New curriculum deepens old political divide in Alberta

Brings back memories of working on Discover Canada, the citizenship study guide introduced by former immigration and citizenship minister Kenney (my book, https://wordpress.com/page/multiculturalmeanderings.com/2507, has a chapter covering that):

When Alberta’s NDP government was still in power, the United Conservative Party campaigned on the idea that its political rival was trying to smuggle politics into Alberta classrooms. Once in office, UCP Education Minister Adriana LaGrange said her own government’s plans for a sweeping curriculum revamp would be about getting away from any “ideological bent.”

But when everyone got the first official look at the UCP’s draft kindergarten-to-Grade 6 curriculum this week, it became clear that the governing party’s political stamp is on its own strategy. In social studies, in particular, it’s a prescriptive, details-heavy document with a take on history that’s not an easy sell to many parents, or the people who teach the stuff.

The document asks Grade 3 students – kids aged 8 or 9 – to explain items many grownups struggle with, including the clauses of Magna Carta, the First Nations’ claim to land beyond the settled area of New France and “why Alberta is a leading resource-producing region.”

There was never a chance that a large-scale blueprint that outlines the lessons that will mould young minds would be anything but political. Education is a fraught issue everywhere, but it’s especially so in the polarized landscape that is Alberta politics. Here, there’s no consensus on where the oil and gas-focused economy needs to go, and where it feels like the NDP and UCP are locked in a perpetual, election-like battle.

The government says the draft K-6 curriculum brings a renewed focus to literacy, numeracy, citizenship and practical skills. Everyone seems to agree that the addition of financial skills, computer coding and sexual consent are good things.

The government is asking for feedback from the public but intends to test the curriculum in some classrooms this fall, and all students are expected to be learning it in the 2022-23 school year. The quick turnaround for reimagining the curriculum is in step with the government’s focus on fulfilling campaign commitments, even in the midst of a pandemic.

Alberta has long had a strong, well-regarded public-education system with high student test scores in reading, math and science, compared with global peers. Ms. LaGrange, however, also notes that some parts of the curriculum are decades old, and raw scores are either flat or seeing a decline.

“This is actually very ambitious – to change all of the curriculum at one time,” said Ms. LaGrange in an interview this week with The Globe and Mail.

But already, the Métis Nation of Alberta has called for a redo. Edmonton Public Schools – which counts more than 100,000 students of all grades on its rolls – said Thursday that it will not participate in a pilot run of the draft elementary curriculum this fall. The decision is based on worries about bringing in a new program during the pandemic. But there’s also high public concern as to whether the curriculum is age-appropriate, whether it properly addresses the issues of residential schools and reconciliation, and whether an “us-versus-them mentality” is embedded in the document.

Elk Island Public Schools is also out, and Edmonton Catholic Schools has saidit “will not be committing to piloting the curriculum.”

All subjects are under intense scrutiny but social studies appears to be the major sticking point. Some parents and critics say the curriculum is far too dense for young students, mishandles issues of race and leaves out LGBTQ issues, is too American- and European-centric, or is focused on the three major Abrahamic religions.

There are seemingly gratuitous partisan jabs, like in Grade 6, where the curriculum notes that “the United States Congress, controlled by the Democratic party, ruled in the Fugitive Slave Act that escaped slaves must be returned to their owners.”

NDP critic Sarah Hoffman’s blunt assessment is “this is a mess of a curriculum.”

But the UCP is responding, in part, to broader concerns about the education system – which Ms. LaGrange notes helped her party win the 2019 election. A key part of this is what she has described as the political biases of some individual teachers.

Last year, Ms. LaGrange referred to an excerpt from an exam that she said was from a Grade 10 class in Calgary. She argued that it was an attack on the province’s responsible energy sector. A multiple-choice question asked students to identify “one of the valid arguments against oil sands development” being the destruction of tracts of forest.

“My main concern has always been to ensure that our curriculum is taught without bias,” the Education Minister said the interview. “And the fact that the new draft curriculum is really based on factual content – that will really leave little room for bias in our classrooms.”

