Why I’m siding with BC teachers

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More like Crusty Clark, amirite?
Don't blame BC's teachers for the elongated strike — blame Christy Clark's liberals.

On June 5, 2001, when I was just seven years old, Christy Clark began her reign as BC’s Education Minister. The BC Liberals, a party Clark now leads, ran on a platform entitled “A New Era for British Columbia” which promised to “create a public education system that’s the envy of the world.”

Since that day, Clark’s policies have certainly marked a new era for British Columbia — one with a deeply broken and battered public education system.

On my last day of the first grade, the collective agreement between the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) and the BC Government expired. In her campaign, Clark had vowed to increase parental involvement in the public education system, restore education as an essential service, and ensure that school would remain in session for students in the event of a strike. These promises manifested themselves in several legislative actions, most notably through Bill 27 and 28, which both passed on January 27, 2002.

These bills imposed the teachers’ contract, and effectively stripped the BCTF of the right to collective bargaining, including their ability to negotiate class size, composition, and other working and learning conditions for teachers and students alike. The BCTF reported that this cut roughly $275 million in education funding, leaving our teachers with some of the lowest salaries in Canada.

Christy Clark’s policies have marked a new era for British Columbia — one with a deeply broken and battered public education system.

The salary increases that were established in the teachers’ contract were delegated to the school districts across the province, leading to incredible deficits in my school district during my time in grades three and four. To top it all off, Bill 19 was passed in 2005, which extended the imposed contract of Bill 28 into 2006. As a result of this unreasonable neglect, the BCTF went on strike in October 2005.

In 2005, I moved to another school district in BC, and there I had my first experience with a teacher who was willing to donate hundreds of hours of volunteer work to provide me and my peers with a quality education. She held book clubs, taught us to sing French music, and even took us all on a weekend camping trip to Cultus Lake where we carved soapstone and found salamanders.

This teacher, who took extra time to listen to me, who sparked my love of literature and outdoor education, was one of thousands of BC teachers who went on illegal strike in protest of their treatment by the Liberal government for over two weeks. At the end of this strike in 2006, a five-year tentative agreement was signed by both teachers and the government which included a signing bonus and wage increase for educators.

The years between 2006 and 2011 were big for me. I was in a pubescent hot mess of pimples and crushes, sneaking out of my parents’ houses and getting into trouble. Eventually, I moved away to finish my public education career in the same sleepy small town I started it in. There, I met teachers who, again, donated hundreds — maybe thousands — of volunteer hours towards extra-curricular music, theatre, and film programs that have since served as the foundation of my passion for filmmaking and community service.

Meanwhile, on April 13, 2011, the BC Supreme Court ruled that Bills 27 and 28, enacted by the BC government in 2002, were “unconstitutional and invalid.” As a result, the government was given 12 months to remedy its illegalities and return the language about class size and composition to the contract.

The next year, my final one in the public education system, my teachers went on a three-day strike to protest the lack of action by Christy Clark’s government in addressing the illegality of Bills 27 and 28. Bill 22 was then legislated to bring teachers back to school after spring break. As the Liberals still had not struck a collective agreement with teachers and their illegal actions had not been addressed, the BCTF took the BC government back to the Supreme Court.

My graduating year, 2012, was a success largely due to the immense support of my teachers. Despite my disappointment in losing extra-curricular privileges such as in-school film festivals, extra rehearsals, and after school support, I left the public education system with immense gratitude for many teachers who mentored me far beyond the curriculum.

That same year I began my career at SFU, and began working for an organization in East Vancouver that serves some of the city’s most vulnerable inner-city children. In 2013, around the time I started working with this organization, a report was published stating that BC has the highest rate of child poverty in all of Canada: 19 per cent of children in our province live in poverty, compared to the 13 per cent national average.

We must consider that many children who miss school due to strikes may not even be having their most basic needs met. BC public schools provide meal programs, education, and support to children who otherwise may not receive these essential services due to financial barriers. These barriers simply will not be broken down by the $40-a-day offered by the BC government for every day on strike after September 2, 2014. In order to serve BC’s most vulnerable youth, the government needs to find a way to deal with the teachers effectively and fairly.

Almost 12 years to the day of the enactment of Bills 27 and 28, the BC government was ordered to pay the BCTF $2 million in damages for its ongoing neglect to address the language of class size and composition. On August 30, 2014, Christy Clark ended her recent silence on the matter with a series of tweets, the first of which read, “We remain committed to negotiating a fair deal with the BCTF, but it has to be affordable for taxpayers.”

Allowing BC’s students to have access to necessary support in a safe environment does need to be affordable for British Columbians, but Clark and the Liberal government have neglected the concerns of our teachers far past the point of no return. Court battles, media campaigns, and $40-a-day band-aids are just some ways Clark and her government evade the BCTF’s concerns, and these ploys are costing taxpayers and children alike.

Christy Clark, I was in the BC public school system with you for over a decade. Now, as a taxpayer and citizen fighting for the basic human rights of children in this province, I urge you and your government to give the BCTF a fair deal.