06/24/2014 04:59 EDT | Updated 08/24/2014 05:59 EDT

B.C. Teachers' Contract Dispute Is A Raging Fire Of Utter Dysfunction

Mohammad Saiful Islam via Getty Images

It's pretty clear to me that the B.C. Teachers' Federation (BCTF) and the B.C. government have reached an impasse of epic proportions. Even Vince Ready, the most legendary mediator of all time, won't step foot in a room with them. And that's very telling.

It tells a very disturbing story. This is no longer an employer/employee negotiation. It's a five-alarm fire of complete and utter dysfunction leaving in its ashes confused parents, conflicted communities and a seriously singed economy. I'm no longer angry or frustrated. Truth be told, I'm afraid. Fire does that to people.

What am I doing here, sat in between gasoline and dry tinder, with my family's future wrapped in a blanket of dampened expectations?

If I had any sense, I'd run like hell. But I can't run. I'm trapped here between the Pacific Ocean and the Rocky Mountains. And I'm scared. There are no firefighters in this scenario. Not a one. There are only those who will come to the rescue of the children or to the rescue of the economy. But not both. Real firefighters would save us all and put the damn fire out.

Dramatic? Yes. granted. But I have two boys who aren't in school, school taxes to pay for teachers who aren't getting paid and a business to run in a town where the largest employer is the school district. So indulge me in a bit of panic, won't you please?

The worst thing is, there are ways to repair it and you don't have to be Christy Clark or the BCTF, Vince Ready or even a trained firefighter to see the solutions. You don't. You just have to hose the place down, take a deep breath. put the gasoline away and store the flammables in a safe place.

Let's start with a few assumptions.

  1. The current public education system isn't working. I think all sides can agree on that.
  2. There are very experienced senior teachers who are burnt out after 12 years of, to be polite, professional neglect.
  3. Christy Clark's caucus is whipped, as caucuses are. They are not standing up for the needs of their constituents. They are holding firm to the political aspirations of their leader. And if I'm wrong, and you're an MLA who has stood up to your party in the interest of your constituents, please, for the love of God, email me.
  4. As a province, we are billions of dollars in debt. We can hardly afford a picnic never mind cost of living increases for anybody. That includes MLAs and senior politico staffers, by the way, in case you think I'm just picking on teachers.

OK, having said that, what could we do? We could do many things. I can think of a few.

  1. Let's agree that public education is an investment, not an expense. And we measure our return by the well being and earning potential of our graduates.
  2. Let's forget about a signing bonus for all teachers and focus instead on golden handshakes for teachers within five years of retirement. Let them go to .5 employment and mentor new teachers who are waiting in the wings. And while we're at it, let's agree that retired teachers have earned a healthy pension and should forgo any work as substitute teachers. It's the new teachers' turn.
  3. Let's allow our elected MLAs to talk to us about how we should fix this. Release them from party doctrine on this matter. They live in our communities and they have to know that these aren't the best of times. Or not, but be sure they'll lose the teacher vote and the parent vote next time around. There will be a next time and this year's graduating class will be of voting age when that time comes around. Just sayin' is all.
  4. Let's take the money saved by the government because teachers haven't been paid and get a two-year deal at cost of living. Let's then take that 24 months and engage community members in an honest and engaging discussion about the future of public education and how those dollars are spent.

    Maybe we don't need 18 school districts. Maybe the Ministry of Education could use a bit of trimming too. Maybe we could make better use of the public schools that are critical, and if you don't mind my saying, vastly under-used public infrastructure. Do they have to sit empty most evenings and weekends?

    Let's examine child poverty while we're at it. And maybe, just maybe, we can agree on a funding formula that is both sustainable and respectful of our most important asset. And again, if you don't mind my saying, I respectfully suggest that British Columbia's greatest asset is not LNG, it's ABC, all about children.


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