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CONTRIBUTION · 4th October 2011
Al Lehmann
The BC Liberals Don’t Care About You

Christy Clark’s Liberals seem ready to take the gloves off in their ongoing “hate” for teachers and their union, the BCTF. Liberal actions are essentially hypocritical and self-serving, but when has a BC Liberal Party plan of action, particularly with regard to education, been anything else? It has always been their mission to reduce the public sector, either by attrition, which is what most of the last ten years has been about, or through some form of “shock and awe,” whose initial steps were the stripping of contracts in 2002, and whose echoes citizens may currently observe in the bargaining position of the Liberals’ phony front men, the obstructionist BC Public Schools Employers’ Association (BCPSEA, for short).

Liberal strategy is hardly original, being essentially modeled on the chaos created by Republican administrations in the USA (both federal and state). The strategy goes like this.

1. Provide ongoing tax cuts, to corporations and wealthy individuals in particular. These cuts decrease revenue available for government programs such as health care and education.
2. Gradually decrease spending in these areas, a pressure that creates an ongoing sense of crisis, especially for those whose special needs children become victims of neglect or for citizens waiting for surgery, for example, as well as for front-line workers trying to provide services with inadequate resources.
3. Next, blame the employee groups as “selfish and misguided.” Get your private sector allies in the media to provide a continuous cascade of “news” (really propaganda) demonstrating how teachers, nurses, special service assistants, and other public employees (especially unionized employees) are ineffectual and lazy drones squeezing the average citizen’s tax bills and providing nothing in return.
4. Finally, encourage privatization, either through stealth, or by simply making the public system that is meant equitably to provide for all citizens unappealing.

The Liberals have done all of the above. As public service systems have progressively crumbled, the Liberals have continued to increase funding for private schools and to allow private clinics in the medical field to operate more or less unimpeded (perhaps there have been a few “wrist slaps”), despite the Canada Health Act, which specifically forbids them.

Even though the BC Supreme Court has consistently ruled against the Liberal government’s previous legislative assaults against public workers, to every degree possible the Liberals have ignored the court’s rulings. Presumably they believe that, at least when they are in power, the government is above the law. Now in the dispute with teachers, aside from their so-called mandate of “net zero” (translation to employee groups: take a cut), they want to eliminate or drastically reduce benefits, hire and fire at will with no reference to seniority, qualifications, or anything at all other than employer opinion, and impose a vastly inferior pension plan on all new employees.

In 2006 teachers risked an illegal strike most specifically to protest the Liberal-created messes to do with class size and composition. Parents understood these issues and generally backed the teachers. In order to ensure labour peace in the run-up to the Olympics in 2010, the Liberals made all kinds of promises concerning education in exchange for a five-year contract. Campbell established the Premier’s Round Table on Education and placed details regarding class size and composition into legislation. Teachers gave Campbell’s offer the benefit of the doubt (a huge mistake, given his record of dishonesty) and signed.

The results? Well, there were no strikes. But neither were there any improvements whatever in school conditions. The Liberals attended a few pro forma meetings, which accomplished nothing because the government stonewalled on every teacher suggestion for improvements, and the Liberals serenely ignored their own legislation, resulting in tens of thousands of classes in breach of the legislated guidelines. As well, cash-strapped boards continued to close schools throughout the province.

Lest you are still tempted to blame what the Liberals’ media machine labels “those greedy teachers,” you should be aware of some further context to these issues.

In the late 1990’s teachers negotiated with the previous NDP government. Teachers agreed to take no salary increase for two years in exchange for the government’s agreement to provide sufficient funding to allow negotiated caps on class size and limits to special needs numbers in classrooms. If anyone has children’s learning conditions at the top of their agenda, it’s teachers. However, the Liberal government shredded these agreements in 2002. Today, the Liberals’ “net zero” mantra continues to reflect what they think of employees, parents, and children alike. We count for zero.

The Liberals occasionally do talk a good line. Oh, yes, teachers are “an essential service.” (One imagines students dying in the streets of grammar deprivation or innumeracy infections.) The teachers’ union, the BC Teachers’ Federation, went to great lengths to determine exactly how essential services are defined by the Labour Relations Board, in order to craft their job action to fit within its guidelines. Thus, as the action currently stands, local administrators are finding that they have a few inconvenient tasks to handle. But classrooms are filled (nearly to bursting, it’s true, but the children are there) and teaching and learning are moving ahead.

Recently the Liberals’ lapdogs at BCPSEA were talking of locking the teachers out, an ironic plan given how essential education is purported to be. Of course, they’ll count on the government to ride to the rescue to impose a settlement. If the school boards do begin a lockout, remember that it is the government closing the schools, not the teachers, however the Liberal media machine tries to spin it.

