Industrial Revolution Values vs. 21st Century Education System

Last week, the Alberta Teachers Association (ATA) unexpectedly walked away from the province-wide tri-partite negotiating table with an announcement that the best they can offer is a four year deal with wage increases of 0%, 0%, 1% and 3% over the term of the contract.

The ATA did this knowing full well that wages are not the issue.  They were hoping to pull the wool over the eyes of Albertans.  They came out on the offensive by pointing to just how reasonable they are being.

When it comes to the issues the ATA and Government actually disagree on, however, the teachers’ position is the furthest thing from reasonable. It’s based on concepts applied during the industrial revolution, when the rise of unionism was an important counterbalance to the rise of the industrial enterprise.  This is a time that has long passed – and our education system needs to get away from.

Before reading on, I urge readers to take the time to listen to Minister Johnson’s audio interview
(http://www.education.alberta.ca/department/ipr/tripartite.aspx) for a very full and detailed explanation of the Government’s position including a q&a with the media.

The sticking points between the Government, School Boards and the ATA come down to 2 key issues –  workload and what the Minister calls a comfort letter, which is essentially an agreement from the government that they won’t make any changes to regulations, teaching quality standards or legislation that pertains to a teacher’s role for the duration of the contract.

The ATA’s position here is patently unreasonable and completely predictable.  All parties involved in this discussion will say that they want what’s best for students, but the teachers’ union by its very nature is there solely to look out for the interests of teachers and, by extension, its own power over the system.

While the Government of Alberta and school boards are looking to transform the education system so that it can function properly in the 21st century, the teachers’ union is protecting long cherished and severely antiquated principles of seniority, as well as the power the union holds when its members keep a monopolistic grip on the education system.

In other words, for the ATA these negotiations are about the very core of what gives a union its power. And for the Government, it’s about taking some of that power back in order to bring transformational change to how education is delivered.

Seniority is important to a union’s power because the longer a worker stays in the system the more money they make and the more union dues they pay. Long term workers have also been paying union dues for longer, which means they deserve more loyalty in return. It’s a closed loop system that leaves little room for innovation and even less room for change.

As the Minister explains in the audio clip, the issue of workload can be addressed in two ways – through a hard cap on hours or by giving teachers additional support in the classroom and redesigning their roles so that low value tasks are removed and more time can be spent on high value tasks.

Given the union’s inherent bias towards the long term worker, the concept of changing a teacher’s role becomes more difficult. A teacher who has a year or two left in their career will be more resistant to this kind of change. It’s natural. Change is hard. Change takes work.

But the union’s motives in this negotiation are more sinister than their systemic bias towards more senior members. These negotiations are about the union’s own relative power over the system. Monopoly equals power – anything less is seen as an erosion of that power and unacceptable to any union in a negotiation.

The union’s solution to workload is to put hard caps on the number of hours a teacher can teach in say a day or a week. Hard caps mean more teachers; more teachers mean more union dues for the ATA. It’s simple – if a teacher can only work 40 hours but there is 60 hours of work that equals 1.5 teachers or 50% more union dues.

It’s a bad deal deal for taxpayers and in the 60% of Alberta schools that hard caps are in place, the problem of teacher workload has not gone away.

The ATA’s other demand of the government – that it not change legislation, regulations, teaching quality standards or anything else related to a teacher’s role is, once again about nothing more than the teacher’s union fighting to keep monopoly control over the system – or its own power.

When the Education Minister talks about providing teachers with more support in the classroom or eliminating low value tasks, he is likely referring to bringing people into the classroom to assist teachers. This way, teachers can focus on the high quality tasks of educating our children while the teaching assistants and other classroom support staff can help with discipline, focus, attendance, paperwork or other administrative tasks.

From a perspective of relative power within the system, this doesn’t work for the teacher’s union.

This new person (or people) in the classroom, who is most likely not a certified teacher and therefore not part of the teacher’s union, will reduce the workload of the teacher, meaning less (or the same amount) of teachers and less union dues for the ATA.

While I’m oversimplifying the examples and I realize that there are many different aspects of a teacher’s role or a classroom environment that can be changed, refocused, etc. … my main point here is that the ATA’s position in these negotiations are purely about self preservation and cynical power politics.

In other words, while the various ways of approaching the issues may seem complex, understanding the motives behind the union bargaining position is extremely simple.  The union is there to keep its power and, by extension, the relative power of teachers within the education system.

It’s important to understand that for the union, there is a fundamental disconnect between the interests of teachers and the interests of students, school boards and the Minister of Education.  The union exists for teachers, not students – yes, there are circumstances when these interests overlap (the collective bargaining sweet spot); this is not one of those times.

However, in a time where the Government and School Boards are looking to bring sweeping transformational change to the education system, that bargaining sweet spot may be nearly impossible to find.

As a result, we have the ATA’s annoucement last week that they are walking away from the province-wide bargaining table.
Alberta’s education system must embrace the 21st century to prepare kids to thrive in today’s fast paced and innovative world.  The longer we allow the teachers’ union to hold onto the industrial revolution values that led to its creation (seniority and self-preservation), the worse the rest of society will be.

PP

 

Canada’s Building Trade Unions Support is Suspicious

Canada’s Building Trades Unions (BTU) came out publically the other day supporting the Government of Canada’s decision to allow the reversal of Enbridge Line 9 between Hamilton and Sarnia.  In their release, Director of Canadian Affairs, Robert Blakely, says that they work with energy producers on a daily basis to ensure that Canada’s energy projects “achieve all of their potential” and that “it’s refreshing to have a federal government that also grasps this economic reality.”  Blakley goes on to say that “with measures like an improved regulatory process, their commitment to apprenticeship and now this – the Harper Government is demonstrating its knowledge of, and commitment to, our industry.”

