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May 13, 2014 - No. 55

Alberta Legislature Adjourns -- What Lies Ahead?

The Need for Independent Politics and Social Forms of the Working Class

Alberta Legislature Adjourns -- What Lies Ahead?
The Need for Independent Politics and Social Forms of the Working Class
Omnibus Bill Furthers Destruction of the Public Authority - Rita Soto

Albertans' Fight for Canadian Standard Pensions as a Right
Step Up the Fight for the Right to Security in Retirement!
Summer Campaign to Discuss, Organize and Fight for Pensions for All - Peggy Morton

No to Privatization of Education and Attacks on Alberta Teachers!
Unacceptable Government Dictate - Kevan Hunter
Task Force on Teaching Excellence an Assault on Teachers
How Teacher Competency Is Presently Ensured

In Memoriam
Oil Sands' Worker Perishes in Deadly Bear Attack

Coming Events
Edmonton Community Forum on the Temporary Foreign Worker Program

Alberta Legislature Adjourns -- What Lies Ahead?

The Need for Independent Politics and
Social Forms of the Working Class

The PC government using its majority adjourned the 28th Alberta Legislature on May 8, three weeks early, so that the fight over who will control the Alberta PC party could begin in all earnest. The Legislature met for only 27 days in total. The fall session will begin on October 27 and the Legislature will sit for 20 days. In the interim, the nomination and election of the new PC Party leader, who will then be sworn in as Premier, will all take place.

The resignation of Alison Redford was a sign of the extent to which competing private monopoly interests are tearing at the ruling elite. The vicious fight over who will control Alberta's resources, public authority and the wealth workers produce will play out during the fight for control of the PC Party. Early indications are that the Calgary oil barons have chosen Jim Prentice, former Harper government Minister, as the man to lead the PCs, and that the money is already rolling back into the PC coffers.

As the fight intensifies for control of the PC Party and who will become Premier and the leading champion of the global energy monopolies, the working people need to sum up their own experience so as to chart the way forward.

According to some commentators, Alison Redford was elected by a "progressive coalition" but she broke her promises and betrayed that "coalition." Can it be said that the electors who voted for Redford to block the Wildrose Party formed a "progressive coalition?" A coalition is generally defined as "a group of people, groups, or countries who have joined together for a common purpose" (Merriam-Webster). The Oxford Dictionary defines a coalition, as "A temporary alliance for combined action, especially of political parties forming a government...." Implicit is that each coalition partner has a say in the agenda so long as the coalition survives. Clearly no such "progressive coalition" existed to block Wildrose.

No common purpose exists between the ruling elite, who control the PC Party and Wildrose, and the working people of Alberta. The agenda of the rich involves how to impose the neo-liberal, anti-social austerity and privatization agenda. It favours the private interests of the monopolies and is against the public interests of the working class and other strata of the people.

The neo-liberal agenda in opposition to nation-building also involves at this time forcing through the approval of new pipelines, securing markets for mostly unrefined product from the oil sands, building liquefied natural gas terminals, increasing foreign investment in raw material extraction and transportation, and further annexing Canada into the United States of North American Monopolies. This means embroiling Canada in the U.S. war machine, war preparations and current predatory military adventures. It is an anti-social offensive in the service of the most powerful global monopolies to wreck Canada's industrial base, public services and social infrastructure and unleash continuous assaults on workers' rights, wages, benefits and pensions.

To be progressive under these conditions means to organize and fight to restrict and deprive the global monopolies and their politicians of the ability to do as they please. It means organizing to stop them from trampling on the public interest with impunity. Above all it means fighting for people's empowerment and the right to decide. It is all about renewing the democratic process.

Within this fight the workers' opposition puts forward its own pro-social alternative to nation-wrecking, and more and more people are going into action to defend their rights and the public interests. Public sector workers with the support of all workers have been very active in rejecting the austerity agenda. Working people are saying No! to Harper's low wage agenda. First Nations lay their claim and assert their sovereignty and right for a say and control over the way Mother Earth is treated and her bounty distributed. People from all walks of life including scientists, doctors, the youth and others are demanding that the monopolies no longer be given carte blanche to trample on Mother Earth to extract bitumen as fast as possible and engage in other destructive practices. Workers and their allies are calling for a new direction for the economy.