But the other side of this argument is that the ability of teachers to adapt to circumstances is diminished. “The new curriculum turns education into a checklist and rote memorization,” said Alberta Party Leader Jacquie Fenske.

And a second, related theme for the UCP is that current teaching now is so focused on the many errors of history, and injustices, that it fails to note the accomplishments of modern civilization, in Alberta and elsewhere. Premier Jason Kenney says it’s possible to face up to historical racism, for instance, “while also teaching how we have increasingly managed to overcome those things, and how we’ve created this incredibly diverse, pluralistic society.”

This part of the revamp is very on-brand for the UCP. Part of it, however, feels incongruous in a week when Mr. Kenney talked about “hitting our stride in diversification.”

An overly political remaking of Alberta’s now-strong school system is galvanizing parent groups who are against the changes. A big fight over the base curriculum for the youngest kids is not only bad for the province, it could make potential newcomers – and even the companies and investors Mr. Kenney’s government has spent two years trying to entice – less enthusiastic about coming to the province.

Politics will be part of any new curriculum. But Mr. Kenney’s UCP is, as often, in danger of letting politics take over.

Source: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/article-new-curriculum-deepens-old-political-divide-in-alberta/

Alberta Tories launch new program to subsidize “multiculturalism” and “inclusion”

Sounds familiar to Kenney’s reboot of the federal multiculturalism program in 2010-11 and its objectives (which were needed in their re-emphasis on the civic integration purpose of multiculturalism):

Alberta’s UCP government has created a new grant program to provide up to $25,000 a year in subsidies to organizations promoting “cross-cultural understanding, celebrating diverse backgrounds and helping Albertans understand the impacts of discrimination.”

In a news release, Culture, Multiculturalism and Status of Women Minister Leela Aheer said that the new Multiculturalism, Indigenous and Inclusion Grant will make Alberta “a place where all people feel their culture is valued and respected.”

Organizations can apply for the $25,000 matching grant if their proposal supports multiculturalism, indigenous issues or “inclusion projects.”

Source: Alberta Tories launch new program to subsidize “multiculturalism” and “inclusion”

Program link: Multiculturalism, Indigenous and Inclusion Grant Program

Anti-racism council unsure if it will continue its work under UCP government

More a rhetorical than a real question. Unlikely:

A government-led council dedicated to combat racism in Alberta appears to be in limbo, with its members saying they haven’t received any concrete direction on the future of their mandate from the new United Conservative government.

The Anti-Racism Advisory Council was put together under the NDP government in February, shortly before April’s provincial election that ended with a change in government. Spearheaded by then-education minister David Eggen, the council was the first of its kind in Alberta, and advised the government on the development of anti-racism and anti-discrimination programs.

The council has since been shifted to Multiculturalism and Status of Women Minister Leela Aheer, her ministry has confirmed. But since the change of government, the 24-member council hasn’t been active and hasn’t received any direction from Aheer on their mandate.

Heather Campbell and Lucenia Ortiz, the co-chairs of the advisory council, said they were introduced briefly to Aheer in a phone conversation May 24.

“We have not heard from minister Aheer or from any of her staff since then,” the co-chairs said in an email. They added they worry about the future of the council, as the new fiscal plan for the ministry makes no mention of funding allocated specifically to the council.

“It would be difficult for the council to hold meetings when there are no resources to cover travel and accommodation for many out-of-town members,” the co-chairs said. The council was intended to do the bulk of its work with the government in Edmonton, they added.

Aheer’s spokesperson Danielle Murray said in a statement that continuing to support diversity and inclusion is a priority of the government. Murray, however, did not answer questions about whether funding has been specifically allocated for the council to continue its work.

The Anti-Racism Advisory Council is part of a larger initiative that began under the previous government to take more bold action on addressing racism in the province, following the Quebec mosque shooting that killed six people and injured 19 in early 2017. Following the announcement of the council, the province received more than 300 applicants for its 24 seats.