Taken at face value, such strong support of Prime Minister Harper’s Government and policies are no doubt helpful to the Prime Minister and to the energy industry as a whole.  Had the BTU sent this news release and focused only on the great nation building work of Prime Minister Harper, the BTU would have come across genuinely.

Instead they went on to express their concern about the “unintended, negative consequences of Bill C-377, which endangers the ability of Canadian workers to participate in large scale nation building energy and resource projects”

WHAT???  How??? Huh???

Bill C-377 is a federal Private Members Bill that would require unions to make public their finances, including assets, liabilities, expenses, and salaries of officials.  It’s a necessary piece of legislation in a world that is becoming increasingly open and transparent.

In his news release, Blakely goes as far as threatening that if Harper’s government moves forward with Bill C-377 it will “add considerable costs to the bottom line of large-scale energy projects” while at the same time stating the legislation would actually “duplicate processes that are already in place to provide accountability and transparency”.

If unions already have systems in place to provide accountability and transparency then they will be able to comply with Bill C-377 with little or no additional cost.  You can’t say on the one hand that you already provide full financial disclosure to members and on the other that it would cost you a fortune to provide public financial disclosure.  There is no logic to that argument.  It simply doesn’t make sense.  We know, for example, that when the US brought in union disclosure legislation the cost of compliance to unions was nominal.

Blakely also states that building trade unions are private sector unions and that “unlike charities and political parties, they (we) receive no public sector subsidies”.  The fact of the matter is, however, that unions enjoy special status under our tax laws and receive approximately $400 million worth of tax benefits every year.  Furthermore, union dues are mandatory which means that unions effectively have the ability to tax their members without any requirements to be transparent or accountable.

When Bill C-377 was first introduced, Blakely and friends complained that the Harper Government was unfairly targeting unions with this legislation.  Given that the government has required charities and first nations governments to be more transparent, these arguments have fallen on deaf ears.  Their new argument that they receive no public subsidies is also full of holes given their unique tax status and the mandatory nature of union dues collection.

Canada is far behind many other developed countries when it comes to both union financial disclosure and the ability of workers to opt out of all of some of their union dues.  Australia, New Zealand, Germany, France, Ireland, the U.K. and the U.S. all have some form of union financial disclosure.  Furthermore, in Canada MPs, Senators, Minister’s offices, provincial politicians and their staff, federal and provincial departments, First Nations Governments, charities and foundations, crown corporations and publically traded companies are all subject to some form of financial disclosure and transparency requirements.

So why are the building trade unions essentially threatening large scale industrial project cost escalation and an endangerment of the “ability of Canadian workers to participate in large-scale nation building energy and resource projects”?

What do big union bosses REALLY have to hide??

Until unions are subject to financial disclosure legislation, we will never really know.

What we do know is that the USA has had union financial disclosure legislation in place since 1959 and it has led to thousands of fraud convictions.  In fact, from 2001-2008, the US labor department secured more than 1,000 union fraud-related indictments and 929 convictions.

We also know that several unions provide funding and support to oil sands opponents, such as the Sierra Club (CAW, Nova Scotia Nurses Union), Environmental Defence (United Steelworkers), Parkland Institute (Canadian Union of Public Employees), the Rideau Institute (CUPE), the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CUPE, CEP), the David Suzuki Foundation (B.C. Teacher’s Federation) and the Council of Canadians (CUPE, Canadian Union of Postal Workers, Hospital Employees’ Union, Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, Confederation of Canadian Unions, Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions, CAW, Pulp and Paper and Woodworkers of Canada, COPE, B.C. Teachers’ Federation, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers).  But we often only know about this funding because the recipients, not the unions, report it.

Over the summer, one Federal MP told me that she has never been lobbied as much as she is being lobbied by organized labour against Bill C-377.  Clearly, organized labour has chosen union financial disclosure as their preverbal hill to die on.

One has to wonder why …

It’s great that the Building Trade Unions support Prime Minister Harper’s direction on energy development and its great they believe he is moving forward with great nation building policies.  I support Prime Minister Harper’s approach as well and so does the open shop construction community, which actually represents the vast majority of construction workers in Canada.

But to tie the issues of energy development and union financial disclosure together in the same media release is dishonest and, quite frankly, embarrassing.

Canadian unions should embrace financial disclosure requirements.  And they shouldn’t tie their support for energy development to the desire of Canadians to have greater union financial transparency.

Oh ya …. I forgot to mention that Canadians support Bill C-377 – in fact, more union members want increase union financial disclosure than non-members ….

But I thought that unions already disclosed all of their finances to their members?

Right … they really don’t.

PP

Amend the Labour Code to eliminate unethical bid subsidy schemes

Before Christmas I wrote a blog titled, Top 10 Reasons to Amend the Alberta Labour Code, where I broadly laid out 10 public policy recommendations that are needed to make Alberta’s labour relations environment more competitive and fair.  The purpose of that blog was to introduce the topics. Over the coming weeks, I will be writing specific blogs about each idea.  I look forward to your comments – Alberta can be better; here are some ideas on how to get there.

I will start this series with recommendation 9, which reads:

Recommendation 9: Improve Alberta Labour Code provisions that address market enhancement recovery fund (“MERFs”), which are illegal bid subsidy schemes.

A practice occurs in Alberta whereby union construction companies in industrial markets (ie. Alberta’s oilsands) unfairly subsidize construction projects in commercial markets (A Calgary 7-11 store).  Under this complicated scheme, Alberta’s construction prices become inflated and less competitive, and Albertans receive less royalty revenue from its heavy industrial projects.  It’s a bad deal all around, especially since the only reason for this practice is to increase the market share of less competitive unionized construction companies.

In Alberta these bid subsidy schemes have been labelled “Market Enhancement Recovery Funds” (MERF).  They have also been called “Job Targeting Funds” (JTF) or “Stabilization Funds” (STAB).  Regardless of what you call them, they are all, in the words of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), “part of a strong organizing program aimed at securing monopoly of local labour markets.”

