THE BLOG
06/16/2014 04:19 EDT | Updated 08/16/2014 05:59 EDT

B.C. Government Failures Have Worsened Dispute With B.C. Teachers

If Crown corporation execs and Christy Clark's makeup/communications team warrant hefty increases to their already bloated salaries, why can't there be an agreement on a reasonable wage increase for teachers?

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With the B.C. government and B.C. Teachers' Federation (BCTF) deadlocked in contract negotiations, it's pretty clear that this whole situation is one giant mess.

On one side, you've got a teachers' union that's relentless in its pursuits. They want more money, smaller class sizes and more support. On the other side, you've got a government that has cut funding in many areas and has been overly bullish in negotiating. They haven't been willing to make the concessions that they make to other unions.

The Vancouver Sun's Michael Smyth referred to the BCTF as "militant." I've been hearing that same word being used by many parents and ordinary citizens alike.

Whether that's true or not is not for my deciding. But I will say that the huge demands from a profession where the first year salary is just over $48,000 (plus benefits) probably won't be met with too much support from the average working British Columbian. That first-year salary would be considered a luxury in the private sector.

But blame is to be had on both sides and in my view, the real anger should be directed at the B.C. government's failure to realize priorities. Let me explain.

Education and health care together make up around 68 per cent of the total budget annually -- and rightfully so. Every citizen ought to receive the best health care possible, just as every student ought to receive the best possible education.

So with health, K-12 and post-secondary education funding at 68 per cent, there isn't much room for the rest of the government's expenses. This amounts to 32 per cent -- a number that's expected to decrease year after year. So you'd expect that the BC Liberal government would spend that 32 per cent responsibly, right?

Not quite. Dig back to the aftermath of last year's election. What was Christy Clark's first move? Boosting the maximum salaries her aides could earn. Under Clark, the budget for the premier's office has increased from $5 million to $7 million to $9 million in consecutive budgets. The government's prediction is that it will stay at $9 million, but I wouldn't trust that.

Remember that fancy rooftop for BC Place? The whole renovation project cost $514 million. Don't forget that $6-million tax break for the Crown corporation that ran the renovation, PavCo! You probably didn't have a say on it, unless you were on the B.C. Liberals' Treasury Board back in 2008.

Since then, PavCo has been bleeding money annually as they desperately try to fill the building. They created the Times of India Film Awards to recognize Bollywood stars at BC Place. They also lured an outdoor NHL game that took place in March. Moreover, PavCo paid $2.7 million just to host the Grey Cup this November.

Imagine if some of that money was prioritized for our teachers and educational assistants. And yet, with all those "big" attractions, according to Bob Mackin, PavCo is expected incur more red ink, to the tune of $68 million through 2015-16.

With all this talk about what salary teachers ought to be making over the next few years, what about the egregious salaries that some of the fat cats at the top of B.C.'s Crown corporations are earning? 2,667 BC Hydro employees made over $100,000 last year, according to documents obtained by Michael Smyth. The board that approves these salaries are all BC Liberal appointees over the last 13 years, including some by Christy Clark.

The fact that BC Hydro rates have increased every year (the new plan started in April) won't be taken well by taxpayers. The BCTF would love salaries like that for their junior and senior members. They'd be raking in on those union dues!

Furthermore, both BC Ferries and ICBC have had increasingly bloated compensation packages for management and executives, while still asking taxpayers to pay up to compensate for those increases.

This government is completely out of touch with the real world. If Crown corporation execs and Christy Clark's makeup/communications team warrant hefty increases to their already bloated salaries, why can't there be an agreement on a reasonable wage increase for teachers? If the B.C. government could manage real priorities and not simply give overzealously to their buddies, this dispute would've been resolved by now.

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