Alberta to rehire teachers after Redford win

Alberta school boards are already moving to hire teachers one day after Alison Redford's upset victory as premier-designate.
Alberta Premier-designate Alison Redford was in the CBC Edmonton newroom Monday for an interview with Evan Solomon from CBC's Power and Politics. (CBC)

Alberta school boards are already moving to hire teachers one day after Alison Redford's upset victory as new Progressive Conservative party leader and premier-designate. 

On Sunday morning, Redford repeated her promise to reverse the Stelmach government's $107 million funding cut to education.

"I just find that absolutely phenomenal," said Debbie Engel, chair of the Edmonton Catholic School Board. "You have no idea the complaints we've had from parents."


Breaking the 'glass ceiling'

Once premier, Alison Redford will join Newfoundland and Labrador's Kathy Dunderdale, B.C.'s Christy Clark and Nunavut's Eva Aariak as the country's fourth sitting female premier. (Dunderdale is campaigning to keep her party's majority intact on Oct. 11.) 

Redford is about to become just the seventh woman in Canadian history to crack what some observers have dubbed the "glass ceiling" of politics — leading a province or territory.

She could face a strong challenge from Wild Rose Alliance Leader Danielle Smith in the next Alberta election. But Smith has to win a seat and lead her party past the provincial Liberals before the two can make Canadian history — by being the first women to face each other as premier and official opposition leader.

Engel said she has already spoken with her superintendent about where to place the returning teachers and will firm up plans when the school board meets on Wednesday.

The board, which laid off 97 teachers over the summer, is expecting about $10 million in restored funding.

"Once we know what our share of the pie is, the teachers can be hired the next day," said Engel. "This is a happy day for new graduates at the University of Alberta looking for work."

Engel is also happy about Redford's promise to end the "feast-and-famine" method of school funding, where schools discover each spring their budget for the coming school year.

"You spend all this money, you start all these programs and then, all of sudden, the money's not there," said Engel.

Instead Redford promises stable funding in three-year cycles.

The news was also welcomed by chairman of the Edmonton Public School Board, Dave Colburn. The public board had to cut 229 teaching and 115 non-teaching positions to make up a $14 million shortfall.

"I would expect that absolutely we will be hiring teachers as a result of this increased allocation," he said.

School system like 'an oil tanker'

Dennis Theobold from the Alberta Teachers' Association said now that the school year is underway, putting teachers back into the classroom won't happen quickly.

"The school system is a bit like an oil tanker," he said. "It doesn't turn very quickly and it doesn't speed up or slow down."

Laurie Pollitt, assistant vice-principal at St. Catherine Elementary and Junior High School in Edmonton, said the cuts hit her school hard because many of her students require English language support.

She is optimistic about what will happen if funding is restored.

"My hopes are definitely that we could provide a little bit more [English as a Second Language] support for our students," she said.

Meanwhile Redford named a team of party stalwarts to help her make the transition into the premier's office. 

The team, to be chaired by Calgary lawyer and Redford's long-time friend Robert Hawkes, will include her campaign manager Stephen Carter, campaign staff Jeff Henwood and Josh Traptow, James Heelan, Alberta Health Services Chair Ken Hughes, political strategist Susan Elliott, policy analyst Annette Hester, and communications consultant Gord Rosko.