I've been reflecting on why the months-long dispute between the B.C. government and teachers has shaken me so. Why should I be this bothered about a labour dispute?
Why am I so mad at Premier Christy Clark and Education Minister Peter Fassbender -- aren't there two sides to any story? What follows is not political, it's personal. (I don't belong to any political party; I have a non-partisan embrace of policies that do the most good.) Briefly, here's my take on this situation.
The current teachers federation vs. government struggle is more than a labour dispute. For those who look closely, what's revealed is a style of government that appears to disregard facts, deceive the public, tarnish the reputation of teachers, all in a move to pit the people against teachers and their legal right to due process under the law. Government's disdain for trained professionals in order to gain a political advantage is deplorable.
My former wife was a north Toronto kindergarten teacher. I recall how hard she worked, how many evenings were spent preparing for the next morning; every day she was at school way before the opening bell. I remember many a conversation of delight and/or concern about the kids in her care. She was the one who taught me about respect -- respect for the child as a whole person. She opened my eyes to the demands of teaching. She gave me hope that other public educators were as dedicated as she was. She showed by example that children deserve our best consideration.
Teaching in the 1970s & '80s may have been easier and less complicated than it is today. Special needs kids are now in "regular" classrooms and in greater numbers than was the case decades ago. An increase in developmental disabilities, and kids with ADD and ASD are also part of the picture. The rapid rise of the Internet and social media has had its downsides too: kids with device dependency and addiction, access to pornography, student bullying amplified. These issues of course show up in class, and today's teachers have to be wizards to manage the social complex that greets them each morning.
In B.C., the impact of years of provincial cuts to education and social services paint a picture of how the education system has deteriorated. Teachers tell me of school budget shortages and stretched classroom resources. Families in need are disillusioned with the reduced number of special needs teachers, school counsellors, librarians and other supports. It's heartbreaking to read their words. I think of the countless children who, for no good reason, have not had their needs met and have been deprived of a chance to excel.
In trying to understand why there's such distrust between teachers and the government, I did some digging. I've been alarmed by what I've learned. Twice in the past 12 years the B.C. Supreme Court has ruled against the governing Liberal party in their treatment of teachers. The court found the government had negotiated in bad faith.
This summer, the premier and education minister could have moved negotiations along with some urgency. They did not; the premier was largely absent.
The teachers' federation three times made concessions towards negotiating a fair deal and was rebuffed each time. And now, the teachers' near unanimous vote (99.4 per cent) for impartial third party arbitration is also rejected by government. If the government said yes to arbitration, the strike would be over in a minute. But, no -- no such outcome.
Many civic advocates, such as former Crown prosecutor Sandy Garossino and UBC lawyer Joel Bakan, agree with the teachers' union that arbitration is the fairest and fastest way to re-open schools. Premier Clark refuses. That's why I view the government's treatment of teachers as disgraceful.
No government should hide the truth of its past misconduct. No government should balance the budget at the expense of teachers and kids.
It pains me to conclude that my provincial government lacks heart, and it has its priorities backwards. It views public education as a costly burden, not an investment in kids, our future, and a requirement for enlightened culture.
The B.C. Liberals have no mandate to undo public education or to underfund it. Their credibility as a government is in question. Also, their legitimacy.
Education should be the highest priority of a society! An educated citizenry not only makes for a robust and sustainable business climate, it forms the basis for vibrant democracy not only at election time but also year round.
Education for all is a fundamental right of children, as per the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) which Canada has ratified. There is no defensible reason to deny B.C. kids their time in school -- not a day longer.
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