VICTORIA - Premier Christy Clark says she wants to move education in British Columbia out of the 1950s with promises of more money to help students with special needs and bold changes that could introduce year-round school years.
The Liberal leader also promised on Monday a new statutory holiday in February 2013 and the possibility of televising trials of people charged in connection with the Stanley Cup riot in Vancouver.
Clark said she initially wanted to commence her Family Day holiday this coming February, but economic declines worldwide and concerns from the business community convinced her to delay it until 2013, just two months before the May 2013 election date.
"It is my hope by then the economy will have improved significantly," said Clark following a throne speech starting the B.C. legislature's fall session. "Remember, Saskatchewan has a family Day too, and Saskatchewan has more stats than we do, but Saskatchewan has the best performing economy in the country."
Opposition New Democrat Leader Adrian Dix called the throne speech disappointing. He said it does little to improve health care, forgets about the forest industry and offers nothing for disabled people on waiting lists needing help from the government.
"They haven't done what they needed to do," Dix said of the Liberals.
Clark said modernizing education represents one of the government's major areas of focus as the Liberals develop family-friendly policies while seeking to expand economic markets in Asia.
"We're talking about trying to transform education and bring it into the 21st century," she said. "One of the issues that people have pointed out with curriculum and the way our classrooms work is it's based on kind of a 1950s model. We hear that from teachers a lot."
B.C. teachers are currently involved in slow-moving negotiations for a new contract that expired last June.
The teachers have made class sizes and composition one of their major bargaining issues, citing a B.C. Supreme Court ruling that found teachers have a say in those issues.
Education Minister George Abbott said the government is preparing to invest money on the class composition issue, but does not believe there's enough evidence that suggests lower class sizes will improve education outcomes.
"It is in the tens of millions," said Abbott. "It will be growing over a three-year period as we undertake to understand better how we can manage the needs of special needs children in the classroom."
Teachers say they have seen more and more students with disabilities placed in classrooms over the years.
Abbott said the government is committed to moving towards what it calls personalized education, which would give students and families better opportunities to let the education system meet the needs of students.
He said personalized education in some cases could mean schools moving to year-round schedules as opposed to the traditional September to June school year with a two-month summer holiday.
Clark also said she is urging the Crown to allow cameras in courtrooms where Stanley Cup riot cases are heard. She said British Columbians want to see justice in those cases, and the time may have come for more cameras in courtrooms.
Lt.-Gov. Steven Point, who read the throne speech, said the Stanley Cup riot was a dark stain on the province that demonstrated a breakdown in civil order.
"The government also respectfully asks and has asked Crown Counsel to advocate for television and radio access to the courts during proceedings for those charged in relation to the Stanley Cup riot," he said.
Television cameras and broadcast recorders are currently not permitted inside courtrooms during trials.
Point said the government is looking for a new labour relations atmosphere in time for the many public sector contracts that expire in 2012.
"The government will facilitate a process for collective agreement improvements by working with ministries and employer groups to find savings through co-operative gains," he said. "The government will be asking public sector employers, unions and employees to join in this process."
Point said the government will introduce a renewed vision for the province's environmental strategies, including considering how tax and energy policies contribute to a green economy.
The Liberals also promised in the throne speech to bring retired judges back to work to reduce overcrowding in the courts.
"Under the Provincial Court Act, retired judges will be reappointed on the recommendation of the Judicial Council of B.C. to provide surge capacity," said Point.
He said the government will also modernize the Freedom of Information Act, create an office for a municipal auditor general and introduce a new Family Law Act.