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.