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Pressure must be sustained to earn the big wins


September 21, 2021 Jonathan Teghtmeyer, ATA News Editor-in-Chief


I’m not a lawyer, but I can only assume that when the judge tells you that she’s not buying your arguments in the middle of a hearing, things are not going well for you.

This was apparently the situation in an Edmonton Court of Queen’s Bench courtroom in early September when the case of the Alberta Teachers’ Association v Her Majesty the Queen (not the first or last case with that title) was being argued. In this instance, the parties were discussing the validity of Finance Minister Travis Toews’s order imposing an investment management agreement on the Alberta Teachers’ Retirement Fund (ATRF).

To be clear, the judge directed her statement about arguments being off base towards the government lawyers.

While the case was being heard, finishing touches were being put on a new agreement – an actual “we agree” agreement — that would replace the imposed agreement.

It was worth noting that the ATA was not party to the negotiations and that the ATRF was not an applicant in the court case, so that explains in part why both things continued to move along independently of one another. Yet, they converged around the same time in early September.

A win in court would have been good to overturn the offensive ministerial order, but the antecedent problem would still remain and we would still need ATRF and the Alberta Investment Management Corporation (AIMCo) to come up with an agreement.

Instead, having AIMCo as a willing partner at the table, negotiating an agreement that complies with the interests of teachers and ensures that the ATRF remains in control of the investment policy for teacher pensions is a big win for teachers.

So, what changed? How did we get from an obstinate finance minister drafting a ministerial order in December 2020 that gave AIMCo a veto power over the ATRF’s investment policy to a negotiated agreement in September 2021 that leaves the vast amount of control in the hands of ATRF?

Two interrelated things: a change in leadership at AIMCo and the sustained persistent advocacy of teachers.

We know that teachers were already very active in pushing back against Bill 22, which compelled the forced marriage between ATRF and AIMCo. Teachers hammered MLA offices with phone calls and correspondence at numerous touchpoints through the fall of 2019 and much of 2020.

The volume was cranked up again when the minister’s order was announced in January of this year. A strong, significant social media campaign saw teachers calling out MLAs who had promised teacher control over pensions.

These promises, brought to the forefront through teacher advocacy, became an important part of the court challenge. And ultimately the pressure, along with a change of leadership at AIMCo, resulted in a new attitude and approach to negotiation.

So, the significant, sustained advocacy of teachers has to be held up as a major reason for this win. We must pause to recognize and celebrate the success of this advocacy.

Pensions are not the only front where we have been battling in the past few years. Curriculum, COVID provisions, cuts and classroom conditions are all areas where teachers and the government have been at odds recently. And teachers were long without a win on these issues. So, the win on pensions represents a significant ray of hope that shows that our efforts mattered.

These other issues remain unresolved and collective bargaining may get added to the pile soon, too. But the lesson learned from the pension fight is that advocacy matters … and pressure mounts. An immediate win and reversal may not come on any issue right away, but sustaining that pressure over time really helps ensure that the win comes eventually. So even when you think it is lost, keep up the pressure.

As the saying goes, the darkest hour is just before the dawn. ❚

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