B.C. teachers’ strike: Readers respond to Maclean’s editorial

‘This latest strategy, paying parents while their children miss school, is nothing more than an attempt to sway public opinion’


A sample of reader feedback to our latest Maclean’s editorial, B.C. uses shrewd negotiating tactic in teachers’ strike:

I am stunned by your endorsement of the latest tactic of the government of B.C. with regards to the ongoing labour negotiations with the BC Teachers Federation (BCTF). You made no mention of why there is a strike in the first place: the illegal and unethical stripping of the teachers’ contract by the Liberal government in 2002. Teachers had negotiated class-size-and-composition language with the previous government and, in doing so, they gave up economic gain. In other words, the teachers sacrificed a raise in pay in order to provide the students of B.C. with better learning conditions. Teachers, backed by two rulings in court, now want that language restored, as well as a pay raise, because they have fallen behind financially. In addition, the court found that the B.C. government bargained in bad faith during the previous round of negotiations and worked hard to provoke a strike by the teachers in order to impose their own settlement. The government refuses to fund the education system adequately, and Premier Christy Clark is on a personal vendetta to destroy the BCTF, because they stood up to her when she attempted to impose a new “college” of teachers without teacher representation when she was the education minister in Gordon Campbell’s government. This latest strategy, paying parents while their children miss school, is nothing more than an attempt to sway public opinion. That money could have been used to improve conditions in all the public schools in the province, but the B.C. government has no interest or intent to make the system better. I have been a subscriber to Maclean’s for a very long time. I have subscribed to this magazine to get a uniquely Canadian perspective on the world. Poor treatment of public school teachers, bad research on the part of news reporters and editors, and blind admiration of government do not reflect the Canadian values that I hold dear. I hope to see a better effort next time.

Penelope Kelly, Surrey, B.C.

The B.C. government’s tactic of paying some parents for every day their children are not at school, should the teachers’ strike continue, may be revolutionary, as claimed (The Editorial, Aug. 18)—but helpful? Perhaps not so much. The $40 per day for each child under the age of 13 won’t be paid until after the strike has ended. How many low- and middle-income families will be able to afford $200 (or more) per week up front to pay for daycare or tutoring? Of far more concern is the effect on older students. Younger children will have time to catch up on days missed, but the clock is ticking for the thousands of students entering Grade 12, who will be missing lessons they won’t necessarily be able to make up. The B.C. government is continually bemoaning the projected lack of qualified workers in all manner of fields. It might behoove them to work at getting teachers and students back in the classroom, so students can get the education they need, rather than play politics at $40 a day.

Barbara Roden, Ashcroft, B.C.

In an unattributed op-ed published on Aug. 12, Maclean’s frames the current bargaining impasse between B.C.’s teachers and the B.C. government as a “perpetual clash over salaries and education funding” (B.C. Uses Shrewd Negotiating Tactic in Teachers’ Strike). Setting a stage for readers, the editorial states that:

Little has changed to smooth things over in the past three years. In April, the BC Teachers Federation (BCTF) began an escalating series of job actions. Teachers first refused to supervise students outside of class time, or to communicate with administrators. Rotating strikes followed, closing every school in the province one day per week. Finally, a province-wide walkout in June shuttered all schools two weeks early. Forcing an abrupt end to the school year has long been the ultimate weapon in any teachers’ union arsenal.

Left unaddressed in this framing is the fact that teachers in B.C. are attempting to bargain with a government that broke laws to cut services for kids. B.C.’s Supreme Court has twice ruled that the B.C. Liberals used illegal bargaining tactics to strip contracts with teachers and health care workers. The International Labour Organization has ruled a handful of times against the B.C. Liberals—declaring multiple pieces of legislation illegal under international agreements. In other words, the United Nations agency that looks over labour standards and advocates on behalf of justice for workers and decent work for all has positioned B.C.’s ruling government as flouting international treaties to push its political agenda.

Admittedly, the B.C. Liberals have chosen to appeal their most recent loss at the B.C. Supreme Court, arguing that it would be too expensive for them to implement the Court’s ruling: placing money and profit above laws, and kids’ needs. To fight this appeal, the B.C. Liberals have hired a high-priced “legal superstar,” “an expensive, top-drawer corporate lawyer.” That is, instead of investing funds and resources in serving public education, the B.C. Liberals are investing funds and resources in fighting to uphold (illegal) cuts to services for kids.

Meanwhile, during this round of bargaining, the B.C. Liberals have tabled more concessions for teachers and cuts to services. For instance, there has been a refusal to address the student-to-educator ratio in B.C., currently the worst in Canada. Similarly, there’s been a refusal to address operating grants per student—currently the lowest in Canada. The B.C. Liberals have also denied the impacts of cuts to learning specialists and rejected the need for meaningful intervention to improve classroom composition. In other words, while classrooms across B.C. are getting more complex—more students who don’t speak English at home, more students with special needs, and more poverty—the B.C. Liberals would rather spend money and resources to legitimize further cuts to kids’ access to learning specialists than spend money on providing kids with access to learning specialists.