These schemes developed in Alberta because of high energy prices and our province’s rapidly expanding economy.  As the economy expanded, building trade unions such as the IBEW and the Plumbers and Pipefitters Union (UA) convinced some major oilsands project developers to grant them labour supply monopolies to build the projects.  The projects provided the financial means for exploiting faults in Alberta’s Labour Relations Code.

Here is how the schemes work:

In Alberta the schemes were initially created through collective agreements between unions and unionized employers.  Unionized contractors were required to remit part of their negotiated wages (up to $2.32/hr) to a union controlled fund. This fund was then available to other unionized contractors, which could apply for a subsidy on a project-by-project basis.  In some cases, the hour rate subsidy was estimated to be as high as $15 per hour multiplied by the total estimated hours of labour required for the projects.

The lion’s share of the financing came from large energy projects whereby unions were given labour supply monopolies. So why would oilsands companies agree to pay higher labour costs?

Part of the answer lies in Alberta’s royalty regime.  Alberta’s royalty structure allows for industrial project developers to pay lower royalties to the Alberta government until the capital cost of the project are recovered.  Essentially, this occurred because some large oilsands developers willingly paid a premium on their multibillion-dollar construction projects in a very hot economy to gain access to pools of unionized tradespeople.

The Government of Alberta recognized that this unfair scheme is a bad deal for Alberta taxpayers and in 2008 legislators introduced Bill 26 to end the practice.  Alberta’s new law sought to restrict how MERFs were collected and distributed.  Direct payments from employers to unions and unions to contractors to undercut the bids of more competitive contractors were prohibited.

Despite this legislation, the respective Building Trade Unions (BTU) immediately developed new schemes to circumvent the law.  In fact, within 6 weeks from when the Act became the law, one BTU Business Manager reported to members that it was “business as usual” and that the union would “have in place an alternative way of ensuring that (unionized) contractors will be competitive for this work.”  Some unionized contractors also mentioned anecdotally that relief was being provided under “something we don’t call a MERF anymore.”

In time, the various collective agreements were amended and the picture became clearer. While the names of the MERF’s were changed, the amount of monies that contractors were required to pay into newly created funds remained the same. As an example, the collective agreement between the Electrical Contractors Association of Alberta and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 424 prior to the 2008 legislation was referred to as the Market Target Recovery Trust Funds (MTRF) and the amount contractors were required to contribute to the fund was $.93 per straight time hour worked by each journeymen. In the subsequent collective agreement, the formerly referenced MTRF became the “Membership Development Fund” and the amount contractors remained obligated to remit continued to be $.93 per straight time hour worked by each journeyman.

Unions also got creative in how they distributed the money.  In one collective agreement, the previously named MERF was renamed, the Promotion of the Insulation Trade Trust or PITT. The hourly contribution rate remained unchanged at $.50 per straight time hour worked.

What did change can be found in a “Letter of Understanding” attached to and forming part of the revised collective agreement.  After agreeing that, “non-signatory contractors operating in the commercial/institutional sector do not offer Health and Welfare and Pension packages to their workforce equivalent to those contained in the collective agreement” the parties acknowledged that “the added cost of maintaining the agreement, ha[d] a negative impact on the ability of signatory contractors to compete, secure work and offer gainful employment opportunities to members of the union”. This problem is then dealt with in the final paragraph stating, “all current and future commercial work may, at the Employer’s discretion be enabled by waiving the Employer’s obligation to contribute on behalf of its employees to the Health and Welfare and the Pension Plan.” In other words the MERF no longer directly subsidizes wages; the subsidy is used to pay for health, welfare and pension plan benefits.

In the case of the Insulators, the value of this relief is equivalent to $6.50 per hour worked. This is concerning since charges for vacations, pensions and other funds are approximately 30% to 33% of the basic negotiated hourly “wage rate”. Under normal bidding conditions, these costs are added to the hourly charge a contractor would include in a bid estimate.

The legislation passed in 2008 was clearly intended to end “subsidizing the bids, tenders, fees or prices of” unionized construction contractors. A subsidy is a subsidy is a subsidy.

This unfair bid subsidy scheme is both increasing the cost of construction in Alberta and reducing the amount of royalty revenue being collected by the government.  The only purpose of these schemes is to increase the market share of less competitive union contractors.  Alberta needs to amend its labour code to end this unsavory practice once and for all.

PP

Top Ten Reasons to Amend the Alberta Labour Code

The Alberta Labour Relations Code was written in 1988 and has remained virtually untouched since that time.  Over the coming months, I will be writing a new blog series titled “Top Ten Reasons to Amend the Alberta Labour Code” in an effort to initiate an online discussion about the need to update this antiquated (cold-war era) legislation.

Much has happened in the world since 1988, including significant labour legislation changes in British Columbia and Saskatchewan, as well as Europe, the USA and most developed countries throughout the world.  The time has come to update this 23 year old piece of legislation in Alberta.

The governments of British Columbia and Saskatchewan have responded with labour code changes that made their workforces more nimble, fair and competitive.  As a result, these provinces have created a labour relations environment that is more conducive to attracting investment to their provinces.

In response to these changing circumstances in western Canada and around the world, a group of construction leaders formed a coalition to find ways to combat Alberta’s increasingly uncompetitive construction sector.  The group is called the Construction Competitiveness Coalition and its participants operate in both union and non-union environments.  Most of their recommendations are based on labour code changes that have already taken place in other provinces and jurisdictions around the world.  I will write a detailed blog about each of the recommendations in the coming months.

The opportunities for Alberta to become more competitive through Labour Code amendments generally fall into three (3) categories:

  • Creating economic advantages though cost and schedule certainty;
  • Creating bargaining structures for today’s workplaces; and
  • Improving fairness for employees and employers.

