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NDP leadership hopefuls take aim at UCP

Four NDP candidates sit at table speaking at the Local Communications Officers meeting

Funding and curriculum were among the hot topics discussed during a forum of NDP leadership hopefuls held at Barnett House on May 3.

All five of the candidates vying to succeed Rachel Notley as leader of the Alberta NDP participated in the event that took place before 120 attendees of a meeting of local political engagement and communications officers.

During discussions that were largely collegial, the candidates agreed that public education in Alberta is woefully underfunded, and all pledged to correct this if they become NDP leader, then premier.

Jodi Calahoo Stonehouse, MLA for Edmonton-Rutherford, stressed the importance of taking a holistic, societal approach in order to provide all the supports that children need, such as proper nutrition, counsellors and occupational therapists.

“When we think about educating our children, it’s just not your job, it’s all of our jobs, so our investment in children has to be broader and it has to be by us as your leaders,” she said.
Kathleen Ganley, MLA for Calgary-Mountain View, stressed that increasing funding would be just the beginning of what’s needed.

“It starts with funding, but it also requires that we measure what class sizes are and that we measure complexity, Ganley said. “Complexity is something that we have to fund for.”

Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, said candidates and others need to stop being squeamish and admit out loud that the UCP is playing by the same conservative playbook that has played out in Texas and Florida.

“They actually see public education as the cornerstone of a progressive society, and they’re right, but they don’t want a progressive society,” he said.

“We will never get proper funding for public education out of this government because they simply don’t believe [in] it. Not only do they not believe in public education, they actively want to destroy it.”

If elected, McGowan said he “would launch a full-throated campaign in support of public education.”

Sarah Hoffman, MLA for Edmonton-Glenora, said that, if elected, she would restore PUF funding and improve it, stop providing public funds to private schools, and negotiate with teachers to put class size limits in collective agreements.

“I am very keen to negotiate class size caps. That’s something I would like to work on with you,” she said. “I will sit down at the table and we will work on how we can land on reasonable class sizes together.”

Speaking remotely from New York, former Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi said education is such a large budget item that governments often think they can trim it a bit and still be fine, but the funding situation in Alberta is beyond that.

“It won’t be fine anymore,” Nenshi said. “The good news is, when you’re mayor, you don’t have any money. You’ve got to go find money — that really is your job, and I’m pretty good at it.”

Nenshi responded to Hoffman’s promise to negotiate class size limits by promising to make class size limits a matter of policy, so that classroom conditions wouldn’t have to be negotiated.

“It will be something that will be embedded in the policy of how we run the provincial government,” he said.

Hoffman later responded that classroom conditions need to be addressed in collective agreements rather than policy so they can’t be rolled back.

“We need to make sure that it’s actually a legal, binding agreement,” she said.

Screen shot of NDP leadership candidate Naheed Nenshi
NDP leadership candidate Naheed Nenshi speaks over Teams during a forum hosted by the Alberta Teachers’ Association.  

Curriculum in the crosshairs

On curriculum, all five candidates accused the UCP government of politicizing development and content. All five pledged to start over if they become premier.

“We gotta ditch this curriculum. It’s time for us to have a curriculum that matches our aspirations to have the best public system in the world.”

– Naheed Nenshi

“We take the politics out, we ensure that experts develop the curriculum, we ensure that they’re doing it on adequate timeframes and we ensure that there is proper implementation.”

– Kathleen Ganley

“We have to co-design the curriculum. We have to invest, not only in ourselves, but in the experts and then we build it ... Our curriculum has to reflect who we are. It is going to take all of us to rebuild it ... but it’s possible.” 

– Jodi Calahoo Stonehouse

“Do you remember when other jurisdictions used our curriculum because it was the best in the country? That’s where we have to get back to. The way we do that is by handing it over to professionals, including teachers, doing it on a regular cycle instead of all at once, providing a proper amount time for piloting and development.” 

– Gil McGowan

“You have my pledge that I will put experts back at the front of that process, including teachers who are active in their classrooms.” 

– Sarah Hoffman


Footage from the NDP leadership education forum held at Barnett House, is now posted on YouTube 

Watch now