The Liberals have taken approximately $2 billion out of public education (and perhaps even more from other public programs) over the past decade, mostly to pay for corporate tax cuts whose benefits have gone straight to the upper class. Since 2001 corporate taxes have been reduced by nearly 40% in British Columbia. (Yes, they threw a few bones out there in individual tax cuts, too, but the real gravy went to the corporations and their shareholders.) Naturally, the elected representatives that engineered this financial coup were well rewarded. For example, former Liberal finance minister Carole Taylor, who removed the capital tax on banks (well over $200 million a year in government revenue) was given a directorship for the Toronto Dominion Bank. And Gordon Campbell, who held down minimum wages for ten years, has been named (by his soul mate Stephen Harper) High Commissioner to the United Kingdom at a salary of about $190,000 per year. (But hey, if you want “quality” you have to pay for it, right?)

If you get nothing else from this analysis, get at least this clear. The Liberals do not care about your children’s public schooling. They are not interested in a public school system that encourages free inquiry and learning how to think. They do not want to provide quality public services period, except insofar as these might be necessary to keep them elected. What they truly seem to want is a cowed and obedient labour force (with sufficient skills to do what they’re told) ruled by fear for their own immediate economic decline, a decline essentially engineered by Liberal policies. In one continuation of this assault, the Liberals will probably try to do to the teachers what the federal Conservatives did to the postal workers: replace a negotiated contract with an imposed one.

If the Liberals get their way, do not expect BC’s education system to get better. The Liberals have done nearly everything in their power to gum up the works without being blamed. They have succeeded in alienating nearly all their employee groups (perhaps except those in the Minister’s office), they have presided over a decade of decay in the schools’ physical infrastructure (running down their real assets), and they have repeatedly ignored the pleas of many parents and the advice of their own professionals.

The Liberals are governing for the upper class. If you’re not in that social group (and most of us are not), they don’t care about you.

Teacher too
Comment by Steve on 18th October 2011
Al, thank-you. I haven't heard it spoken better. In the end, we all get what we pay for... teachers, doctors, nurses, products and services. But, I think we're fighting a losing battle in this economy and with the demographic shift. The baby boomers are heading out to pasture and no longer wish to invest in the future of our public trust. Oil and bank stocks garner more attention than public service. What we do has been successfully undermined by the Liberal government and it will require more capitalist societal pain before we re-align our priorities. $20K difference a year may be the price we pay for a "Bush" style public sector adjustment but the as the system suffers and the pendulum shifts, good people will realize the error. The sad thing is that it's the kids that ultimately suffer in the end while the politics prevail. I for one will continue to devote all the energy I can muster to make my classroom the inviting and exciting place that it is. I may check my pay cheque once a year just to make sure I know how much I take home so I can budget properly. The rest is fluff and fairness. According to the BC government, my three degrees aren't worth a whole lot and neither is my contribution to my community. I'm convinced they don't really care about my community though... but I do and I'll continue to do what I do the best I can until sensible people get to make the decisions that affect us all.
Bill Braam!
Comment by Janice P. Robinson on 12th October 2011
How come I didn't think of that! Oy-vey!
Charlotte: As soon as the dust settles, I'll be down. I guess we're never too old to go back. But, it's so hard, and it takes over my whole life! Wah!

Then pay the Timmies people oil patch wages too
Comment by bill braam on 12th October 2011
Comments here seem to be money related so why not pay the Tim Hortons employees oil patch wages, fair is fair. So then the only thing happening will be the local Tim Hortons franchise closing its doors when nobody buys its high price coffee to cover employee wages. Teachers, do not hold the kids for ransom just because your wages are a bit lower than your Alberta counterparts. Go to school again, take a few courses to get your Masters degree and 'voila' your wages will go up drastically. Thank you.
Respect: to look again, re........spect.
Comment by Janice P. Robinson on 11th October 2011
I am a teacher, and I cannot stop.

Just like carpenters, storytellers, mechanics, fisherpeople, police, healers, etc......... call us crazy, but we just always got to do it, wherever.... union/non-union.......gonna do it. Watch this.

I am so good at teaching, the Correctional Service of Canada paid me $1000.00 per day to share/practice my art. They attempted to use an organization named The National Native Association of Treatment Directors (NNATD) to get my money to me. The need for my expertise was not covered by any union contract. The NNATD was comprised of all the executive directors of all the native treatment centres in Canada. By the time my money went through that one office, it was minus $750.00 per day........"administration expenses."

The Correctional Service of Canada took the NNATD to court and banned them from federal prisons for this in 1995. They stole money from other First Nations teachers, too. The NNATD changed its name, and I was blackballed from their midst.

"Janice, you'll never work another day in Native health asshole!"

I kept my name, and my integrity.