Working people have the numbers and pro-social conviction to uphold the public interest, enforce the public will, empower themselves and put an end to the dictate and nation-wrecking of the monopolies and their direct take-over of governments and state agencies.

Standing in the way of developing the new is lack of organization, old thinking and a discredited outlook that the people must rely on the rich for their thinking, organizations and politics. Representatives of the monopolies and the rich tell the people what to think and do with their words repeated and dissected endlessly on television. The starting point is to turn off the TV and its talking heads and begin to think for ourselves, discuss amongst ourselves, analyze for ourselves the concrete conditions as they appear and not as we are told they appear and organize ourselves into new social forms suitable for modern conditions.

Workers and their allies will defend with all their strength an agenda and social forms that they themselves have participated in developing, setting and organizing. The people's empowerment expressed in an organized social form develops an unstoppable momentum to build the new.

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Omnibus Bill Furthers Destruction
of the Public Authority

Two small paragraphs included in the PC government's 68-page omnibus Bill 12, the Statutes Amendments Act received very little attention, as the bill was introduced on May 5 and passed on May 7. Yet it shows just how profoundly any conception of a public authority is being destroyed, and how the stage is being set for further privatization of health care and public services, preparing to hand them over to private monopoly interests.

Section 9.1 of the bill deals with the Alberta Health Services annual budget. It states:

(1) A regional health authority shall, as directed under subsection (2), submit its annual budget to the Minister for approval.

(2) The Minister may give directions respecting the form and content of the budget, the time by which the budget must be submitted and any other information that must be submitted.

These two sentences are not innocuous but give the Minister of Health authority to control all health care decisions through executive dictate. Even a formal conception of a health authority or board, which is expected and required to make decisions based on the public interest and the health care needs of the population no longer exists.

So much wrecking has already taken place that the existing institutions are not considered worthy of defence, permitting the complete takeover by private monopoly interests. Alberta Health Services is a case in point. In recent times the usual methods have been used to discredit AHS by focusing on lavish executive expense accounts and the like. The Health Minister fired the entire board of AHS when it refused to carry out a directive to withdraw executive bonuses on the grounds that it legally could not do so as it entailed a breach of contract. The Minister of Health later quietly acknowledged that he could not legally carry out his own directive either.

The extent of the executive prerogative can be seen by asking one question. On what basis is funding allocated across the province? The former regional health authorities received funding based on a population-based formula, which included the number of people in the region, services delivered to people outside the region, age, gender and the socio-economic composition of the population. If the population were poorer and older for example in a region, funding per-capita would increase. In theory at least, the formula upheld the idea that there should be equal funding for equal health care needs across the province. When the PC government disbanded the regional health authorities, it also eliminated the criteria for allocating funds. It has not replaced the formula with any publicly identified criteria or formula. In other words, no one knows how AHS decides anything. It is all a state secret.

Having a formula does not equal adequate funding, this is not the point. The issue is that objective criteria existed for allocation of funds and the Minister of Health could not act in a totally arbitrary way. This is no longer the case. The Minister of Health has directly intervened in allocating funding using the provision of "extra" funding to expand private delivery of services. An example is the provision of funding to reduce wait times where all the funding had to be used to expand surgery, such as cataract surgery at private clinics. Now the Minister can extend such dictate over the entire budget, without a single objective measure of how funding is to be allocated.

This means a public authority no longer exists that organizes the health system and allocates funding. Instead, the dictate of private interests acts through an executive dictate. Any pretense of a system accountable to any standard or the public interests is finished.

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Albertans' Fight for Canadian Standard Pensions as a Right

Step Up the Fight for the
Right to Security in Retirement!

