The government of B.C. has lost its battle with teachers and education will improve as a result. Education spending in B.C. is now the second lowest per student in Canada.
It was an irrational battle. When Premier Clark was education minister, she tore up the contract with teachers that allowed for bargaining rights related to class size and composition. It’s galling to think that a member of the government’s government would brag about an bill of parliament that would break a legal contract but here’s what she said in Hansard (January 26, 2002) in support of the bill:
“I am so proud to speak in support of this bill, and I look forward to getting on with the job of building a top-notch education system for British Columbia (Vancouver Sun).”
How could a reduction in spending improve education, you might wonder. Other than a vague suggestion that “choice” was the answer, under-spending and quality education remain contradictions. Faced with a loss in the Supreme Court, now she is now ready to bargain:
“We’re going to sit down and talk about two really important clauses in the contract, the contract stays in place, labour peace stays in place,” she told CKNW.
With a looming election in B.C., I can understand why her priority is labour peace. But if she’s really keen about resolving the issue quickly, bargaining would not be necessary says BCTF president Glen Hansman:
“Either we reopen bargaining with the restored language as the floor from which we are negotiating – or the government could take a more reasonable approach and say, ‘Let’s proceed with the language restored’ and put the funding in place so we could hire those people and get them into schools,” he told the Globe and Mail (November 10, 2016).
As well as being contrary, Clark is sometimes disingenuous. She extols the virtue of school boards while scapegoating them. She told parliament in 2002:
“And I should point out to the House that school boards, as you know, are locally elected by people in their communities. Their purpose is to reflect the needs of their local communities.”
Clark knows full well that school boards are the ones who must bear the brunt of underfunding. They may be elected by the people but they can be fired if they don’t do the government’s dirty work. The B.C. government has downloaded a whole array of costs, which the government controls but doesn’t provide funding for such as increased BC Hydro rates, MSP, Employment Insurance, WorkSafeBC, the carbon tax, and most recently the teaching of computer coding which will require more equipment –a doomed plan as I outlined in an earlier column.
Clark might argue otherwise, but we can afford to bring funding up to national levels. In terms of GDP, funding has actually dropped in B.C. despite claims that it is at “record levels.”
We can’t afford not to spend money on education. Real estate is worth more now to the provincial economy than the B.C. forestry, natural gas and mining industries combined but eventually we will have to rely on a well-educated work force. Why delay that inevitability?