I have always counted, and so do you. Believe it.
Go where the money is...
Comment by A reader on 11th October 2011
Yes, I think teachers should and leave BC with bottom of the barrel teachers. Then the government can whine about how undereducated students are in the public school system, abolish the system and make parents PAY high dollars for a private school education. Makes sense to me.
Teachers are always advocates...
Comment by Alien... on 10th October 2011
Dear Al,

I really enjoyed reading your piece, but what one must also focus on is how we got here. teachers in B.C. are try their best in conditions that are deteriorating. The Liberals have taken over $3 billion dollars out of the system in order to fund corporate cuts and also their own raises and gold plated pensions. Others out there think that teachers have it good...too good, but wouldn't you want teachers to be able to focus on their work and not having them stressed thinking of where their next meal or housing payment is coming from? This is not true for teachers, they struggle like everyone else!
Mr G. --'A middle east uprising', are you serious?
Comment by bill braam on 10th October 2011
A middle east uprising would without a doubt backfire very badly for you. The little people that actually have to work 50 weeks out of the year would come looking for you and 'high position' you have made for yourself and quickly put you back where you belong. I have gotten to know too many teachers and my respect for you has sadly dwindled . Thank You
Comment by bill braam on 10th October 2011
If you can make big money running a water truck in the oil patch and if they make way more money teaching in Alberta, go there! A Tim Hortons employee makes way more money in oil patch towns too, that doesn't mean we have to match those wages here. Good greif, I am sick of the 'have nots' the teachers are lacking. Go where the money is and stop whining how bad you have it. Too many teachers get educated in subsidized universities and then get employed by the public purse which has boundries. I may be coming on strong but I am sick of how 'bad' a teacher has it. Breaking News....most anyone with a job has it much worse. Thank you
Comment by Mr.G on 10th October 2011
And let's not mention that BC Teachers are significantly behind other teachers in the country for salary..some $15 to 20k. This is largely the fault of the system..the government a.k.a. Ministry of Education should have clear empirical research in place to enshrine class size limits and support levels for quality education to all.
Teachers should never have to fight for those things..we don't run the company. We are the workers, so salary, benefits and pension are what we should always be bargaining for.
Right now, a water truck driver in the oil patch earns $100k a year....I don't care if that is private enterprise..teachers should be paid a lot more for their education and service to society than a water truck driver who may or may not have graduated.
Time for a Middle East style uprising really...
teachers have it pretty good
Comment by bill braam on 10th October 2011
More, more more. That's all that seems to percolate out of teachers demands. They cry about the students but don't seem to realize that it's their own salary that is really being asked to increase. With all the perks, benefits, sick days off they can schedule when perfectly healthy, nice pensions = a pretty darn good life! Perhaps they are so insulated from the real world they just don't realize how good they have it already. Perhaps they can learn a bit of contentment in life, thank you
Comment by Stacey Tyers on 10th October 2011
We had an NDP fundraiser on the weekend... the political party that supports the teachers... maybe 5 teachers came?

If you want change start getting involved. If you choose to ignore the politics... you will continue to get more of the same.
Thank you
Comment by Sara on 9th October 2011
Thank you for putting the truth into print. I am a teacher, and I will do everything I can to expose as many eyes as I can to your article. Very well said.
Thank you.
Thank you
Comment by Joanne on 8th October 2011
Thank you for printing the article by Al Lehmann "Why you don't count" Oct. 4, 2011. Finally a newspaper that prints a piece written by someone who has got the facts straight. Hats off to Al for such a well written article.
Eat the Rich
Comment by Evelyn von Almassy on 8th October 2011
I am one of those teachers who came into the profession in 1990. I went out on an "illegal" strike because I believed that students were worth it. But, it is like deja vu, because again, we want better for our students.

Do surgeons need to do job action in order to have nurses and assistant in the operating room? No, because you might die, if she does not have help. Well, underfunded schools won't have dead students, but they will grow up thinking, I wonder why I can't read to my teachers helper every day? It sure helps me read better, when I get one on one help each day.

Why, or why, is a retractable roof and a tax benefit for the wealthy more important than our future
citizens' education? Sure, you can learn from a
computer. It can't tell you stories, or keep you enthralled with real life experiences, or laugh at your jokes or give you a band-aid when you need one.

People inspire other people. Teachers are getting weary of fighting the same battle, year after year, for more services for students.

Parents, go into your children's classes and see for
yourselves the reality of schools today. Write your MLA, write BCPSEA, and email George Abbott, with the message: don't bargain with our children's future.

Listen to the teachers: they are the experts with what schools need. PS Don't be the Grinch and make sure all schools have recess for kids!

In Form ation
Comment by Janet on 8th October 2011
Thanks Al,
The best description of what is happening and why- that I have read. I will be passing this on.
Excellent article Al.!
Comment by Helmut Giesbrecht on 5th October 2011
I would have expected some reaction by now. Here is a bit of the 1990's history.

You missed the piece of legislation from the late 90's which created provincial bargaining. That legislation stripped the provision that made each local teacher's union the bargaining agent for teachers. This action set the stage for the Province controlling the bargaining process as they do now. While it was not the intention then that contract negotiations would never again follow rules of fairness, it was predicted by myself and others that this would be the outcome. The Liberals with their anti-union position just took it a few steps step further.

This legislation, I'm sad to say, was tabled by the NDP Government and was naturally supported by the Liberals in opposition. I recall going into the Whips office and telling him that I couldn't support the move. He told me to take a few days leave to avoid the vote. I avoided the vote and a few others would have as well if given the same option but it would have passed easily in the house regardless.

That isn't much comfort these days but it is part of the record in Hansard that I was absent for the vote.
Well said Mr. Lehman
Comment by blocky bear on 5th October 2011
In my view the present B.C. government does not operate for the benefit of the many but the benefit of the few! Second your motion! d.b.