The Alberta PC party in power ended the spring session of the Alberta Legislature without passing Bills 9 and 10, the Public Sector Pension Plans Amendment Act and the Employment Pension (Private Sector) Plans Amendment Act respectively, which attacked public and private sector pensions and the right to security in retirement.

Throughout 2014 public sector workers have been very active defending their pensions and putting forward the demand for pensions for all. The government found it was no slam-dunk to impose their austerity agenda and assault on pensions. The PCs have been forced to stand down on their pension attacks and return to the bargaining table with the provincial government workers represented by Alberta Union of Public Employees. Organized resistance of the Alberta working class needs to be sustained throughout the summer to Bills 9 and 10 and the refusal of both the provincial and federal governments to guarantee security in retirement for all. With the government direct assault now on "pause," an opportunity has arisen to sum up the campaign so far, discuss it in all the workplaces and see where to go next.

Workers have seen that when they organize and fight, the ruling elite cannot simply do as they please. The government has been forced to take a step back, but public and private sector workers and their allies are well aware that the government has not abandoned its attack on the right to security in retirement or its austerity agenda. The fight also remains to force the withdrawal of Bill 45, the Public Sector Services Continuation Act and ensure that it is not enacted into law. The fact that the government has immediately turned its attention from attacking pensions to attacking teachers with its "Task Force on Teaching Excellence" serves to emphasize that no cure for anything comes from this governing god of plague, which only responds to active resistance. In the last two days of the session the government also passed an omnibus bill giving the Minister of Health arbitrary powers over health care budgets and programs.

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Summer Campaign to Discuss, Organize and
Fight for Pensions for All

This summer, public hearings will take place on the government's pension legislation, which provide an opportunity to develop a broad campaign to defend the pensions we have and fight for pensions for all. Discussion in all the workplaces as to how to strengthen the campaign will ensure that the full force of workers' organizations and consciousness is brought to bear to continue and expand this fight. This is an excellent time to go all out to raise the demand that security in retirement is a right, which governments are duty bound to guarantee.

Within this context, concrete proposals to strengthen the public sector pension plans should be discussed. Two immediate demands are: Stop privatizing public services and social programs! Restore privatized services as public enterprise! Aside from other things, privatization divides the working class and weakens its defined-benefit pension plans making individual workers vulnerable to fraudulent schemes such as "target" savings plans and extreme poverty in retirement. Reversing the retrogressive neo-liberal agenda of privatizations would increase the number of active public sector workers and members of their defined-benefit plans. Not only would more workers have security in retirement, but with more active plan members, pension plans would be stabilized.

Providing active workers with public employment security and increasing the number of full-time equivalent (FTE) jobs where workers want full-time work are ways to strengthen the pension plans. Why should public employers be permitted to post jobs where the FTE is designed to make them ineligible for pensions and benefits, for example by cutting a sliver off a 0.4 FTE to make it 0.39 FTE? What would the effect be of increasing the number of full-time jobs for all workers who want full-time work? How many workers have their entry into the existing pension plans delayed because of the use of temporary and casual positions for what is or at least should be permanent work? What changes can be made which will provide employment security now and retirement security in the future?

Retirees and their families must be involved in the fight. They need to be informed that if the government pushes through with its "reforms" their pensions are less secure and pension boards may be forced to reduce their COLA or even the basic pension.

Retirement security affects all of us. Savings plans are a sham and retrogressive. They force workers to pool their savings into becoming social capital, which is then stolen and misused by the international financial oligarchy. No retirement benefit is guaranteed through savings plans.

An important aspect is to expand the fight to include pensions for all. The Alberta government should be forced to support an expanded Canada Pension Plan as a first step to security in retirement for all. Public hearings are an opportunity to involve everyone in this discussion and in the Canadian Labour Congress pension campaign -- Retirement Security for Everyone!

As the largest organized force, public sector workers should speak up for private sector workers, especially those without unions. Anti-social Bill 10 would allow employers retroactively to destroy defined benefit plans and turn them into target savings plans, with no guaranteed pension benefit thus increasing retirement insecurity.

