EDITORIAL: True intermediary needs impartiality

Wherever one stands on the current teachers’ dispute, it must be recognized that it is crucial for all sides that the mediator appointed should be considered by all parties to be independent and impartial at the outset.

Unfortunately for upcoming negotiations – already a potential minefield – there are serious flaws in the optics of the B.C. government’s appointment of Charles Jago as mediator, at an estimated cost to taxpayers of $2,000 per day .

A former president of the University of Northern B.C. and author of a 2006 report on education in the province, Jago has been faulted by the BC Teachers Federation as a former contributor to the BC Liberals’ war chest – to the tune of $500 in 2007 and the same again in 2010.

Jago has explained the amounts represent tickets purchased for fundraising golf tournaments, as though that somehow made them less significant than straight contributions to the BC Liberal cause. But contributions – and generous ones – they were.

The public may have a hard time believing one would dish out that kind of money for something one doesn’t endorse, and Jago’s presence at such fundraising events implies, at the very least, some philosophic alignment with the party.

It is true the BCTF is of a mind to find fault with Jago’s background and the circumstances of his appointment – hardly surprising considering the rancor surrounding Education Minister George Abbott’s introduction of Bill 22, which imposed the current cooling off period and mediation.

But one can only imagine the sound and fury that would have been heard had a left-wing government appointed a mediator who had made such contributions to the BCTF or NDP.

And now comes the admission from Abbott that Jago both saw – and suggested changes to – Bill 22 before it became law, even before the BCTF had a chance to submit its own suggestions for mediator.

It is pointless to argue, as Abbott has done, that the sections Jago viewed of the draft bill pertained only to his terms of reference and his mandate. That he contributed to any of it clearly compromises the process – in the same way as discussion of evidence of a criminal case among jurors, however innocuous, is deemed sufficient cause to declare a mistrial.

Given the plummeting popularity for the BC Liberals – and what many see as the yawning credibility gap for the provincial government –  such blunders do nothing to improve their chances of being re-elected.

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