I will vote YES.

I’m going to hold my nose and vote YES today for ratification of the teachers contract.

I’m not happy with the contract. A wage increase below the cost of inflation after 3 years of 0% is unnecessarily austere. What I do is a valuable service. I’m a citizen. We live in a prosperous province. It infuriates me that my service is viewed as a tax burden – that my industry  is viewed as less important than a roof on a little-used sports stadium, or investment in an already-saturated fossil fuel industry (Liquid Natural Gas). What could be more important than a good educational experience for kids?

But I’ll vote YES anyway.

While corporations reap huge profits, BC’s lowest-in-Canada corporate tax rate only ensures that the wealth of these multinational giants does nothing to make BC better. Through a more progressive tax structure in line with the rest of the country, BC could provide children with better learning conditions, and public sector citizens with a living that keeps pace with inflation. How angry and frustrated it makes me feel knowing this, and knowing that my government wants me to lose my standard of living! Am I not a citizen? Is our province’s prosperity not for me?

And this is why we’ll never have labour peace as long as the BC Liberals run the show. Whatever economy they claim to be supporting, it isn’t the economy of most citizens.

So why will I vote YES?

Well, quite simply, we lost. And I suppose it was inevitable. How can we win against a government who doesn’t value what we do? How can there be any expectation of compassion from a government who repeatedly violates Charter rights?

To be honest, I’m tired of fighting. I’m tired of teachers being the only group that fights for public education. Other unions don’t; universities don’t; parent groups don’t; the Chamber of Commerce doesn’t; the principals and vice principals don’t. Even school districts themselves don’t. The real fight always falls on teachers and always at contract time. It’s exhausting emotionally and financially. Eventually a person needs to be at work.

I will vote YES. Though we’ve given away a lot, it hasn’t been a total loss. We have managed to force government to obey the law. I suppose that’s something, although it’s something we shouldn’t have to do. Where are law societies, professional organizations and corporations themselves? And most of all, WHERE IS THE PRESS? Doesn’t anyone understand democracy any more?

Christy Clark tried to frame the latest dispute as a well fought noble battle, with an ending that will lead to labour stability and healing. The opposite is true. This government’s treatment of 41,000 citizens is disgraceful. And there will never be labour peace.

I will vote YES. This isn’t the hill I’ll die on. There are many battles ahead.

I’ll be watching Christy Clark and her cronies. I will watch every single step they take, and I will shout their acts of tyranny from the mountaintops: their ongoing and repeated conflicts of interest, their constant foibles in the courts, their deceptive sound bites in the press. I’ll teach it in the classrooms and in every public medium. Future voters will not miss a single transgression. In every venue, to every ear I’ll expose them.

The people will see them for who they are. A whole new generation of voters will see them for who they are.

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The BC Liberals need to end the teachers dispute – the sooner the better.

I’ll say it again. In the dispute with the BCTF, the BC Liberal government is in trouble. During negotiations, the Liberals’ unceasing public pronouncements front-end loaded the ideas of an “affordability zone” and a settlement “consistent with other public sector unions”. And they repeatedly bargained in the press. This strategy has painted negotiations into a corner. It is now hard for either party to bend without losing face.

And the narrative is bogus anyhow. Negotiations with the teachers can not really be compared to other public sector union negotiations. First of all, the teachers have not had a pay increase for 3 years. And second, the teachers’ situation is complicated by the government’s own twice-repeated charter violation coming back to bite it, as well as the ongoing underfunding of school districts, putting public education into full-on crisis mode. The situation has gotten so bad that the Vancouver School District, in order to be able to continue offering its world class band programs, has had to resort to the temporary measure of spending its contingency fund.

The Liberals want the teachers to give up millions of dollars in court-ordered restitution for charter violations, while getting nothing in return. They feel that they can flex their muscle and grind down the union on this issue. It won’t happen. Having won a stunning court victory, the teachers can claim moral high-ground. They will never give up their quest for compensation. And it’s not greed that motivates them, but a sense of outrage that is revisited every time they look at their class composition. The cuts have gone too deep.

No question, the Liberals can eventually wear the union down financially, and the teachers will have to go to work (though it’s likely that before this were to happen, other unions would weigh in on the Charter violation issue). How many lost school days it will take for this to happen is anyone’s guess. The government has an endless supply taxpayer funds that it can wield on legal appeals and on populist stunts (e.g. a $40 a-day daycare benefit for parents with children under 13). Meanwhile, the union has finite reserves of cash, and can’t last forever.

But to what end would the government do this? Eventually it will have to open schools. Eventually the teachers will have to give up their full walkout and go back to work. But the climate, which has already become acrimonious after 12 years of Liberal de-funding of schools, would become so terrible that it would be very difficult to sustain a vibrant school system. Failing to achieve a deal at the end of a full-scale walkout, the teachers would revert to a slow-burn work-to-rule paradigm which would disrupt school for a long time, and prevent the government from being able to implement systemic change. Without the cooperation of professionals, the government can not run an education system. The students would continue to lose out – big time.

It’s likely that many people would fault teachers for all this disruption, but teachers are well-informed and well-educated, and they have an acute sense of justice. They are not likely to be easily cowed by the opinion of people outside the dispute.

Right now in negotiations, the teachers are willing to compromise on some of the court-ordered compensation. Eventually, the full weight of the court decision will come down on government, and by extension on the citizens of BC. The Liberals would be wise to quietly settle while there is time for people to forget this mess before the next election. To drag it through a low scale job action and court appeals will ensure that the issues follow the Liberals well into the next election campaign.

Furthermore, the casualty count of this battle has already begun. Education workers should be getting paid, and they’re not. Students should be in school, and they’re not.