B.C. teachers strike is Christy Clark's strike
B.C. parents are undoubtedly disappointed by mediator Vince Ready walking away from the teachers strike.
Ready said the employer and the B.C. Teachers' Federation were too far apart for him to succeed.
"Certainly, there's no basis for a settlement today," Ready told reporters on August 30.
This sharply increases the likelihood of public schools remaining closed on Tuesday (September 2).
The B.C. government is hoping that voters blame teachers for the impasse. That's despite its contribution to the dispute by funding students at a lower rate than any other province except Prince Edward Island.
History repeats itself
It's a distressingly familiar situation.
The last time Christy Clark presided over the education system, chaos ensued.
After becoming education minister in the first Gordon Campbell government, she and her cabinet colleagues shredded the teachers' contract in 2002 to save $275 million per year.
Before the election, the public was never told that this was even being contemplated. It was a sneak attack, undermining trust for a very long time.
Bill 28 revoked teachers' right to negotiate class size and composition, causing no end of litigation. Its successor, Bill 22, included similar language.
Twice, a B.C. Supreme Court judge ruled that the B.C. government had violated teachers' constitutional rights with legislation designed to quash teachers' right to negotiate working conditions. In the eyes of the judge, these conditions included class size and the number of kids with special needs in classes.
In the most recent case, the judge ruled that the government wanted to provoke a teachers strike. The B.C. government has appealed.
Premier drives the bus
So how did we get to this point?
Let's start with the premier.
She appointed a right winger from the Fraser Valley as her finance minister, giving him marching orders to balance the budget every year.
It's economic illiteracy of the highest order to use that as your starting point as premier, given the vicissitudes of the economy.
To liken a government budget to a household budget, like the premier and finance minister often do, is either silly posturing or colossal stupidity. (Let's hope it's the former.)
Balancing the budget at all costs would have led to a deep and long-lasting worldwide depression had it been advocated by western industrialized countries' presidents and prime ministers following the 2008 global meltdown. Fortunately, they weren't guided by sloganeering.
But that's the mentality Clark seems to bring to her job: no deficits, regardless of the consequences, and no tax increases unless they absolutely can't be avoided. All government policies seem to flow from this.
Someone needs to give the premier and the finance minister a copy of Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman's The Return of Depression Economics and the Crisis of 2008. Quickly!
I witnessed the effects of this approach on a trip to Tennessee a few years ago. Public schools were in shambles. I was told it was because the right-wing government had continued slashing expenditures on education to balance the budget.
These cuts persuaded many parents to put their kids in private schools at tremendous personal expense. I was told that the situation wasn't nearly as bad in the nearby state of Georgia.
The resulting two-tiered society in Tennessee led to more economic stagnation as a growing underclass had trouble succeeding in a knowledge-based economy.
Is this what we want in B.C.? Is this the legacy Clark wants to bequeath to the province?
Laying a foundation for school vouchers
Clark's second contribution to the teachers strike was appointing an MLA from B.C.'s Bible Belt as education minister.
Peter Fassbender, a former Promise Keeper and advertising executive, may be one of the last members of caucus who would be able to see eye to eye with the BCTF. But he's likely one of the first to gain the confidence of operators of independent schools, given his background in the evangelical movement.
Fassbender, the long-time mayor of the City of Langley, is the chief publicist of the government's plan to give $40 per day to parents for each child under 13 in the public-school system.
This proposal is seen by Fassbender's critics as a Trojan horse for a voucher system, which has the potential to severely undermine public education in this province.
The $40-per-day plan, hatched without consultation, has therefore fuelled mistrust among teachers because it suggests the premier might have a broader agenda to increase privatization of education. That's hardly a recipe for resolving a school strike that is becoming such an inconvenience for parents.
Vancouver school trustee Mike Lombardi, a former teacher, says that once a mechanism is created to give money directly to parents of school-age children, it can easily be converted into a voucher system.
Fraser Institute and school vouchers
The voucher system has long been supported by the Fraser Institute, a free-market think tank based in Vancouver.
In a 2012 opinion piece published in the Vancouver Sun, Fraser Institute senior fellow and former Reform Party MP Herbert Grubel wrote about the voucher system under the headline "Stopping Teachers' Strikes Permanently".
Incidentally, the Fraser Institute's chairman's deceased brother was a long-time former headmaster of the elite private school chosen by Clark for her son's education.
So as you can see, there are good reasons why the BCTF is framing this as a battle for public education, notwithstanding its wage and benefit demands, which some might see as excessive.
The next time the premier stands up in front of the media at a news conference or on a talk show, let's hope that one of the journalists has the guts and the intellect to ask her if she's ruled out a voucher system in B.C. schools. Parents deserve to know the answer to this question.
Premier won't appoint industrial inquiry commissioner
The union's leadership knows how people at the Fraser Institute think—as well as how they consistently undermine trust in public education with a very questionable school-rating system.
