The election of a new government in Alberta presents AISCA members with both challenges and opportunities.
It is important for AISCA members to perceive the new political realities of Alberta as an opportunity to work at establishing new and trusting relationships with a new set of MLAs and a new cabinet forming Alberta’s government. By reaching out to government MLAs early and often, AISCA members can help ensure that their perspectives, values and concerns are made known at the cabinet, caucus and staff levels. Moreover, reaching out should also include opposition members in the Wildrose Party and Progressive Conservative Party who traditionally have been supportive of the interests and values of independent schools.
Challenges, however, certainly do exist. Alberta’s fiscal situation remains precarious and the government is still facing the same $7 billion deficit as did the previous government over a month ago. In the past, the NDP has for the most part, opposed public funding of independent schools on ideological grounds but it did not raise this issue during the election campaign. As such, it is the job of AISCA and its members to persuade the incoming government that the opposition to independent schools is undemocratic in a pluralistic society and that the principle of choice in education strengthens democracy. In addition, the new MLAs should be reminded that having independent schools as part of the province’s educational offerings saves the government large sums of money, an estimated $145 million annually.
It may take weeks for the new government to become fully sworn-in. Given that 49 of the NDP’s 53 MLAs do not have any prior experience as legislators, it is likely that the Premier and her staff will not rush the swearing-in process. The naming and swearing- in of a cabinet will likely take even longer. The Premier-Elect is now engaged in the
vetting process in an effort to identity MLAs to be named to Cabinet. There is also a possibility of some turnover in the civil service while maintaining stability of services.
The Wildrose Official Opposition is currently in the process of assigning to each member a critic portfolio. It is crucial for AISCA and its members to establish a healthy working relationship with the Opposition’s education critic, as he/she can be utilized to bring attention to the issues facing AISCA member schools.
The Progressive Conservative’s have named Rick McIver interim leader. McIver represents a Calgary riding and a likely ally who supports educational choice.
Rachel Notley and the NDP were elected on a promise to increase education funding. At no point in the campaign did the NDP specify that these funding commitments apply exclusively to public schools. While the NDP have historically opposed the public funding of independent schools, Brian Mason as leader participating in the TV debates against Redford as the PC leader and Raj Sherman as the Liberal leader, publically stated that he would leave the funding of independent schools alone. The NDP during the election as a party tempered their rhetoric and opposition. Furthermore, it is reasonable to assume that Premier Notley will attempt to moderate the NDP’s policy positions of the past to adjust to now holding power. An immediate attack on educational choice would not serve the new government’s interests, as such a maneuver might reinforce opposition messages that the NDP is too left-leaning politically for the tastes of most Albertans.
AISCA should endeavor to capitalize on the government’s recognition that temperance and moderation are key to its re-election. AISCA and its members should also point out to new MLAs that NDP governments in BC and Manitoba continued to fund independent schools and to continue to do so in Alberta is reasonable and fair.
The Premier will likely craft a new budget which might be done before summer. There is a possibility, however, that it will not be introduced until the fall with the government using warrants and supply bills to govern until such time as the new budget is finalized. AISCA and its members must continue to advocate for fair and reasonable funding and to ask for reconsideration of the funding allocations proposed by the previous government’s March 2015 Budget.
AISCA suggests that each member school proceed as follows:
Request an in-person meeting at the MLA’s earliest convenience.
Should a meeting be granted, prepare a one page (maximum) “leave behind” for the MLA and for 1-2 staff members detailing your school’s academic achievements and enrollment situation.
Invite the MLA to any year-end celebrations. Key Messages for Government Relations
We believe that parental choice in education is fundamental to the strength and success of Alberta schools and foundational to democratic values.
We look forward to building healthy and productive working relationships with the new government and are encouraged by the government’s prioritization of education in its election platform.
We believe that education funding – to every school system – needs to be increased; independent schools are an equal partner and provider of education in Alberta.
Independent schools provide Alberta students with unique and diverse educational experiences. Contrary to popular belief, many of our students do not come from high socio-economic backgrounds, and many struggle with learning challenges and physical disabilities. Parents often choose independent schools because they are capable of providing a level of assistance and attention to their children not available elsewhere.
The former government’s 2015 budget was punitive towards independent schools and would have had a devastating impact on the viability of our schools.
We believe that every student and family in Alberta should have the option of utilizing an independent school. Budget 2015 would have had a significant negative impact on the accessibility and affordability of an independent school education.