Public Interest Alberta Staff

Joel French, Executive Director

Joel French, Executive DirectorJoel is the Executive Director of Public Interest Alberta, a position he has held since 2015. He previously served as the organization’s Communications Coordinator and has also served in staff positions with Friends of Medicare and former Alberta NDP Leader Brian Mason. He has a degree in Middle Eastern and African Studies and Religious Studies from the University of Alberta and a diploma in Computer Systems Technology from Lakeland College.

He has worked on election campaigns at the municipal, provincial, and federal levels for progressive candidates. He also currently serves in positions that help guide the work of the Parkland Institute, the Next Up youth leadership program, and the Alberta Green Economy Network.

Monica Walker, Office Administrator

Brett Lambert, Communications Officer

2017-18 Board of Directors

Public Interest Alberta is governed by a Board of Directors drawn from our member organizations and individuals from the community. The Board is elected by the membership at our Annual General Meeting. 

Larry Booi, President 

LarryBooi_0.jpg Larry has long worked to strengthen education and support the public good. He is the former President of the Alberta Teachers’ Association and was Vice President of the Canadian Teachers’ Federation. Larry also served on the Board of Directors for the Canadian Council on Learning. He has been actively involved in curriculum development, has written textbooks used in Alberta schools, and served as an instructor and adjunct professor at the University of Alberta. Larry has played a central role in the establishment and growth of Public Interest Alberta and is Chair of the Democracy Task Force.

Noel Somerville, Vice-President

Noel retired as Executive Secretary of the Edmonton Public Teachers Local 37 in 1997. Since then, he has been active in social justice issues with the Seniors Action and Liaison Team (SALT) and has served on the City of Edmonton Subdivision and Development Appeal Board. Noel previously served on the PIA Board of Directors for six years and has been chairperson of the Seniors Task Force since 2004.

Siobhán Vipond, Vice-President
Alberta Federation of Labour

SiobhanVipond.jpgSiobhán is a leading advocate for the rights of working people in Alberta. She is in her second term as the elected Secretary Treasurer of the Alberta Federation of Labour. The AFL represents more than 170,000 unionized workers in all sectors of the Alberta economy, and works to advance the rights of working people throughout the province. Prior to joining the AFL, Siobhán worked as a stage and film technician, and is a longstanding active member of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE). She was recently selected as one of the next generation of Albertan leaders to be a member of the 2015 Governor General’s Canadian Leadership Conference.

Vasant Chotai, Secretary

Vasant is currently a social policy consultant. He retired after 29 years with the Government of Alberta, most recently as Director of Social Policy with Employment, Immigration and Industry.  He was policy advisor for the Minister and MLA Committee to review Low Income Programs and developed an integrated model for Alberta’s income support programs.  Prior to that, he taught high school in Kenya for two years. He is the former President of the Edmonton Social Planning Council. Vasant serves on the PIA Board of Directors and is Chair of the Human Services and Poverty Elimination Task Force. He is also on the Board of Canadians for a Civil Society and Chair of their Community Engagement Committee. He has previously served on the boards of Vibrant Communities Edmonton, the Quality of Life Commission and the Christmas Bureau. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and a Master’s in Policy Planning.

Jonathan Teghtmeyer, Treasurer
Alberta Teachers’ Association

Jonathan is the Associate Coordinator, Communications for the Alberta Teachers' Association. His primary responsibilities are in communications, political engagement and advocacy. He is currently working on a Masters in Communication and Technology from the University of Alberta. Prior to coming to the Association, he taught Math and Drama to grade seven through twelve students at Breton High School. He is also on the board of directors for the Friends of Medicare and the Canadian Mental Health Association – Edmonton Region.

Jason Soklofske
Health Sciences Association of Alberta


Heather Smith, Director
United Nurses of Alberta

HeatherSmith.jpgHeather is the President of the United Nurses of Alberta, a position she has held since 1988. Born and raised in Ontario, she came to Alberta to work as a nurse at the Edmonton General Hospital. She quickly became involved in her union and served as President of her Local for two years. She also sat on the provincial negotiating committee during the 19-day illegal strike in January 1988. Heather has been a key figure in defending public health care in Alberta, including campaigns to oppose Bill 37, Bill 11 and the Third Way.

Marle Roberts, Director
CUPE Alberta Division

MarleRoberts.jpgMarle is currently President of CUPE Alberta Division. She became involved in the labour movement in 1986 when she started as a Lab Tech at the City of Medicine Hat’s Wastewater Treatment Plant. In 1997 Marle was elected as an officer of CUPE Local 46 and in 2000 became President. In this capacity she sat on various committees within her local as well as at the provincial and national level. CUPE Alberta represents employees of municipalities, hospitals, long term care facilities, schools, libraries, post-secondary institutions, and social service agencies among others and has worked with liked-minded groups in fighting attempts to privatize public health care and other public services.

