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Editorial: This is the year for political engagement

August 26, 2014 Jonathan Teghtmeyer, ATA News Editor-in-Chief

This is the year for political engagement

The Greek philosopher Pericles said, “Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn’t mean politics won’t take an interest in you.”

With this in mind, I proposed to about 35 local political engagement officers attending the Association’s 66th Annual Summer Conference in Banff earlier this month that the 2014/15 school year would be the year for political engagement.

Alberta’s political environment has arguably never been as stormy as it is now. The Progressive Conservatives have held power for 43 years and face a credible and effective opposition in the Wildrose party. Premier Alison Redford resigned amid controversy over entitlement, and the PCs, despite attempts to focus on picking a new leader who will represent change, are struggling to leave the controversy behind.

As teachers head back to school, a holdover from the previous regime—the Task Force for Teaching Excellence—looms in the background. At the same time, teachers’ concerns about class size, resources for inclusion and intensifying workloads remain. And in the not-so-distant future, teachers’ collective agreements will expire and new ones will be negotiated. It is expected that teachers will have high expectations for improved classroom conditions and fair compensation.

Although satisfactory resolution of any of these important matters will depend on wise decisions from Alberta’s political leaders, we can’t afford to leave these decisions to chance. Our elected officials should not be expected to have all the answers to all our complex issues. After all, aside from having to be well versed on education matters, politicians have to understand health care, the economy, social services and, apparently, good licence plate design. It is therefore incumbent on teachers to help our elected officials understand and appreciate the issues that face public education today.

Fortunately, many opportunities exist for teachers to engage in processes that will establish the province’s political leadership, and I am encouraging you to do so. That is why 2014/15 is the year for political engagement.

September 3, 2014, is the deadline to purchase a membership to vote for the new leader of the Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta. The profiles and education platforms of the three candidates are published in this issue of the ATA News. The first round of voting will be held September 5 and 6.

Later this fall, the Alberta New Democratic Party will also pick a new leader. Profiles of those candidates will be featured in an upcoming ATA News and on our website, where video interviews recorded during Summer Conference will be posted.

In the months ahead, at least one and possibly four by-elections will be held in various ridings across Alberta. Constituency associations of all parties will be nominating their candidates for the next provincial election to be held in the spring of 2016.

Effective political engagement is not just about participating in various electoral contests, however—it is about building relationships. And building relationships needs to be done continuously over time. Political engagement and building relationships mean picking up the phone, contacting your MLA, setting up a meeting and discussing your views on education. Tell your MLA you’ll stay in touch and that you look forward to meeting them again next month and in the months that follow. Political engagement also includes member engagement—talk to your colleagues about what you’re doing and hearing, and discuss what you’d like them to be doing.

Politically engaging our colleagues is central to ensuring that the interests of public education and the teaching profession in Alberta are protected, especially during this time of political flux. You may not be interested in politics but it’s certainly interested in you. ❚

I welcome your comments—contact me at

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