Some of the same people on the board of the Fraser Institute helped re-elect the B.C. Liberals. These people are fans and advocates of private education.
So let's not kid ourselves. This is Christy Clark's strike.
And she has done nothing to try to resolve it.
Under the Labour Relations Code, the government could appoint an industrial inquiry commissioner. The government could agree to binding arbitration. The government could even legislate an end to the strike by drafting a bill that doesn't violate teachers' constitutional rights. But there's no sign that any of these things are going to happen.
It's time that more people in the media started telling parents these things so they don't simply fall into the premier's trap of trying to pin the blame on teachers for the schools being closed. It's a lot more complicated than that.
Aug 31, 2014 at 9:57am
With all respect CS, this is Progressive rubbish. The fourth majority with an increase in seats.
Are you suggesting that The People are such dupes that they don't know the Lib/Cons/Socreds believe that the private sector is a better way to run the society. Are you suggesting that the Libs/Cons/Socreds have hidden their love for the free-market from The People?
The People were so upset by Hahn's enormous salary that they... They elected the Liberals. Again.
How much evidence do Progressives need that Christy Clark is what The People want? Why is this so hard to accept? Is it possible that Progressives can't make any gains because they're in denial?
Aug 31, 2014 at 10:26am
Thank you for writing this Charlie Smith!
Aug 31, 2014 at 10:43am
I'll preface my comment by first stating that I don't presently live in BC, nor have such plans in the immediate future. I'm distinctly at arm's length on this.
However articles such as this particular one have caught my attention. Starting with the headline: a) it is the UNION who has gone on strike, b) not Christy Clark who, by the way, is the Premier, and c) it is the UNION who is on strike against not just that 'individual', but the Premier, the elected Government of the province, and the people of that province.
Get your slant straight on this: it is the UNION's decision to strike... and no one else's.
In "straight" terms, here goes: if the union / its membership believe that their skills are not valued highly enough, then they are more than welcome to go elsewhere in their individual self-interest. However if they cannot accept the more-than-average and generous contract provisions they have, far superior to virtually anyone else's, then that is their choice. And they are, or should be, out of a job. Enough of this union terrorism, and ransom-holding. Where the public and its government are held in hostage. Get 'straight'. Starting with the Union who unquestionably has gone on strike; not either the Government nor the people.
Aug 31, 2014 at 10:51am
The government is glad to save tons of $$ over this dispute - no hurry to fix this one! The $40 dollars for parents will be taxed, and will not be available until the strike is resolved. $40 will not be $40. So, in the meantime, everyone pays for this. The ethics of this government is highly questionable. I hope the liberals do the right thing and pay for public education. Putting everyone in private schools splits the rich and poor. It's high time for a government that understands and practices democracy.
Aug 31, 2014 at 10:55am
It's time the people step up and fight back. Enough of these politicians robbing our children and cutting their education, while giving themselves and their cronies raises, and over inflated pensions. I did not vote for this thief nor will I ever vote Liberal no matter who they put in charge. They are destroying this province with their self serving greedy ways. #holdtheline # call electio
Aug 31, 2014 at 11:11am
So why not hire up all the teachers that are non union. The striking teachers can stay home and think about negotiating realistically. Yes they deserve a raise but don't be greedy. What's wrong with $80,000 and the summer off. Both sides need to get a little closer so Ready can do his job.
Aug 31, 2014 at 11:15am
the last govt action in this trumped up dispute was a LOCK OUT .... not a strike
Aug 31, 2014 at 11:17am
I am so mad, I think I'll ....write a letter! How Canadian, eh? Feel like it? Copy & paste into bcc and let them all hear how you feel and what you think.
Aug 31, 2014 at 11:22am
The Liberal government is essentially trying to tell us that our Charter rights are fine and dandy as long as they say can afford them. And if they say they can't afford them, well you don't get your Charter rights. Reprehensible. The rhetoric and tactics used by this government are eerily similar to the movement started in the States and backed by the multi-billionaire and rabidly anti public sector union Koch brothers. Use legislation to destroy public sector unions. Rip up their contracts and legislate them out of existence.
The fact that the BC liberals lost not one, but two BC supreme court decisions and are continuing to appeal signals their desperation. The fact that they are insisting on an escape clause in the contract so that they have the option of ripping up the teacher's contract if the Supreme Court rules against them once again shows how entrenched their position is.
This is an ideological battle. Make no mistake about it. It will probably end up in the Canadian Supreme Court.
Aug 31, 2014 at 11:25am
I'm always freshly surprised at the extent to which personal egos are at play in government policy. Christy Clark has basically built her career on battling teachers, and she has yet to show a clear win. I believe that her intransigence is less about protecting taxpayers than it is a personal grudge match. The teachers, for their part, believe Ms. Clark has advanced her career by undermining public education and belittling their profession. They now universally regard her with a cold, implacable hatred. No wonder "the two sides are too far apart."