The opposite to Bill 10 should be done, which means forcing private sector employers, especially the largest ones, to have all their employees enrolled within a provincial (or federal) defined-benefit pension plan. The public and private defined benefit pension plans should be guaranteed with a percentage claim on the annual provincial social product, something the federal government should do but refuses because it is anti-social and anti-worker and dominated by private monopoly interests.

The discussion on how to solve the retirement issue should be wide open but not stray from its fundamental guideline that security in retirement is a right. It is ridiculous to suggest that Canadian society is incapable of providing this right with a guarantee and that seniors must be forced to fend for themselves and face poverty and insecurity in old age.

Our security lies in the fight to defend the rights of all! Let's do so through discussion, organization and resistance!

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No to Privatization of Education and Attacks on Alberta Teachers!

Unacceptable Government Dictate

The Task Force of Teaching Excellence was initiated by the Alberta Minister of Education Jeff Johnson in September 2013. The stated aim is to make legislative recommendations to ensure an excellent teacher for every student, in every class. Right from the start, teachers and all Albertans had reason to question the intentions of the Minister in establishing his task force. From beginning to end, the process has been designed to ensure the desired outcome: marginalize teachers and spread disinformation about how issues of teacher competency and conduct are dealt with. It is also intended to promote the absurd conclusion that teacher excellence exists in a vacuum and does not require that teachers and students be provided the resources needed for excellence to flourish. On this basis the Task Force report concludes that excellence in teaching can be assured by bringing in a managerial model of education. It is a self-serving conception of "accountability," which makes individual teachers the issue, removing all responsibility of government to provide the right to education with a guarantee including necessary and adequate funding for public education.

The Task Force on Teaching Excellence was outsourced to Leger Marketing. The members were hand-picked by Education Minister Johnson. The Alberta Teachers' Association (ATA), which represents Alberta teachers, was not invited to participate. In the Minister's words, including the ATA would "taint the process."

This insulting and unacceptable refusal to consult teachers and pay attention to their knowledge and experience was further demonstrated when the report was rolled out. The Alberta teachers and their organization, the ATA, were kept in the dark regarding the contents of the report until the night before the official release. In contrast, Canadians for 21st Century Learning and Innovation (C21), a lobby group which includes representatives of the educational monopolies such as Microsoft, educational technology manufacturer SMART Technologies, and publishers Pearson, Nelson, and Oxford University Press received a copy of the report well in advance. The ATA was forced to file a Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy request to obtain basic information about the workings of the Task Force.

The very act of establishing the Task Force was a violation of the government's own clear undertaking. When the Task Force was announced, the ink was barely dry on a "comfort letter" from then-Premier Alison Redford, promising that no major legislative changes would be made affecting the ATA, and that the Government would use its "best efforts to consult with Alberta's teachers through their association on issues that will improve the learning environment for Alberta's students." At the same time, legislation created a Teacher Development and Practice Advisory Committee, with at least half the members being teachers, mandated to advise the education minister on exactly the same issues for which the Task Force has issued recommendations.

Instead of addressing the critical problems facing teachers and students, the Task Force was based on a total denial of the facts of education. The Minister actively downplays the importance of class size, instead calling into question reports of classes of more than 50 students in some schools, passing the blame on to school boards, and promoting examples of schools in China and Malaysia where students perform well on standardized tests despite large classes.

Why is there no mention of class size anywhere in the Task Force report? Is it because the people handpicked by the Minister share his outlook, or because they were actively directed not to broach the issue? The answer may become more apparent when the results of the ATA's freedom of information request come in. Of course, by then, the arbitrary 30-day time frame given for discussion of the Task Force report will have passed.

The Task Force does make some recommendations which have merit, including development of mentorship programs, increased wrap-around supports for classrooms (speech language pathology, for example), and increased time for planning, working with other teachers and sharing best practices. These recommendations all require a significant increase in investments in the number of teachers, but the Minister and the Task Force ignore the reality that existing workloads are unsustainable workloads and that investments are required to implement these recommendations.