Source: Anti-racism council unsure if it will continue its work under UCP government

Kenney’s misdirection on candidate woes would make David Copperfield proud

Would have expected more from him given his past federal experience in community outreach and understanding of these kinds of sensitivities. Noteworthy change to the pre-election period:

I don’t know if United Conservative Party leader Jason Kenney has ever thought of a job as a magician.

This week he displayed the kind of misdirection that would make David Copperfield proud.

When asked about the Islamophobic and homophobic posts from one of his candidates in Calgary, Kenney didn’t address the controversial posts. Instead, he praised the candidate, Eva Kiryakos in Calgary-South East, as “selfless” for voluntarily stepping done to avoid becoming a “distraction” for the party during the election campaign.

And he didn’t stop there. He tried to describe her as a victim: “Eva’s also from a minority community herself. She is from a Middle Eastern refugee family, from a community that has faced a history of genocide.” She can’t possibly be guilty of intolerance, he seemed to be saying, because she’s from a community that has been the victim of intolerance.

Kenney wasn’t the only one trying to make Kiryakos into the injured party. She was vigorously doing that herself when explaining why she resigned for the campaign.

“Someone outside of our party has been threatening to smear me, and I have had enough of the bullies and the threats,” she said in a statement. That’s why she quit.

She’s the victim of bullying and a smear campaign. Except that it might be more accurate to say she’s the victim of her own intolerant postings on social media that include, but are not limited to, this example: “Muslim forces continue to use murder, rape, kidnapping, terror and forced breeding in pursuit of Christian Genocide in the Middle East while the world turns a blind eye.”

And this post about gay-straight alliances in schools: “You’re not interested in protecting children with GSAs, you’re interested in converting them.” When Kiryakos stepped down she was angry, she was defiant and she painted herself as a defender of free speech: “I voiced my honest opinion.” But she was not repentant.

Welcome to the new normal in Alberta politics. Well, in UCP politics. It would appear that when UCP members find themselves brought down by their own controversial histories, they no longer apologize or explain. They defiantly point fingers at anonymous others, claim victimhood and try to change the channel.Probably because this is becoming such a familiar narrative from the UCP.

On the eve of the election last week, another candidate, Caylan Ford in Calgary-Mountain View quit because of her own witless postings about how she was “somewhat saddened by the demographic replacement of white peoples in their homelands.” She never apologized but Kenney did at least address the comments as “completely inexplicable” and said she made the right decision by resigning.“Let me be clear, I condemn the remarks included in the texts that she had sent,” said Kenney.

By the time Kiryakos’ comments came to light, though, Kenney apparently didn’t want to repeat the slander, so to speak, by directly addressing the postings. This is a different tack to what Kenney and the UCP have done the past year when faced with members who have a history of hateful or ridiculous postings on social media.

Last July, the UCP disqualified Todd Beasley, who was vying for the party’s nomination in Brooks-Medicine Hat, for Islamophobic tweets.

Later that month, Sandra Kim found herself in trouble in the nomination race in Maskwacis-Wetaskiwin for social media posts critical of same-sex marriage. Then there were the three UCP nomination candidates for Edmonton-West Henday who found themselves in trouble in October for posing for photos with members of the anti-immigrant organization, Soldiers of Odin.

In several of these cases, the UCP issued condemnations.

In August, for example, the party denounced the social media postings of businessman Jerry Molnar who was contesting the nomination race in the riding of Lac Ste. Anne-Parkland. He had, among other things, called the now-former premier of Ontario, Kathleen Wynn, who is openly gay, a “tranny.”

The party’s executive director, Janice Harrington, wrote Molnar a letter bluntly saying his posts would be used by the NDP to cause “serious reputational harm” to the UCP and its members.

“We would not let a candidate for the NDP off the hook for an offensive comment simply because it was said on his or her personal Facebook,” added Harrington.

Harrington, of course, was correct.