Alex Shevalier, Director
Calgary & District Labour Council

As President of the Calgary and District Labour Council, Alex represents the interests of affiliated unions before the City of Calgary, the school boards and the community. A member of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 401, Alex has served as a Vice-President of his union and Chair of the Pride and Solidarity Committee with the Alberta Federation of Labour. He serves on the board of Friends of Medicare and as a worker representative on the Employment Insurance Board of Referees.

Carol Wodak, Director
Seniors’ Action and Liaison Team (SALT)

Carol's reputation as a researcher and advocate in the field of eldercare has been increasing steadily over the past ten years. She came to this activity for intensely personal reasons: her mother experienced almost the full range of continuing care options after suffering a series of strokes from 1995 to 2006, and Carol believes very strongly that the system failed her mother. In addition to individual work, Carol is a founding member of Citizen Watch, an active member and Vice-Chair of the Seniors’ Action and Liaison Team (SALT), and a member of several other community advocacy groups. Carol’s employment with the Alberta Human Rights Commission proved to be good preparation for her current activities.

Susan Slade, Vice President
Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE)


After serving as Vice-President of Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE) for five years, Susan Slade was re-elected to the position in 2017 to continue her work as an activist and leader. A Licenced Practical Nurse, Slade cared for Albertans for 18 years before joining AUPE’s Executive Committee. During that time she filled many union roles, including Local Chair and Provincial Executive. Slade continues to chair both the Women’s and Young Activists’ Committees for her second term. A big proponent of direct action, Slade likes to get to the bottom of issues so they can be tackled head on.

After representing the Calgary and Edmonton regions, she now works with the South region, bringing her listening ear and helping hands to these members’ so their diverse voices can be heard. Slade continues to place three principles at the forefront of her leadership: strength, solidarity and support. She believes these should form the backbone of all relationships within a union.
Susan, with her spouse, Christopher, has an amazing blended family of five children, one granddaughter and two dogs. In her free time she enjoys camping, travelling and spending time with the family.

Quinn Benders, Director
Non-Academic Staff Association (NASA)

QuinnBenders.jpgQuinn is Vice-President of the Non-Academic Staff Association at the University of Alberta. He serves on various NASA committees focused on education and advocacy work. Quinn advocated for the creation of NASA’s first Political Action and Membership Education Committee, and now works on projects encouraging NASA members to become better informed and connected to the labour movement. Quinn, a father of two, has spent much of his adult life volunteering with social justice and community based initiatives and continues to positively engage with the broader community.

Scott Crichton, Director
International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 424

Scott works in membership development, community liaison/advocacy, political education, and organizing. Scott has extended Local 424's outreach to include the movers and shakers in the growing renewable energy sector along with energy efficiency advocates in business and government. Scott is always seeking to expand the green energy frield and is working with an Edmonton area high school to design and install rooftop solar panels pairing union labour with student involvement. A Red Seal electrician, Scott has completed photovoltaic courses at 424's Electrical Industry Training Centre.

Collin Anderson
Alberta Federation of Union Retirees


Collin is a Past President of the Calgary and District Labour Council and prior to retirement was the President of the Telecommunications Workers Union Locals 204 and 205. He is currently the President of the Calgary Area Council of the Congress of Union Retirees of Canada (CURC) and on the Executive of the Alberta Federation of Union Retirees (AFUR). Within the roles with CURC and AFUR, Collin advocates on behalf of retirees and seniors on issues such as health care, long term care, housing, and pensions. A prime focus in 2018 will be to continue the opposition to Bill C-27, an attack on pensions by the federal government.

Ex-officio members

Ricardo Acuña, Director
Parkland Institute

RicardoAcuna.jpegRicardo is the Executive Director of the Parkland Institute, Faculty of Arts at the University of Alberta – a position he has held since May 2002. Previous to that he worked for nine years as Projects Coordinator for Change for Children Association, an Alberta-based international development organization working in Latin America. He has a degree in Political Science and History from the University of Alberta, and has over 20 years experience as a volunteer,staffer and consultant for various non-government and non-profit organizations around the province. Ricardo is a regular speaker to students, teachers, and community groups around Alberta. He has spoken extensively and written on issues of water, NAFTA, commodification of the commons, and energy policy in Alberta. He is a regular media commentator on public policy issues, and writes a regular column for VueWeekly in Edmonton.

Sandra Azocar, Director
Friends of Medicare

SandraAzocar.jpgSandra has been a social activist for more than 30 years in Alberta. Her previous experience is working as a child protection worker, a community organizer, and a labour activist. Prior to coming to Friends of Medicare, she worked as a Vice President of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE). She was a member of the Board of Directors of Friends of Medicare for 6 years before becoming its Executive Director in 2012.