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Eggen and Smith jockey for teachers’ votes

September 4, 2018 Cory Hare, ATA News Managing Editor

Minister and critic of education make election pitches as school year begins


Alberta’s top two teachers-­turned-politician are gearing up for an election showdown as a new school year kicks off.

With a provincial general election expected in the spring of 2019, Education Minister David Eggen took advantage of a recent interview with the ATA News to tout his party’s track record as a progressive investor in education.

"We’ve made substantive improvements to our education system during difficult economic circumstances," Eggen said.

"Our government is committed to investing in education through good times and bad and we need another mandate to ensure that each of the foundational elements that I put in place in education are strengthened for now and for the future."

Another high school teacher turned MLA, Mark Smith, who is also the education shadow minister for the United Conservative Party, pointed to economics as a key element of any policy discussion.

"As a conservative I believe that the best way of ensuring that we can help the people of Alberta is to ensure that we have an economy that can fund the programs of the government," Smith said.

"When you have a prosperous, growing economy, then you have the capacity to ensure that you have a strong health-care system, a strong education system, that we can take care of the vulnerable in our society."

As evidence of the government’s commitment to education funding, Eggen cited the number of new schools that are being built, continued funding for enrolment growth and a commitment to better oversight of funding for the class size initiative, as recommended in the spring by the auditor general.

"We will look for greater accountability of that money to be spent to reduce class sizes," Eggen said.

The UCP hasn’t released a platform but is putting together a committee of experts for this purpose, Smith said. He said his party has concerns about the curriculum review process taking place behind closed doors.

"We want to see all of the major stakeholders involved in the process," he said.

He said that issues like class size and inclusion are complex. While they are closely tied to funding, there are also numerous other factors at play.

"We’re going to have to have a wider conversation as a party and quite honestly as a province as we move forward on how best we can fund education," Smith said.

During a speech at the ATA’s Annual Representative Assembly in May, Eggen said that he would remove a cap on teacher’s pensions this fall. When he spoke to the ATA News in late August, he said he’s still making final plans with the provincial treasury board and the federal government.

"We are doing all of those things and the cap will be removed this fall," Eggen said.

Both politicians touted their parties as the appropriate choice at the ballot box.

"You can judge me and our government on education based on our actions," Eggen said. "The best insurance to ensure the continued progressive approach to public education is to make sure you have a progressive government in place in 2019."

Smith threw cold water on the idea that the majority of teachers naturally support the NDP.

"Teachers, like all citizens in Alberta, will make their decisions on an individual basis based on who they believe will support them." ❚

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