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Annual assembly features light moments and serious debate

May 26, 2015 Cory Hare, ATA News Managing Editor

ATA table officers pose for a selfie during a moment of levity at the Annual Representative Assembly on Sunday, May 17. Pictured from left to right are vice-president Robert Twerdoclib, past president Carol Henderson, president Mark Ramsankar, vice-president Greg Jeffery, associate executive secretary Dennis Theobald and executive secretary Gordon Thomas. The photo op came after two local presidents presented Ramsankar with a selfie stick as a gag gift, saying his selfies needed improving.

Mark Ramsankar

Sense of optimism pervades the 98th ARA

In between serious debates on a wide range of issues, teachers displayed a sense of optimism and playfulness as they gathered at the 98th Annual Representative Assembly (ARA) over the May long weekend in Edmonton.

One of those playful moments came when President Mark Ramsankar and others from the head table posed for a selfie at the front of a room of 400-plus delegates to allow Ramsankar to try out a new selfie stick he’d received as a gift from a pair of local presidents.

“I love chairing the ARA because it gives me a chance to be direct and, at times, light hearted with the members of the assembly,” Ramsankar said in a later interview.

The upbeat nature of ARA 2015 was a sharp contrast to others in recent memory, as it contained a sense that the Association is going in a particular direction as opposed to needing to strategize how to push back against the government, Ramsankar said.

“I equated it to an atmosphere of hope versus an atmosphere of fear,” he said. “People have been afraid and they continue to be afraid, but being afraid of the unknown, with a sense of hope, is better than being afraid of a known entity that’s attacking you.”

Serious matters

Over the course of two long days at Edmonton’s Westin hotel (one of which wrapped up at 10:30 p.m.), delegates spent approximately 11 hours debating a wide range of issues.

Among the more thoroughly debated issues was resolution 3-54 from Provincial Executive Council, which proposed to explore issues and challenges related to women’s engagement in the profession.

A number of delegates argued that leadership positions in education, such as PEC membership, while containing many women, don’t reflect the overall demographics of the profession, which is 70 to 80 per cent female.

“The numbers cannot be ignored,” said one delegate. “There are definite barriers which explain this anomaly, and we should take this quite seriously as a point of investigation.”

Other delegates, many of them female, said women are free to choose their level of engagement and no longer face barriers to getting involved or rising to positions of authority.

“I feel like this is actually a step back for women,” she said. “There is absolutely nothing holding women back from doing what they want to do. By the fact of us bringing this to light yet again, I feel like it’s singling us out as females versus it’s the best person for the job.”

The motion failed by a vote of 204 to 175.

Political spending limits

Another topic that prompted spirited and lengthy debate was the idea of limiting donations to political candidates and campaigns for the provincial legislature. In the end, the assembly passed three resolutions in this area.

Resolution 2-11 calls on the government to ban political donations by corporations, unions and employee organizations. Resolution 2-12 urges the government to place a limit on spending by individual candidates who are running for MLA. Resolution 2-13 urges the government to reduce personal donation limit to a political party to $3,000 per year.

“We can’t allow individuals with extreme wealth to buy an election,” said one delegate, who echoed the view held by many in the room.

Other resolutions that passed included calls for the Alberta government to reject the proposed provincial budget of March 26 and bring forward a new budget that will fund student enrolment growth as well as a call to continue operating the Calgary Young Offender Centre, which had been slated for closure earlier this year. The assembly also passed a resolution on the implementation of gay-straight alliances and another urging school boards to operate knowledge and employability courses independently from other courses.

The assembly also passed a resolution approving, in principle, a move to an Association-owned building rather than leasing space in Calgary for the offices of the Southern Alberta Regional Office and the two Calgary locals.

Resolutions debated at this year’s ARA appear on pages 7 to 15 of the ATA News and are posted online at Resolutions become official policy that guides the Association and its members.  ❚

Joyce Sherwin

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