Opinion

Another sequel for 'School Wars’

NDP MLAs Raj Chouhan, Harry Bains and Bill Routley join BCGEU, BCTF and others at teacher strike rally, B.C. legislature, March 6, 2012. - Tom Fletcher/Black Press
NDP MLAs Raj Chouhan, Harry Bains and Bill Routley join BCGEU, BCTF and others at teacher strike rally, B.C. legislature, March 6, 2012.
— image credit: Tom Fletcher/Black Press

VICTORIA – Like a bad reality show about a dysfunctional family, B.C. School Wars has lurched to life again for the 2013 election.

Coming soon to billboards and buses across the province: staged pictures of sad-faced kids crammed into dirty classrooms by a heartless government. It doesn’t even matter which government. This ritual combat went on through Social Credit and NDP governments too.

Premier Christy Clark opened the new season with her promised pitch to restructure bargaining. It suggested splitting up bargaining into traditional wage and benefit talks, and a separate table and fund for classroom size and support.

Cast in her familiar role of the sullen, rebellious teenager, BCTF president Susan Lambert staged a news conference to distort and mock the government’s offer.

A 10-year deal if we give up bargaining wages and classroom conditions? “Ludicrous.”

What’s ludicrous is her characterization of a formula to link teacher pay to nurses, post-secondary faculty and other government workers. Nurses are renowned for getting raises when no one else does, so this should be an opportunity for these powerful unions to co-ordinate.

But the BCTF can’t get along with other unions any more than it can negotiate with any discernible competence.

Lambert falsely claimed there was no consultation on the proposal. This reminded me how she low-balled the costs of her union’s demands by hundreds of millions during what passed for negotiations in last year’s strike season.

Behind the scenes, the BCTF executive and the school district bargaining agent had just settled on a mutual costing model. What this means is the school districts, which have to make payroll and balance budgets, have convinced the BCTF to stop misrepresenting costs. I’ll believe that when I see it.

Before Education Minister Don McRae had even spoken, BCTF vice-president Glen Hansman was growling his reply on Twitter: See you in court. That message presumably also goes for premier-in-waiting Adrian Dix, unless he replaces the hated B.C. Liberals in May, then quickly kneels before the BCTF and extends the key to the provincial treasury.

Two generations of British Columbians have been bullied by this bad drama, since Bill Vander Zalm decided an industrial union bargaining structure was just the ticket for public schools.

Students are taught by example, if not by blatant propaganda in classrooms, that all problems are solved by demanding more money from the government. After this conditioning, older students are sometimes pressed into service as union pickets.

There’s your Social Justice class, kids. Sorry about those sports teams and field trips, but we need those as bargaining chips to get more paid leave time.

To state the obvious, Clark and McRae staged this as a pre-election event to frame the issue. They knew their effort would be greeted as a declaration of war.

The main reason the BCTF agreed to a contract extension with a wage freeze last year? It wasn’t the blindingly obvious fact that every other public sector union had already taken two zeroes. It was strictly tactics.

The delay sets up the latest rematch of these old warriors in the spring election. The plan is to get the dreaded B.C. Liberals out and then start working over the weaker, more union-dependent NDP.

That’s who caved in earlier and gave the BCTF broad control over staffing levels, the proverbial key to the treasury.

Along with basic math and economics, a point the BCTF seems unable to grasp is that its strategy is self-defeating. Those sad kids are making more and more parents seek a better deal.

Tom Fletcher is legislative reporter and columnist for Black Press and BCLocalnews.com

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