The NDP these days is happy to use the posts of Ford and Kiryakos to help cause serious reputational harm to the UCP.As a defence strategy the UCP is no longer condemning the posts or vilifying those doing the posting.

That’s because we’re in the middle of an election campaign where the NDP is trying to focus people’s attention on the social conservative background of UCP leader Kenney.

Last week, NDP leader Rachel Notley said, “I personally do not believe that Jason Kenney is racist, but I believe that the UCP as a party has a problem with racism.”

And this ongoing question from the NDP: why does the UCP seem to attract an inordinate number of people with extreme or bigoted views? And pointing out that even though Ford and Kiryakos are no longer candidates, they are still UCP members.

This is a deliberate strategy by the NDP to help recreate the conditions that led to the meltdown of the right-wing Wildrose party (one of the legacy parties of the UCP) in the final days of the 2012 campaign over racist and homophobic utterances from several candidates. The Wildrose committed political suicide by defending the culprits.

The big difference for Kenney this time around is that he has the miscreants tossed overboard quickly. But he’s doing it more and more gently, praising the latest as “selfless.” He doesn’t want to make a fuss and he’s hoping when they hit the water they won’t even make a ripple, never mind a splash.

Source: Kenney’s misdirection on candidate woes would make David Copperfield proud

Jason Kenney announces UCP immigration policy

Kenney does know the immigration file and focus on rural Alberta reflects ongoing concerns in rural communities across Canada and the focus on the Provincial Nominee Program makes sense.

One of the interesting apparent paradoxes is that rural Canadians tend to have more reservations about general immigration levels (particularly family and refugee class) and multiculturalism but yet recognize their demographic needs require more immigrants:

Kenney said the UCP plan would aim to bring approximately 10,000 newcomers in total to rural Alberta every year.

Kenney, who served as federal immigration minister from 2008 to 2013, said the plan is meant to address population decline in rural Alberta and reinvigorate the provincial economy.

It mirrors a recent move by the federal government aimed at placing more immigrants in rural communities across Canada.

While immigration is largely seen as a federal responsibility, it is shared between the provinces and Ottawa.

Each province and territory negotiates its own agreement, but that falls within a broader immigration policy set by the federal government.

Alberta immigration policy

In Alberta, there is both a comprehensive immigration agreement and an immigrant nominee program that allows the province to target would-be Albertans based on labour needs.

The federal government assigns a quota of approximately 5,000 positions for the Alberta nominee program.

Kenney says for each one of those positions, typically four people — family members of the nominee — settle in the province.

“I truly believe we have not been as proactive or energetic as we should be in this program,” said Kenney, as he outlined the UCP’s plan if it forms the next provincial government in an election that has not been called yet by Rachel Notley’s governing NDP.

Under Alberta legislation, the election must take place between March 1 and May 31, 2019, with a 28-day campaign.

Kenney’s plan calls for partnerships with rural communities, where referrals from those communities can help place immigrants into the provincial nomination process.

He estimates these changes could bring 8,000 newcomers to smaller communities each year.

Kenney says the plan is based on Manitoba’s system, where 20 per cent of newcomers now settle in rural areas.

Entrepreneur program could add 2,000 people to rural areas

The UCP would also create what it’s calling a rural entrepreneur stream.

It would set aside 500 position for immigration to the province for those who meet minimum income and investment thresholds and are willing to invest in businesses in rural communities.

Kenney says those immigrants would have to be active majority owners of those businesses.

He says the UCP estimates the entrepreneur program could mean an additional 2,000 people coming to rural communities each year.

That system is based on one in British Columbia.

Kenney said there are details that would have to be worked out before the immigration policy was established, based on what he said would be extensive consultations with immigrants, agencies, municipalities and more.

He also said Alberta under the UCP would push for a larger share of immigrants outside of the provincial policy.

“My goal would be to get a larger share of the federally selected immigrants by getting our economy back to work,” said Kenney.

Source: Jason Kenney announces UCP immigration policy