British Columbians have front-row seats for one of the bloodiest political contests to ever unfold in our province. It’s a shame that it’s over one of the few values that our nation and province holds sacrosanct: the necessity for provincial governments to provide a high-quality of public education.
Children require schooling. It’s their constitutionally-enshrined right. And until recently, I was of the opinion that our provincial government recognized this and was willing to take on the responsibility to deliver the goods as per the charters that govern our province.
In the last year, however, the citizens of British Columbia have had a certain swath of wool removed from their eyes, and we are beginning to suspect that the current holders of provincial power are utterly lacking in credibility -- at least as far as their history of dealings with the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation is concerned.
In a scorching B.C. Supreme Court ruling handed down earlier this year by Madam Justice Susan Griffin, the B.C. Liberal government has been castigated and financially penalized for their ongoing history of bad faith dealings in their negotiations with our kids’ teachers.
Now, Madam Justice Susan Griffin is no slouch when it comes to matters of the law. Over a decade ago, before she was appointed to her current position, the lawyer was considered one of the country’s top corporate litigators; and in our province she has virtually written the book on civil proceedings. She is a fine, fine lawyer, and one of the country’s top legal minds.
It is therefore somewhat revealing of the B.C. Liberal government’s brand of playing dirty politics when we remember Christy Clark’s response to that fateful January ruling by Justice Griffin. In effect she indicated that, well, everything will be just fine (from the government’s perspective) as soon as we (the B.C. Liberals) find a judge who has a different slant on things than Madam Justice Griffin.
By insisting upon revisiting a legal battle that the Province has already lost twice, one might be forgiven for thinking that the B.C. Liberal Party has lost complete control of its senses. If you know a little about the law, it is extremely rare that a new judge will overturn the decision written by another judge. And given that the BCTF has already won twice, it is foolish to expect the Province’s appeal of the second ruling to go in their favour. But, damn the naysayers, Premier Clark and Education Minister Peter Fassbender are absolutely resolute in proceeding with the ongoing appeal of the last ruling.
The B.C. Liberal government is not interested in resolving the labour impasse with the BCTF in a fair-minded manner. And there has been much speculation in recent days that perhaps the Libs have something else up their sleeves when it comes to delivering education to our province’s kids. Over and over again we hear from the government that the system is unsustainable in its present form, and that the BCTF demands for a say in class size and composition negatively impact what the government keeps referring to as “the affordability zone.”
We also know that the ideology that guides our current government is anathema to anything other than a free-enterprise business-model when it comes to making good on its responsibilities to deliver the essential services that we all have come to rely on, the two most expensive and important being health-care and public education.
In my estimation, the current model of delivering education can work, but only if the Province has a rock-solid commitment to making it work. One way to undermine it (and subsequently claim that the system is “broken”) is to chronically underfund it. And that is precisely what has been happening for years now.
Amplifying this lack of commitment from our erstwhile governors is the stinging rebuke from Madame Justice Griffin. After itemizing a lengthy list of the B.C. Liberals’ guile in their dealings with the BCTF, the Madam Justice offers:
"The Court has concluded that the government did not negotiate in good faith with the union after the Bill 28 Decision. One of the problems was that the government representatives were pre-occupied by another strategy. Their strategy was to put such pressure on the union that it would provoke a strike by the union. The government representatives thought this would give government the opportunity to gain political support for imposing legislation on the union."
This is politics as we have come to know it in B.C.: strategies buttressed by divide-and-conquer tactics intended to polarize public opinion, and a bullying intention to re-shape many of the institutions that we have come to rely on, without proper assent from the electorate. (Thank God we still have an independent judiciary to keep governors of all political stripes in check).
Is it any wonder that the BCTF is having a difficult time finding anything resembling credibility coming from the other side of the too-little-visited bargaining table?
Expect “summer holidays” to continue well into October, folks. Let’s pray that we can see a settlement before the snow flies.
— Having lost his 2,500 volume library in the Okanagan Mountain Park Fire, Jeffrey is beginning to fill the void by writing his own. Reach him at jeff.loewen(at)gmail.com