The top ten reasons to amend the Alberta Labour Code are:

Recommendation 1:   Amend Division 8 to address potential issues under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms

Recommendation 2:   Adopt legislation similar to that in British Columbia, which allows for the continuation of collective agreements in situations where a union becomes the bargaining agent for a workforce and there is an existing collective agreement in place for that workforce.

Recommendation 3:   Amend the Alberta Labour Code to allow contractors to complete existing work under the labour obligations that existed prior to certification.

Recommendation 4:   Amend the Alberta Labour Code to allow for certificates in the construction industry that cover all of the employees working for an employer.

Recommendation 5:   Amend the Alberta Labour Code to put into law a provision that allows for early renewal of collective agreements when all parties are in agreement and employees consent.

Recommendation 6:   Maintain the current approach to the “build up principle” in construction.

Recommendation 7:   Amend the Alberta Labour Code to prohibit unions from fining workers for the crime of working with an employer not affiliated with the union.

Recommendation 8:   Amend the Alberta Labour Code to prohibit unions from using union dues to support activities other than fulfilling the union’s obligations under the Code unless the union obtains prior consent of the employee.

Recommendation 9:   Improve Alberta Labour Code provisions that address market enhancement recovery fund (“MERFs”), which are illegal bid subsidy schemes.

Recommendation 10: Amend the Alberta Labour Code to clarify limits on the use of picket lines.

If you are still reading, you must be wondering what much of this means!  These are complicated but critically important matters.  Many of these policy recommendations have been implemented throughout the country and around the world and despite fierce opposition from union leadership, they have resulted in better, more competitive workplaces and happier workers.

I look forward to diving into each of these recommendations over the coming months and engaging in this important dialogue.

PP

Public Sector Forced to Support an Anti-Business Agenda

There is a battle brewing in Canada between the rights of individual Canadians and the agenda of union leaders.  The battle lines are being drawn and based on what I’ve seen so far, it’s going to be a difficult fight.

Canadians want changes – in Quebec, they want an end to ties between unions and organized crime and an end to wide-spread corruption.  In Ottawa, the federal government has introduced legislation that forces unions to publically disclose their finances.  In Alberta, there is a growing group of businesses, politicians and citizens who understand that Alberta’s Labour Relations Code needs to be updated if the province is to once again become competitive.  The last time Alberta’s Labour Code was significantly amended was 1988 – a full generation ago.

Union leaders, on the other hand, want the status quo and they appear to be willing to protect it at all costs.

However, the cost to Canadians of doing nothing about these critically important public policy issues is far too great.  Harold Wilson once said, “he who rejects change is the architect of decay.  The only human institution which rejects progress is the cemetery.”

Canadian labour laws are causing decay in our Country and it’s important for us to tackle the causes of this head on.  Canadian union leaders will dismiss calls for change and will use every tool at their disposal to stop progress from happening. We must be vigilant and stay the course.

The federal government has recently introduced a Private Members Bill on union financial disclosure. This legislation is necessary given the fact that Canadian unions essentially have the power of taxation on their members with absolutely no requirements for transparency.

The Alberta Union of Public Employees (AUPE), the union that represents Alberta’s public sector workers, is one of very few unions that make some of their financial information available.  Based on those records, it’s clear that Alberta’s bureaucracy is forced to support the unions’ own anti-business agenda through mandatory union dues or forced wage deductions whether they support the union’s agenda or not.

The AUPE’s financial records show that in 2011, $928,399 has been set aside for a “labour laws campaign” and another $368,922 has been reserved for an “anti-privatization campaign”.   While unions have every right to advocate for these causes and fight these campaigns, individual union members must have the right to decide whether they want to participate financially in these activities.  The problem in our current labour relations system is that public sector workers are forced to pay the bill for these campaigns through direct and mandatory wage deductions even if they disagree with the campaign or if they choose not to be card carrying members of their union.

In other words, the very same public servants who are asked to prepare briefing notes, policy drafts and legislative documents for politicians are forced, through mandatory union dues, to pay for an agenda that is directly in conflict with the job they work hard at, most often with pride, each day.

The inherent conflict of interest here is absolutely mind boggling.  It’s the ultimate example of the tail wagging the dog and should be deeply troubling to every single politician who wants to make Canada a better place to live and raise a family.

In Europe, governments have amended labour legislation to allow individual employees to opt out financially from political causes their unions choose to engage in.  In Europe, governments have also imposed strict financial disclosure rules on unions to ensure that these institutions are accountable.

With recent developments in Quebec and Ottawa, Canadians have started to take some steps in the right direction on labour law reform.  It’s time for Canadian provinces to join the rest of the world and take a larger step by embracing labour code changes such as those suggested in this blog.  If Alberta is to ever return to the Alberta Advantage, it needs to get ahead of other provinces by making the first move in this direction.

 If we are facing in the right direction, all we have to do is keep walking.

Buddhist Proverb

PP

Alison Redford’s Leadership Win and Unions

One the funniest and most ignorant comments on Twitter about Alison Redford’s PC Leadership win last weekend has been coming from both the left and right side of the political spectrum – mainly, the idea that Alison won the election thanks to unions.

While it’s true that Redford met with the Alberta Teacher’s Association and promised to put $100 million back into Alberta classrooms within 10 days of being elected to office, she does not owe her win to organized labour.  Instead, she owes her win to teachers, parents, students, nurses, doctors, engineers, electricians, janitors and every other Albertans who gave her their vote – whether they work in a unionized environment or not.

Alison Redford’s campaign was focused on policies that matter to everyday Albertans.  She talked about increasing accessibility to Alberta’s public healthcare system and providing predictable and sustainable funding for education.  She had ideas about making Alberta a global energy capital, as well as thoughts on economic diversification and job creation.  She talked about those expensive cell phone charges that annoy Canadians to no end.

