teachers, he realizes, (he was one himself for 20 years) do not easily regiment. Therefore somebody in the department. somebody besides himself, must be given a whip hand.
That’s because all resistance to his curricular changes must be crushed, and the people most likely to resist them will be the Christian schools, Catholic and Protestant. the home schoolers, and the charter and alternative schools that operate within the public system He can’t cut off the Catholics, because their schools are constitutionally guaranteed. So he will begin with the Protestants. an easy mark, since he could exterminate most of them over time by cutting off their funding.
But of course he must not appear to be doing this himself. He must appear to be responding to a massive popular demand. So someone on his behalf must approach the unions, one of them the teachers’ union. “Listen, folks, do us a favour here.. Make a noise. Object strongly to this independent school funding. It will be deeply appreciated by the minister, if you see what I mean.”
Politics in a democracy has unwritten rules, of course. If one does favours, one expects favours in return. And guess who will play the pivotal role in wage negotiations with some of these unions later this year. That’s right. It will be the minister himself. And he owes them; he owes them dearly. If favours are returned by the clink of change in the minister’s pocket, that would be collusion and people go to jail for that. And I don’t think Mr. Eggen is capable of any such thing. He is, I believe, a very honest man.
But if favours are bestowed by way of feathers in the hat, this is a very different matter. Politicians tend to live in the future mentally. If Jason Kenney can somehow unite the conservative parties, he will be in a position to defeat the Notley government. If the defeat is thorough enough, Rachel may quit. And who would then succeed? Surely, it could be, or should be, or even must be, her education minister, the man who shaped the minds of the future Albertans.
Thus everything depends on the success of the new curriculum, and if possible the suppression of every instance of independent education in Alberta. Two further points need be noted about that. For one, the story fed to the unions is simply a lie, as their leaders must well know. The money saved, they were told, can be spent on the public system. Well, there won’t be any money saved. If the schools close, the 25,000 or more students in them will be dumped into the public system. Educating them there will cost at least double the amount of the saving.
Second, the minister has twice been flummoxed by the courts — one in his attack on the home schooling movement, the second in his threat to shut down two Baptist schools which have simply defied his direct instructions for gender-reoriented children. He assumed that all he needed to rule despotically was a majority behind him in the Legislature. He was wrong. He underestimated, that is, the power of the judiciary. In his move against the Protestant Christian schools, he is similarly under-informed. He doesn’t realize the Christians have been fighting people like him for two thousand years. And they are never stronger than when they are under attack.
Ted Byfield was founder and publisher of Alberta Report news magazine, general editor of Alberta in the Twentieth Century. a 12-volume history of the province, and general editor of The Christians: Their First Two Thousand Years, a 12-volume history of Christianity. His column on education appears in The Christians.com, a web journal. He has recently authored two little books on modern pedagogy: Why History Matters and The Revolution Nobody Covered. You can order both copies here.