Also left unmentioned in Maclean’s framing is the fact that before the teachers escalated their job action, teachers struggled to broker an agreement for more than a year before the B.C. Liberals locked them out and cut their pay by 10 per cent. Then, under direction of the Labour Relations Board of B.C., teachers were “directed” to be off-site 45 minutes before and after school, and were “directed” to avoid using any school facilities and to avoid helping students during lunch and breaks.

However, Maclean’s op-ed does mention that the B.C. Liberals plan to pay some parents $40 a day to offset the costs of child care, should the teachers’ strike go unresolved by the start of the 2014-15 school year. Only students under the age of 13 will be eligible, parents will need to register online, and payments won’t go out until October—at the earliest. Limited access to child care and students over the age of 13, apparently, aren’t much of a concern. The program will reportedly cost the government around $12 million a day—to keep schools closed and kids at home. Alternatively, some parents may use the $40 subsidy toward tuition and fees at private schools. In effect, the $40-a-day plan is akin to school vouchers, and is best understood within the context of a privatization agenda and a broader push to attack and diminish public education. (See, for example, “Public Education in British Columbia: The Rise of the Shock Doctrine or Kindling for a Shock-Proof Otherwise?”)

Notwithstanding, Maclean’s op-ed encourages the re-direction of “savings from public sector strikes to taxpayers’ pockets,” and insists that:

The most productive and fruitful negotiations are those in which both parties have equivalent power and face similar risks. Compensating taxpayers for their losses from savings generated by a strike balances out the power in public sector labour talks and gives everyone a reason to settle. That seems like $40 a day well spent.

It takes a special genius to view the current bargaining impasse in B.C. as one in which teachers are inordinately advantaged. And there is no warrant for casting a government that has shown a willingness to let politics trump laws—and kids’ needs—as facing “similar risks” as teachers who have lost thousands of dollars in pay fighting for more equitable access to public education in B.C.

Malcolm X said, “If you’re not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.” Maclean’s anonymous op-ed ought be seen in this light, and recognized as a push for an anti-democratic policy agenda regarding labour negotiations. From this vantage, it seems like reading unattributed op-eds in Maclean’s may be something other than time well spent.

Tobey Steeves, a concerned citizen and public school teacher in Vancouver

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B.C. teachers’ strike: Readers respond to Maclean’s editorial

  1. 7 Reasons To Support The $40 Day Payout To Parents

    Practically all Western Democracies follow the principle that it is the parents who are responsible for their child’s education. Check the School Acts. It is parents who are to register their child into a public school unless they have made other plans, for example, independent school or home education. Government schools are there as back-up for parents — part of the safety net of a welfare state.

    Let’s not confuse the term “public school “with “public education”. A public school is one run by government workers or under contract, as are charter schools. Public education is the cumulative result of all that happens under the generic term of education — private or public schools, online learning, home education, correspondence courses, etc.

    It is this construct that the Conference Board of Canada uses when it says that BC spends $500 more on a per-student basis above the national average. That is why — with this assertion — that BC Finance Minister Mike de Jong’s initiative to pay parents of pre-teen public school students $40 a day when public schools are not in session is a fitting and valid response to our current teacher strike. They are to use those funds to acquire tutoring for their children . . . to explore other educational opportunities as they see fit . . . and for some parents, it’ll be basic daycare.”

    Here are the good governance principles applying:

    1 Financial – This is a Finance Matter, not an Education Matter. Taxpayers provide dollars for education to happen. Who better than Finance to distribute the money to qualified clients and provide accountability for the money?

    2 Money Follows The Child – It is actually parental responsibility to see that their child is educated and the parent will be held responsible for proper use of that money.

    3 Devolution In Practice – Why should a central government operate a near-monopoly service when those closest to the action can best administer and manage?

    4 Citizens As Self-Determining –The aggregate effect of assorted independent efforts are just as likely, economically, to produce as good results as something organized from afar — leading to self-reliance rather than dependency on the state.

    5 Diversity, Not One-Size-Fits-All – Parents can choose from choices already available or help in developing new schools, free schools, or other learning networks — customizing as necessary or shopping for specific services for special needs and talents of the student.

    6 Innovation – There is a great stimulus for innovation and entrepreneurship once money is freed up from bureaucratic and predetermined constraints. Flexibility, modernization and experimentation are thus encouraged at the grassroots level.

    7 Political Principle: People Should Have A Voice In Decisions That Affect Them – Parents genuinely included in decision-making about their child makes them ideal candidates for broader policy decisions, locally and provincially. The book by Seymour Sarason — Parental Involvement and the Political Principle — goes so far as to propose abolishing the existing governance system that deters and deskills parents. Pasi Salhberg, a leading international speaker on behalf of the Finnish Model of Education says that in a group of 10 discussing education policies only one should be a teacher, and that parents should be involved.

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