On the specific topic of labour and unions, Alison is on record several times indicating that she is fully aware that the Alberta Labour Code hasn’t been touched since 1988 and that she supports a review to ensure that Alberta’s labour market remains competitive relative to other provinces in Canada and jurisdictions around the world.

So I just can’t help but laugh when I see tweet like “#pcldr chosen by unions” from a known NDP supporter or “I can’t believe we have a ‘conservative’ Premier in Alberta that is now beholden to unions …”

Of course this is nothing more than filthy and meaningless political rhetoric from terrified opposition party supporters who know that Alison is one of the most intelligent and capable leaders the PC Party has ever elected.

However, Albertans need not be afraid.  While Alison Redford did win the election with the help of teachers, she is NOT beholden to unions.

Take if from David Climenhaga, the most hard core union sympathizer I have ever met, who said in a recent blog that:

…while it’s a fact Alberta labour leaders can’t usually deliver their members’ votes to anyone, union members are paying attention and labour votes matter anyways.  In other words, you can’t tell union members what to do, but they’ll figure it out for themselves.”

David is right – individual union members don’t blindly follow what union bosses tell them to do.  The fact that teachers may have supported Alison Redford’s leadership bid because she promised to put money back into classroom has nothing to do with the union itself.

In fact, I look forward to testing Mr. Climenhaga’s conclusion that “Alberta labour leaders can’t usually deliver their members’ votes anymore” when the Alberta government undertakes a labour code review.

Will individual union members run to the polls to take down a government that considers an idea such as eliminating the fines that a union can charge its members for working for a non-union company?  I doubt it.

Will individual union workers get fired up about potential amendments to the labour code that could allow them to opt-out of paying the portion of their union dues that go towards political causes they don’t want to support?  I can’t see that happening.

What about recommendations that would allow both union and non-union construction workers to work harmoniously and efficiently side-by-side on the same jobsite.  Do you really think union members will drop their tool belts and run to the polls to vote against the Party their hiring hall tells them is making them commit this atrocity?   I wouldn’t hold my breath on that ….

If Alison Redford is beholden to anyone its Albertans – she campaigned directly to them with policies that matter to their everyday lives.  I am confident that as long as Alison Redford continues to do what is right for individual Albertans and Alberta’s economy, she owes nothing to unions themselves.

PP

A Bold Tim Hudak is Ready to Take Ontario in a New Direction!

Ontario PC Party Leader, Tim Hudak, released his Party’s election platform last weekend and showed the people of Ontario just how serious the Ontario PCs are about becoming the new government in that province.  The document is bold and ambitious, which is consistent with this leader and exactly what Ontario needs to get turned around.

Cleverly called the “Changebook”, Hudak and his Party have set a clear direction through this document that will make many Ontario residents excited.  Its focus is on putting “more money in families’ pockets, guarantee services and cleaning up government – it’s progressive and it’s conservative.   It’s the stuff winning campaigns are made of!

Of particular interest to this blogger is the section of the Changebook about making “Ontario labour laws fairer for union members and taxpayers”.  I am impressed that Hudak included these policy statements in this document.  It shows the he is not afraid to stand up for what is right on the labour front – something most politicians in Canada have struggled with.

The policies in this section are substantial: “giving individuals the right to a secret ballot in certification votes; introducing paycheck protection so union members are not forced to pay fees towards political causes they don’t support; requiring unions to be transparent and open with their financial information just as businesses and charities are.”

These policies address the issue of workplace democracy and transparency and are critically needed in Canada.  They address the rights of individuals within the collective.  It’s a subtle and complicated topic, but it’s critically important for Canadians to discuss.

One policy in this area is about increased financial transparency for unions.  This is long overdue.  Transparency is becoming more important in all aspects of business, government, charities, etc. … and unions must be held to the same standards.

Some people will kick and scream about how these policies are an assault on unions and the rights of workers.  They will make emotional arguments about how Hudak is trying to screw over the working man when in fact these policies will do the opposite – they will give individual workers rights vis-à-vis their union – they will correct an imbalance that currently exists in ALL Canadian unionized workplaces.

These are important rights to have.  Think about the fact that workers in Ontario’s construction industry do NOT have the right to a secret ballot for union certification votes.  That in itself is appalling in a modern Canadian democracy.

Now think about the fact that construction workers had this right stripped from them immediately after Dalton McGuinty became the Premier of Ontario.  Why?  Because Mr. McGuinty won the election with the help of $5 million in attack ads paid for by the “Working Families Coalition”, which is an organization made up of Ontario unions – primarily building trade unions.

Think about it – the “Working Families Coalition”, made up primarily of Building Trade Unions spend $5 million on negative attack ads to help McGuinty win the election.  As soon as McGuinty wins, he strips construction workers the right to a secret ballot so that it’s easier for these unions to get organized.  More organization means more money in union coffers and more money for attack ads to help the Liberals.  These things were not done in the interest of the Ontario construction worker; they were done in the interest of the Ontario Liberals and union bosses.

The “Working Families Coalition” is at it again this election – according to estimates, they are planning to spent up to $10 million of mandatory union dues on this round of American style personal attack ads.

This could be the reason that Hudak took it a step further and is campaigning on paycheck protection – or the right for union workers to opt out of having to contribute financially towards political causes they don’t support.  This type of legislation is needed in every province in Canada.

This right to disassociate financially from the political view of one’s union is just as important as the right to be part of that union or the fundamental right to association, which is guaranteed by the Charter.

Individual union members do not all support the same political parties or causes.  In fact, many unionized construction workers in Ontario will likely support Hudak and his PC Party in the next election.  These workers MUST be given the right to opt-out of paying dues that go towards the Ontario Liberals or other causes they do not believe in.

Imagine how you would feel if someone took a mandatory deduction from your paycheck to contribute to a political party you do not support?  It would not be accepted in a non-union setting and should no longer be tolerated in a unionized environment.

