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Editorial: Work starts now to make education a 2019 election issue

April 24, 2018 Jonathan Teghtmeyer, ATA News Editor-in-Chief

With all the talk about pipelines in political circles lately, it is hard to imagine that pipelines will not end up being a critical issue in next year’s provincial general election.

But, at the same time, will it become a ballot-box issue when all of the major parties seem to be saying the same things: the Trans Mountain pipeline must be built, the federal government needs to better support it, Alberta should invest in it if necessary, and we can restrict the gas supply to B.C. if that province continues to impede construction?

As part of our regular public opinion polling program, the Alberta Teachers’ Association recently commissioned a telephone poll of 800 randomly sampled Albertans. When asked if they felt education will be an important issue when they decide how to vote in the next election, half of respondents said the issue will be very important and an additional 40 per cent said it will be somewhat important.

I will take this data with a grain of salt because I know that, in the 13 months leading up to the election, other issues will emerge that will prove to be very emotional and potentially divisive. But at the same time, teachers should be mindful of how important — at least initially — education is to Albertans.

Interestingly, Albertans are largely satisfied with the way the education system is handled in Alberta — 59 per cent of respondents expressed approval of how the government has handled education, and more than two-thirds say they are satisfied with how the education system operates.

Other research done regularly by the government shows that confidence in schooling increases significantly as the focus moves to a more local level, like asking parents about their own child’s school or teacher.

So, what education-related issues are most important to Albertans? Those we polled identified educational quality, classroom conditions, funding and curriculum as the top four issues affecting education. When we asked how much certain issues will be “very likely” to affect their vote, 67 per cent of respondents identified funding, 56 per cent said class size and supports for learning, and 49 per cent identified curriculum.

We asked the same question about a number of other issues, including sexual orientation and gender identity policies, and the public funding of private schools, and these were viewed as less likely to affect votes.

This is valuable information for teachers and the Association. As a non-partisan organization, we will not endorse any individual party, but we will be raising the profile of certain issues. This survey indicates what issues we could focus on to make education a priority in the election: funding, classroom conditions and curriculum.

Fortunately, Albertans seem to share the views of teachers on these issues:

  • More than half of Albertans agree the government is not spending enough on education,
  • 60 per cent believe that class sizes are too large,
  • 80 per cent are concerned about the level of support for inclusion, and
  • 93 per cent agree that teachers should play a lead role in curriculum development.

And, at the same time, the ATA is in a good position to lead advocacy on these issues heading into the election, as 84 per cent of Albertans agree that the ATA advocates for high-quality public education in Alberta, 79 per cent agree that the ATA is looking out for the best interests of students, and 86 per cent agree that the ATA is a respected voice on education matters.

Over the next year, your association will prepare for provincial election engagement activities and will work to raise the issues that are important to both teachers and the public.

However, we will need your help too. It starts with talking with your friends and family about education matters, but we will also ask you to engage in more specific ways by supporting our public relations campaigns and by getting involved in the election by supporting the candidates that you feel best reflect your desires for public education. ❚

I welcome your comments—contact me at

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