by Geoff Olson
The late Texan journalist Molly Ivins once wrote that “the truth, that little slippery bugger has the oddest habit of being way to hell off on one side or the other: it seldom nestles neatly halfway between any two opposing points of view.”
“It’s of no help to either the readers or the truth to quote one side saying, “Cat,” and the other side saying “Dog,” while the truth is there’s an elephant crashing around out there in the bushes,” Ivins observed.
With the B.C. Liberal government’s defiance of a Supreme Court decision to restore class size and composition clauses (illegally stripped from the BCTF contract by education minister Christy Clark and former Premier Gordon Campbell in 2002), and their rejection of binding arbitration, I don’t see tufts of cat and dog hair in the Victoria/BCTF scrap. I see elephant footprints.
Last February the Alberni Valley News reported that B.C. government lead negotiator Paul Straszak “admitted in court that his strategy in 2012 negotiations with the B.C. Teachers’ Federation was to provoke a full-scale strike.” Supposedly the intent was to further alienate the public to the union.
Straszak reportedly shared this notion in a briefing with Premier Christy Clark’s deputy minister John Dyble before a cabinet meeting.
So a cynical scheme to incite war between teachers and the government goes right up to Clark’s door. There is no evidence it went past it, and no evidence it didn’t. Either way, I can imagine ex-premier Gordon Campbell in a flight suit, standing on the deck of an aircraft carrier with a banner behind him reading, “Mission Accomplished.”
Speaking of bogus victories, our neighbours to the south are well ahead of us in transforming education. In the last decade, a heavily financed campaign has undercut US teachers, demonized their unions, gutted education budgets, and served up public schools like carrion to vulture capitalists.
In a 2010 corporate press release from, News Corporation Chairman and CEO, Rupert Murdoch wrote, “When it comes to K through 12 education, we see a $500 billion sector in the U.S. alone that is waiting desperately to be transformed by big breakthroughs that extend the reach of great teaching…”
We need only to look to the disaster of US health care delivery to imagine American K-12 education after Murdoch and his fellow travellers are finished with it. Do we really want to follow the American model, when BC already has the second highest rate of independent school enrolment in Canada?
This province also has the second worst per student education funding in Canada. Stories of BC teachers and parents paying out of pocket for school supplies are commonplace and factual. Sightings of school librarians, counsellors and music teachers are becoming as rare as spirit bears and marbled murrelets.
We’ve heard plenty about greedy, overpaid teachers trying to outpace their public sector counterparts, but a Globe and Mail study puts B.C. teachers squarely in the middle of national compensation. Beyond that, there are a big, complex problems in servicing special needs students, but a school-suspending standoff that stresses families’ finances and schedules is hardly the royal road to resolution.
Last week, I witnessed a small group of upset parents confront North Vancouver District MLA Jane Thornthwaite at her office. “This forty dollars a day, is that a voucher system? Is that what we’re looking at? Is that where you guys are taking us without telling us?” asked one mother in a trembling voice.
I’m wondering too. Is this mooted $40 scheme about privatization by stealth, with B.C. parents softened up through bribes/hush money? Is this refusal to negotiate about making public schooling so dysfunctional Victoria can point to it as a failed experiment?
At this point, we have little reason to believe that the B.C. Liberal government’s attempt to starve out the teachers isn’t just a first move, before smashing open public school funding like a piñata for those with no stake in the idea of “common good”.
There is nothing “liberal” about Clark’s zero-sum game with the teachers’s union. In fact, you can’t even describe the provincial government as conservative, since that word connotes “conserving.” No, our leaders in Victoria are best described as radicals. Or rogue elephants of the Republican/Tea Party variety.
The Vancouver Courier, Sept. 12