By introducing these policy pieces as part of his comprehensive “Changebook”, Hudak is showing the people of Ontario that he truly is ready to be the bold and deliberate leader they so desperately need.  He is proving that he understands what helping Ontario families ACTUALLY means and that he is willing to stand up for THEIR individual rights.

This is the kind of leadership Ontario needs and the kind of leadership that is needed across the country.

Kudos to Tim Hudak for putting forward a bold and ambitious policy agenda and best of luck in the next election – real working families across Ontario need your help.

PP

Hush Money

Much has been said in the past month about a “culture of intimidation” in Alberta’s healthcare system.  Allegations of bribery and corruption, hush money and two sets of books have been made with virtually no proof, and Alberta’s opposition parties have added a healthy dose of drama and theatre to the whole event in an attempt to keep the story alive.

It’s been quite a show and it may continue for a while.

But I’m here to argue that Albertans have accepted and condoned a culture of intimidation in this province, and the consequence has been a substantial erosion of our public services, as well as a democratic deficit.  If this culture continues, I’m afraid that the hard working silent majority of Albertans will continue to lose.

I have spoken to several seniors on a board I serve on in the past few weeks who have been asking me why Alberta’s teachers are receiving these relatively large raises in this economic environment.  While these individuals are not against paying teachers well and don’t suggest that the Government should not support public sectors employees, they feel that the raise this year is too high relative to the economic realities in the province.  The fact that most of these seniors received an extra ten dollars a month from government support programs, while teachers received much more doesn’t exactly sit well with them either.

What also doesn’t sit well with them or with me is that despite the fact that teachers are getting these increases, the quality of our education system is eroding.  What makes this pill even more difficult to swallow is the fact that most individual teachers I have talked to say that they would rather see this money go into the system to support their ability to teach effectively.  Teachers, like every other professional, need tools and resources to be effective.

Have you ever tried to fix something in your house or on your car without the proper tools?  You can usually get the job done, but it will typically take much longer and the final product will not be as good as it could have been.  This is the situation our relatively well paid and over worked teachers face on a daily basis in their professions.

Why?

Five years ago, the government and Alberta Teachers Association signed a historic 5 year labour deal, which turned out to be a very bad deal for tax payers.  At the time, the government was comfortable signing huge cheques to pay for the unfunded pensions and generous pay increases.  After all, the future was bright for our province and there was no place to go but up!

WRONG!

The global economy tanked and Alberta’s economic situation flip flopped more extremely than Rob Anderson did on Bill 36 after switching political parties.  Down was the new up – red the new black; and many Albertans found themselves in financial difficulty.  So did the Alberta Government.  Teachers, however, received pay increases that did not fit the economic realities of the times and classroom resources suffered.

Actually, Alberta’s students suffered and the many hard working taxpayers with kids in the system are picking up the tab.

The Alberta government and ATA are now in the preliminary stages of discussions about what the next collective agreement should look like and the province has once again indicated that another five year deal is desirable.  At the same time, the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) has mounted an offensive against the government, asking Premier Stelmach “to confirm he is not considering U.S.- style attack on the rights of public sector workers.”  These two things are not happening at the same time by accident.

AFL is throwing up a smoke screen to create an environment where the government has its back up against the wall during negotiations with the ATA.  The rhetoric is getting ratcheted up and a completely unfounded environment fear is being created.  The AFL’s open letter to Premier Stelmach is nothing more than public fear mongering and intimidation.  As a tax payer, I find the entire exchange appalling!

The ATA and AFL are working together to give taxpayers another raw deal, while the quality of our education system continues to erode.  We are buying the silence of public sector unions at the expense of future generations and it’s not right.

If the government insists on a five year labour deal with the ATA, that deal should have no pay increases for teachers in the next three years and very modest increases in the last two.  Money needs to be directed back into the system.  Taxpayers got a raw deal last time, so the ATA should be reasonable.  Teachers need the right tools to effectively do their jobs and all available resources should go toward providing the tools.

I have no faith, however, that the ATA will agree.  The rhetoric will continue to get ratcheted up and the culture of public fear will be alive and well.  AFL will play trusty wing-man and help to create this “culture of intimidation” against taxpayers based on claims of a potential attack on the public sector, which are made with virtually no evidence or substantial support.

Tax payers should not be so willing to give into this culture of public intimidation that is created by the ATA, AFL and other public sector unions and we should not be OK with buying their silence.

Either the government or the opposition parties should stand up for tax payers.  Enough hush money – lets fix our problems.

PP

Merit Pay for Teachers?

The idea of introducing some form of merit pay for teachers floated by BC Liberal Leadership Candidate, Kevin Falcon, has started a frenzy of political chatter across the country as interest groups, media and commentators weigh in on the pros and cons of this issue.

What’s interesting about an issue like this is that it’s seen by most people as the kind of “divisive” issue that is better left alone.  As soon as it comes up, teachers unions from across the country go into hyper-drive to ensure that every newspaper across the country is filled with editorials and comments about how bad this idea is.  I take the view that rather than avoiding it, we should meet the matter head on so that we can create a reasonable compromise and move forward.

The most common argument against merit pay for teachers is that there are too many factors that contribute to student success or failure, many of which are completely out of teacher control.  It’s usually quickly dismissed as an idea that is too complex with too many unknowns – therefore not worth pursuing.  Teachers and union leaders, who are all “experts” in the system – a system which hasn’t changed for their entire careers – assure us it’s the wrong way to go.  Most people don’t know better, so we buy it and move on without much thought.

The current reward structure in the education system is based on seniority, which is hugely problematic given Alberta’s quickly aging population.  As the profession ages, the attraction and retention of as many new teachers as possible is a key priority and merit pay could be an excellent solution.  It’s important to note the staggering fact that 30 per cent of new teachers leave the profession within five years – a clear problem for the industry.

