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Alberta strikes tentative deal with teachers

Premier Alison Redford speaks at the first annual Alberta Economic Summit held at Mount Royal College on Feb. 09, 2013, in Calgary. Ms. Redford is signalling she will not roll out an austerity-minded budget as her government confronts an unexpectedly growing deficit, instead pledging new spending aimed at making her province less dependent on oil.

Chris Bolin/The Globe and Mail

Alberta has struck a tentative deal with its teachers, potentially ending a bitter, months-long contract battle between Canada's wealthiest province and the country's best-paid teachers.

It wasn't a done deal Thursday evening, however, and still needed to be ratified by the Alberta Teachers' Association (ATA) and individual school boards. The boards weren't involved in the latest talks between teachers and government.

"We were advised [Wednesday] that there were talks going on between the ATA and the government. And we have a draft document that we're looking through," Alberta School Boards Association president Jacquie Hansen said Thursday evening, declining to specify the terms of the agreement. "… We don't know how we're going to proceed at this point in time."

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Details of the deal were unclear, as the ATA and government declined comment. Education Minister Jeff Johnson had previously raised the notion of a four-year pact, one with raises of zero, zero, zero and 2 per cent. A source said the draft deal being considered was "something close" to that. The provincial budget allocated no money for raises and cut certain programs, though teachers say money wasn't the top issue.

Mr. Johnson declined to specify terms of any deal at the legislature Thursday, saying only, "I think everybody has worked hard on this process, but we're still working on it. We'll have more to tell you tomorrow." Premier Alison Redford is scheduled to speak at a news conference with the ATA president in Calgary on Friday.

Any deal would end what have become increasingly polarized negotiations. Mr. Johnson warned just two weeks ago that "provincial negotiations are over" and previous offers "are off the table," according to an e-mail leaked by the ATA. A month earlier, Mr. Johnson sought to circumvent the unions by e-mailing teachers directly. That triggered an investigation by the province's Information and Privacy Commissioner, as Mr. Johnson, in some cases, sent the message to teachers' personal accounts.

Earlier this week, the ATA warned that one-third of its teachers regularly consider quitting. In February, it rejected one offer as "unacceptable."

Alberta's teachers are Canada's best-paid, but the province's education system is growing and shifting quickly – with students overloading schools in boom towns or fast-growing suburbs. The system has about 600,000 students, and is growing by 2 per cent each year.

One of Ms. Redford's foremost platform pledges, in winning a close party leadership race in 2011, was related to education funding. She was perceived by some as a teachers premier, but the relationship soured after the deal expired last year.

NDP education critic David Eggen said there was no sense in dragging things out if any final deal was nearly identical to those proposed weeks or months earlier. "It was foolish to let it dangle so long like this," Mr. Eggen said.

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Josh is a parliamentary reporter in Ottawa. Before moving to the nation's capital in 2013, he covered provincial affairs in Edmonton and throughout Alberta. He joined the Globe in 2008 in Toronto before returning to his home province in 2010. More

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