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PEC and ARA combine to provide ATA governance


May 31, 2022 Dennis Theobald, ATA Executive Secretary


Question: I found out at the Annual Representative Assembly (ARA) that the Alberta Teachers’ Association moved $16 million from the Special Emergency Fund into a new Defense Advocacy Fund. How is it that these decisions can be made by Provincial Executive Council (PEC) without the prior approval of ARA?

Answer: There are legal, governance and practical dimensions to the answer to this question, and I’ll try to cover all three.

To start with, the Teaching Profession Act, the legislation that forms the constitution of the Association, states that “the Association shall be governed by an annual general meeting, which shall be held during Easter Week of each year or at any other time that the executive council considers expedient.” The act goes on to stipulate, though, that “the business of the Association shall be transacted by the executive council [PEC].”

The functional and governance relationship between the ARA and PEC is further clarified in bylaws of the Association that set out the role of ARA as being, first and foremost, to “determine general policy of the Association” and further, to receive reports from PEC, its officers (including me) and committees, and to deal with local resolutions. The bylaws also contemplate convening additional emergent assemblies at the call of PEC, but this has been done very infrequently, only five times since 1970, and for very high-stakes decisions such as the approval of the 2007 pension agreement. Generally, though, bylaws echo and reinforce the legislated role and authority of Council in administering the Association between ARAs.

So shifting from the legal to governance dimension, policy states that “the constitutional structure of the Association is based on the principle of responsible government.” For those of you whose recollection of Social Studies 10 is a bit dodgy, the use of the term “responsible” here has a particular meaning derived from the Westminster system of government. Effectively, it indicates that the executive, in our case PEC and staff that are responsible for conducting the work of the Association, must answer to the legislature, in our case teacher representatives gathered together at ARA.

Because both district representatives and table officers are elected directly by members, they do not derive their legitimacy from either ARA or from locals (as would be the case for a federation). They exercise their authority under legislation directly while having to answer for their decisions to ARA delegates. In this governance framework, the role of ARA is to set direction in the form of general policy (respecting the legislated prerogative of PEC to transact business) using the mechanisms established for this purpose and to hold PEC and staff accountable.

When it comes to financial matters, the most important policy mechanism available to ARA is the ability to set the Association’s budget for the fiscal year ahead. The budget proposal set out for ARA approval is extraordinarily detailed and specific, but at the end of the day, it is a best guess. When, at the end of the year, we compare the actuals with the budget, there will be variances. For 2020/21, the last year for which we have complete information (as we are still operating in 2021/22), revenues are within 0.4 per cent of the amount budgeted and expenses came in 13 per cent under budget. Considering the unforeseeable circumstances of the year, that is pretty darn close. The results for the current fiscal year, which ends Aug. 31, are expected to be similar, if somewhat closer, to budgeted amounts. Those will be formally reported to ARA 2023.

The creation of the Defence and Advocacy Fund (DAF) and the transfer into it of $16M from the Special Emergency Fund highlight the practical need for PEC to be able to make decisions with potentially significant impacts in the absence of explicit ARA authorization. After more than a year of inaction by the government, the regulations around Bill 32 came down in mid-December, requiring the Association to take immediate action before Feb. 1.

To protect the Association’s ability to direct the expenditure of its assets for purposes effectively restricted by the government, staff had very limited time to develop a strategy for PEC approval. The proposal adopted and reported to ARA was an internal rearrangement of budget and investment structures, not an expenditure of the $16M. Expressed differently, the Association’s total invested funds have not changed, they’ve just been reallocated. Finally, all 2022/2023 expenditures from the DAF that were anticipated at the time the budget was produced, totalling $377,300, were included in the budget proposal and are now approved. ❚

Questions for consideration in this ­column are welcome. Please address them to Dennis Theobald at


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