Before I move on, I feel the need to put my views about Alberta Education on the table.  It’s abundantly clear that Alberta has one of the most successful education systems in the world.  The test scores of Alberta students prove that we are doing many things right.  The reason I write this blog post is not to create a division or to suggest that we need to blow our education system up and start from scratch – that’s a ridiculous notion for any public policy idea.  I write it because I believe that when a suggestion like this comes up, the issue at the core of the debate is rarely touched on.

Having said that, our world is changing and Alberta is considering a significant update to its education system.  I agree with the need to update the system, since the world has and will continue to change very rapidly – we need to ensure that we are ahead of these changes if we are to stay on top.  Our children need to learn how to think on their feet, be creative and innovative – not just how to pass a standardized test.

Personally, I see very little value in standardized tests, so I definitely agree with the notion that it’s a bad idea to base merit pay for teachers on those results.  Furthermore, teaching children the curriculum is the teachers job – if most of a class fails a standardized test, that teachers abilities and methods need to be closely examined and actions need to be taken.  Currently, the preferred action is to shuffle bad teachers from school to school until they just decide to leave the profession – a less than inspiring reality.

But there are other activities, behaviors and attitudes that merit pay can reward, which are worth, at the very least, trying on a pilot project basis.

Merit pay could be given for extracurricular activity, such as helping to coach the school team, putting on the Christmas recital, or volunteering to take the class on its annual trip.  As I understand it, doing one of these activities is mandatory for every teacher in every school.  What if it wasn’t mandatory and the teachers who wanted to do it had the opportunity to earn a little extra income for their time.  This is sure to be appealing to new teachers who may have more energy and enthusiasm.

Some portion of merit pay could be given based on student evaluations – although this particular idea may only be practical in high school or later grades.  For example, every June students could be asked to fill out an evaluation.  The bottom 5 per cent of teachers could appear before a panel to discuss their evaluation results, or perhaps other teachers would sit in on their classes to evaluate their teaching styles more closely – this would be an important piece, as some unpopular teachers may be effective educators.  If five per cent of merit pay is based on these evaluations, a scale can be developed and percentage of merit pay can be based on how a teacher performs relative to their colleagues.

Merit pay could also be based on parent evaluations, peer evaluations amongst teachers, or a principal’s assessment.  Merit pay could be given to teachers who adopt new methods or technologies, consistently follow internal communications protocols, or get involved in community initiatives.  The point is that the corporate world has very effectively used merit pay to incent behaviors and attitudes, and there are thousands of models that could be utilized to create a teachers merit pay structure that works.

While teachers don’t enter the profession because of the pay, these extra incentives could be what keeps younger teachers interested in the profession for long enough to make a career of it.  The administration of such a system would be very simple and objective.  Merit pay could be 10 per cent of annual salary and points could be assigned for the make up of that pay – say 3 points for extracurricular activity (what that means would be defined), 3 points from student evaluations, 2 points for peer evaluations and 2 point for the principals assessment – as an example.

Another important notion to put on the table is that merit pay for teachers should be added as a bonus structure to current salaries, not as a way to pay some teachers more than they make now at the expense of other teachers.  The public would have to eat this cost – we should consider it an investment in our future.

The resistance to merit pay for teachers has less to do with whether it is a good idea, whether it will produce better or different outcomes, or whether it would be difficult to implement.  It has everything to do with union control and ideology – raw power politics.

A union gets its power by controlling a workforce – the most valuable asset in any industry.  If there is a hill to die on for any union, it’s on the notion of merit pay because this idea inevitably means that some degree of control over compensation has to be given to “management” or put in other words, taken away from the union.  The unions desire to maintain full control over teacher compensation is the only real reason behind such fierce objection to merit pay.

The solutions to most problems in society are in the middle or through compromise.  Let’s move past the notion of hard-core right or left wing views and get to the root of the issue.  This issue is NOT about reducing union power or control; it’s about the retention of new teachers and creating the best education workforce in the world.

I look forward to your thoughts ….

PP

My Progressive Conservative Alberta

I write this piece in response to @cdtenergy’s blog about what “progressive” means to him.  You can read his blog HERE.  There are some areas where Chris and I agree – I will get to them shortly.  However, when I read his words, I’m reminded of Michael Ignatief – an elitist academic that looks down on the rest of us from his ivory tower, feeling somehow burdened that he must fulfill his divine mission in life – leading some modern day Renaissance.

If I sound like I’m writing from my angry place it’s because I am!  This holier than thou attitude is really the furthest thing from progressive.  While I don’t know Chris at all, I would venture to guess that according to The Wisdom of the Enneagram, his personality type is a one (1) – a Reformer.  Look it up.  Coincidentally, my personality type is a seven (7) – an Enthusiast.  Interestingly, reformers and enthusiasts have a strong connection with each other – I encourage you to read the book, it’s fascinating.

@cdtenergy’s blog is about a modern day Renaissance.  He has previously blogged about “Looking for a Savior”.  He talks about DaVinci and Galileo, and uses words like Quixotic and “For Shame”.  Chris paints me as a conservative boogeyman that is not that scary.  He is right – I am not scary at all.  I’m a simple guy who looks around at the world and realizes he has a very high standard of living and is very lucky to live in the remarkable province of Alberta.

Chris gives the dictionary definition of Progressive, which is:

  • In favor of new ideas, modern methods and change;
  • Happening or developing steadily.

When I read this definition, I can’t help think about how many times the words “evidence-based” appeared in the document leaked by the Alberta Liberal Party last week.  The Alberta government’s approach to health care reform has, in my opinion, been very progressive.  A few years back, we had long wait times for hip and knee replacement surgery.  The government set up a pilot project, tested a new approach, proved its effectiveness and implemented it system-wide.  Those wait times are no longer an issue in this province.

That is progressive governance and from what I see, the approach still being taken on healthcare reform in Alberta.  Unfortunately, this progressive approach takes time – it’s an evolution not a revolution.  Opposition and media don’t function on the basis of evolution though, so they will continue a campaign of fear and crisis creation to make it look like the government doesn’t care or is not competent.  There is nothing progressive about this approach at all!

