Opinion

EDITORIAL: Class warfare

You expect students to be on edge at the prospect of returning to school – while parents breathe a quiet sigh of relief after a long summer.

But thanks to the ongoing labour dispute, our nerves are all a little frayed – as parents contemplate childcare arrangements, and the standoff between the BC Teachers Federation and the Ministry of Education shows every sign (as of this writing, at least) of dragging on.

Rather than celebrating a prolonged holiday, many students are impatient to get the inevitable return over with.

Compounding the confusion are union leaders who have underestimated the will of our elected officials, and mixed messages from Education Minister Peter Fassbender, who’s made it clear he has no interest in legislating teachers back to work.

Indeed, it appears his government, of all stakeholders, is the least concerned with finding a genuine solution. Why else would it sooner offer parents $40 per day to subsidize childcare, than provide what could be seen as a reasonable offer? This gesture – about equal to the estimated $12 million saved in the strike – is hard to reconcile with “where is the money coming from?” arguments he’s advanced.

People can also be forgiven for being confused by the ministry’s multiple pockets. The one in which it keeps $46 million in capital funds for last week’s re-announced planned Clayton North high school is not, we’re told, the same pocket in which it keeps funds for staff wages.

And we should definitely not interpret the timing of the announcement as a diversion; it’s merely “business as usual” at the ministry – though circumstances appear to be anything but.

Also overshadowing attempts to mediate the current dispute is the ongoing court case over Bill 28, with which the government, 12 years ago, eliminated teachers’ rights to negotiate class sizes and composition. It’s interesting the BC Liberals are proposing a new clause that would allow either side to opt out, should they be unhappy with the outcome of the court case. Given that the B.C. Supreme Court has twice found the government bargained in bad faith – a decision under appeal – it would appear only one party could ultimately benefit from such a clause.

Given the lack of movement on both sides of the bargaining table, students, parents and other taxpayers can be forgiven for wondering if it’s the so-called leaders who should first be returning to class.

 

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