The Report receives a failing grade when it comes to even a basic knowledge of existing processes. It confuses the teacher competence process and the separate conduct review process.

No one is more concerned about the need for the highest quality of teaching than teachers themselves. Through their Association and in their schools, teachers collectively work to raise the level of teaching and do their duty to their students and to society. They have a right to the working conditions necessary to allow teaching and learning to thrive. If the government were actually interested in raising the level of education, the first place it would go to consult would be to teachers themselves. The fact that it has done everything to attack and marginalize teachers while expanding the role of private monopoly interests which see education as a market makes it clear where this government is headed. It must not pass!

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Task Force on Teaching Excellence
an Assault on Teachers

The report of the Alberta Minister of Education Jeff Johnson's Task Force on Teaching Excellence was released on Monday, May 5. The Alberta Teachers' Association (ATA) immediately responded, condemning recommendations which it concludes "can only be viewed as a direct assault on teachers and the teaching profession."

The Task Force makes recommendations that would strip teachers of fundamental employment protection. To retain teacher professional certification, it recommends an evaluation for every teacher once every five years. It suggests that principals should be turned into managers as opposed to colleagues and school leaders. It contains a thinly veiled threat that if the ATA does not "cooperate" in doing so that principals will be removed from the ATA altogether.

The Task Force also calls for the separation of conduct review and practice review; two functions of the ATA, which in actual fact are already separate. It threatens to dissolve the existing ATA and either create a separate professional college of teachers, or have the Minister directly take over the professional functions of the ATA. In a bizarre irony for a task force concerned with excellent teaching, the report also suggests granting teaching certificates to people with trades or fine arts certification who do not have the professional preparation currently expected of teachers.

The ATA concludes, "Johnson's task force is using the threat of breaking up the Association to coerce teachers to comply with its other recommendations."

A narrow focus on teacher accountability, "weeding out the bad teachers," and transforming education into a managerial model will not address the problems in education. In fact, it will be extremely detrimental to the interests of students, parents, and society in general. Teachers are professionals, and deserve to be respected as such. They have an organization which actively advocates for supports to teachers so that every teacher can continually improve, innovate and meet their fullest potential.

The PCs and all governments pursuing their anti-social austerity agenda are robbing the education system of necessary funding and resources to pay the rich. It is outrageous that instead of taking up their responsibilities they now claim that teachers are the problem. TML salutes teachers and their association who are defending the interests of society in general and specifically public education by opposing the attacks on their profession.

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How Teacher Competency Is Presently Ensured

For an informed discussion on the recommendations of the Task Force on Teaching Excellence, it is necessary to examine the existing ways in which Alberta's education system deals with issues of teacher competency and conduct.

1. Teachers have a Code of Professional Conduct.

The Code of Conduct is developed by the Alberta Teacher's Association (ATA) within the framework of the Teaching Profession Act. It stipulates minimum standards for professional conduct. For example, teachers must treat all pupils with dignity and respect; they must act in a way that "upholds the honour and dignity of the profession"; they must protest "conditions which make it difficult to render professional service" et cetera.

Any person may make a complaint to the ATA, and the Professional Conduct Committee will investigate. The Association does take measures, going as far as to revoke a teacher's teaching certificate when circumstances warrant.

2. The Minister of Education establishes the Teaching Quality Standard.

The minister decides, through regulation, what characteristics make for a competent teacher. In the past, the Minister has consulted with the ATA. The Teaching Quality Standard (TQS) respects teachers as professionals. For example, it says, "Teachers appreciate individual differences and believe all students can learn, albeit at different rates and in different ways. They recognize students' different learning styles and the different ways they learn, and accommodate these differences in individuals and groups of students including students with special learning needs."

At the same time, the TQS establishes a basic standard with expectations such as, "Teachers create and maintain environments that are conducive to student learning," and, "Teachers translate curriculum content and objectives into meaningful learning activities."