When I read the letter written by Mr. Duckett’s wife, Terri Jackson, I thought about what it means to live in a progressive society.  Very sincere lines like “to opposition politicians:  you should know that Stephen has been a lifelong campaigner for equity and social justice in Australia and a leader in the “defend and extend (Australian) Medicare campaign for many years.  Alberta will not find a more passionate defender of publically funded healthcare.”

The Government searched the world for the best and brightest and found Stephen Duckett, who was vilified and labeled as Alberta Health’s boogeyman before he even left his country, his friends and his family to turn Alberta Health Services into a progressive, world leading healthcare system.

The comment on my blog from KT, a neurologist who works in the system, speaks volumes :  “I am not convinced that we capitalized on Dr. Duckett’s expertise and that we gave him the environment needed to make healthcare decisions based on his knowledge.”   The government was progressive in bringing Mr. Duckett to Alberta but opposition, media and unions made it impossible for him to succeed.

Opposition uses words like “progressive” because they sound nice.  Their approach to politics, however, is based on sensational stories, sky-is-falling fear campaigns and American style politics that focus on character assassination and personal insult.  I point to the Stelmach no Plan Ads from the last campaign and more recent Greenpeace ads.  Folks, there is nothing progressive about this at all.  Like I’ve said before, the burden of proof for opposition is nil and the opposition takes full advantage.  Groups like Greenpeace and other alarmist environmental organizations aren’t accountable to anyone.  Their irony is in just how regressive they are!

When opposition has evidence based arguments I think about them and consider them.  I believe the Alberta Government does the same and often implements the ideas that are good.  They may not admit it, but that’s politics.  The Alberta Liberal Party can give you many examples of their good ideas that the PCs have implemented.  Those are times when the opposition was very effective.  Those are times when the opposition is progressive.

A few years ago, the Alberta Government passed the Land Assembly Act.  This piece of legislation was necessary to enable the province to assemble land to build ring roads around Edmonton and Calgary.  Certain people who now belong to the new party on the left travelled the province spreading blatant lies that the government was passing the Act to allow nuclear power generation.  There is nothing progressive about these fear campaigns.  Our ring roads are being built, which is great news for our two largest cities and I haven’t heard a peep about nuclear power since the government had investigated it as an option (around the same time it was passing the Land Assembly Act).

The important point here is that the government was being progressive – in favor of new ideas, modern methods and change.  In fact, the Government of Alberta looks at ALL ideas and methods and implements what it believes is the best approach.  Not everyone will agree, but everyone’s ideas are listened to and considered.  That to me is a progressive government.

Our government has made some big mistakes – there is no question.  But it has corrected these mistakes and focuses on moving forward.  It’s my opinion that Premier Stelmach would be more popular if he was more frank about these errors.  All governments have always and will continue to make mistakes – after all, governments are made up of people and we are not perfect creatures – thank goodness! But a progressive government acts to correct these mistakes and I believe this government has proven that it listens to citizens when mistakes are revealed and is willing to make the appropriate adjustments.  We need to get better at admitting that we made the mistakes though – people are remarkably forgiving when we admit to mistakes – Ralph knew this well.  Ed is a much stronger leader than Ralph was in many ways, but he can definitely do better on this front.

This blog is nothing like I imagined it.  I was going to write about the incredibly important task Alberta faces to ensure that immigrants and new Albertans are supported, encouraged and integrated into our society as quickly and seamlessly as possible to explain what my progressive Alberta looks like.  Immigration is so critical to our future.  We expect high standards from our immigrants, high education levels, etc., yet when they get here we don’t even allow them work in their industry.  This is because we have become an elitist society that hides behind our high education and training standards to exclude newcomers.  There is nothing progressive about this attitude or this approach.

If someone is a African trained doctor with 15 years of experience that person should be working in the healthcare system in one capacity or another – this does not happen now and it has nothing to do with the government – its organizations like unions and professional associations that stop it from happening.  This elitist attitude must stop if we are going to be a progressive society – one that is in favor of new ideas, modern methods and change.

I consider myself a very progressive person – Its funny that @cdtenergy mentioned Walmart – I don’t’ shop there – @crontynen and I try to shop at the Calgary Farmers’ Market as much as possible because we believe in buying locally.  I truly consider myself a Progressive Conservative.  And I believe that before we aspire towards a modern day Renaissance we should make sure we have the simple things right and we should ALL take some ownership of our progressive future.

When my family immigrated to Alberta, the government was there to help with ESL training and other great services.  These services continue to be available to new Albertans – Calgary Catholic Immigration Services is a world class organization and great partner of the Alberta Government.  But we were also taken in by another Polish family.  We were supported by the Polish people.  We were integrated into broader society through the Polish community.  That is a progressive conservative society – one that doesn’t believe the government is responsible for solving ALL of our problems.

I hope I articulated what the word progressive means to me, but I will agree with people who believe we are losing some of our progressiveness in Alberta.  I will also reiterate that if one looks at how the Government of Alberta conducts its business, it’s clear they take a progressive and conservative approach – in favor of new ideas, modern methods and change and happening or developing steadily.

With a leader like Steady Eddie aka Honest Ed, I don’t know how you can believe otherwise IF you take the time to look at the facts.

Never trust a party that offers you the past – @cdtenergy wants to take you back 5-600 years.  Let’s look forward to the Alberta we want to create and let’s have an HONEST discussion about how to get there.  Let’s make sure that moving forward, we don’t leave people behind.  Let’s get out of our ivory towers and roll up our sleeves.  My Progressive Alberta is one where everyone takes some personal responsibility for the future and everybody does their part.  Many passionate Albertans and I have chosen the Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta to get there – we hope you consider joining us!

PP