One standard exists for beginning teachers, who hold an interim certificate, and another standard for professional certification. The regulations are fairly general, meaning that the question of how they are enforced is critical.

3. Teachers have a Professional Practice Review Committee.

This is a different body within the ATA, separate from conduct review. Anyone can make a complaint about professional competence to a school board superintendent, who investigates and reports to the ATA. If there are grounds to question the teacher's competency, the Professional Practice Review Committee holds a public hearing and then makes a recommendation to the Minister of Education. The Minister is responsible for appointing a member of the public to sit on the committee, but has let these appointments expire without replacing them for over a year.

Given that these are two separate functions within the ATA, one must ask why the Task Force on Teaching Excellence proposes to create a separate organization, if not so that government can have more direct control over the process of practice review. Either the Task Force is ignorant of this fact, which could have been easily corrected if the ATA was invited to participate, or another agenda is at play.

4. Principals evaluate teachers to see if they meet the Teaching Quality Standard.

As well as providing leadership, support and guidance to each teacher on staff, principals have the responsibility to evaluate teachers. They are required to evaluate teachers who are new to the profession or new to a school board. Principals also have a right to evaluate a teacher when they move to a new school, or if they have reason to believe a teacher may not meet the Teaching Quality Standard. Teachers may also ask to be evaluated. As class sizes increase due to insufficient funding, in many schools principals and/or assistant principals are teaching classes themselves, affecting their own workload and their capacity to support other teachers.

5. School boards set specific expectations of teachers.

Issues including but not limited to the above can be addressed by school boards, who have the power to dismiss teachers who do not obey lawful orders of the school boards. If a teacher does not meet expectations such as preparing report cards or attending parent-teacher interviews, a school board could dismiss that teacher. So long as the teacher still holds a valid teaching certificate, they could still be hired by another school board.

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In Memoriam

Oil Sands' Worker Perishes in Deadly Bear Attack

Lorna Weafer

TML expresses its sincere condolences to the family, co-workers and friends of Lorna Weafer, an oil sands' worker who tragically died after being mauled by a bear at her work site north of Fort McMurray Alberta. Lorna Weafer, a 36-year-old instrument technician was killed on May 7 while working at Suncor's base camp.

Lorna's family released a statement, which explains she immigrated into Canada from Ireland with her family as a child and had lived in Fort McMurray since 1981. Lorna had been working as an instrument technician since October 2013. She was an avid photographer and very artistic. The family thanks her co-workers who tried to help their daughter, saying they knew that they were also grieving her loss.

Roland Lefort, President of Unifor Local 707A, explains that 10 co-workers were in the area where Lorna was attacked by an adult male black bear. He said her co-workers used shovels and rocks and blew air horns in an attempt to scare off the animal and stop the attack but none of their efforts were successful.

Lorna Weafer is the third Suncor worker to die on the job since January 2014. Her untimely death underscores workers' crucial fight for the right to safe and healthy working conditions and to force governments to hold companies to account to provide those safe and healthy working conditions.

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Coming Events

Edmonton Community Forum on the
Temporary Foreign Worker Program

Saturday, May 17 -- 3:00-6:00 pm
University of Alberta, Education Building, Room 129
Hosted by Migrante Alberta

The recent moratorium on the food sector puts the migrant workers' status in limbo. Workers with no labour market opinion (LMO) or work permits or those who are waiting for theirs are currently affected. The moratorium impacts negatively on many migrant workers who are on the tail end of their contracts and who will not have these renewed. It impacts those who have pending positive LMOs and who have risked their life-savings to pay the thousands of dollars to labour recruiters for these jobs.

This government claimed they suspended the program to make sure that employers do not take advantage of it. Migrant workers are punished for the violations committed by the employers and the unscrupulous brokers or recruiters.

The forum will try to address some of these issues and clarify the impact of this on workers. The forum will then discuss the broader Temporary Foreign Worker Program and how it is a program that indentures workers and build a strategy that addresses these issues.

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