Of all promises made in the pre-election budget put forward by the BC Liberals today, the one that we should be most skeptical about is projected education spending (which, incidentally, has been underestimated).
The main reason for the increase in funding on the education file is that Christy Clark’s government has been forced by the BC Supreme Court and Supreme Court of Canada to change its funding formula.
The court was clear in its decree: this is restitution –punishment of a government that flouted the law so callously that it needed to be taught a lesson. And the lesson has taken the form of a $250+ million per year hit to taxpayers.
All this is so unnecessary! As explained in the Court rulings, the government was never under any obligation to acquiesce to teacher union demands. It was only required to engage in the bargaining process in good faith –that is, with the intention of arriving at a collective agreement. The government is entitled to play hard ball with the union, and even to legislate if no agreement can be reached.
But Christy Clark, in her blind political ambition, decided to make an enemy of BC’s teachers, believing that if she could bring the union to its knees, she would come off as a hero for free enterprise.
Her toying with the BCTF was never about reaching agreements, and the BC Supreme Court saw right through her shenanigans. The documents uncovered in court proved that the Liberals were goading the union in order to score political points, while parents scrambled to find daycare for their kids who were not in school where they belonged. Clark figured she could pin all the troubles on teachers, and parents would believe her.
The Liberals’ ongoing bungling of the education file has been disgraceful. No private corporation could survive if it botched negotiations as badly as the BC Liberals did. (But then again, no private corporation has an endless stream of taxpayers’ money to pay its legal bills, and private corporations lose money during strikes.)
This issue could have been put to rest for a lot less money in 2010, had the Liberals only honoured the ruling of the BC Supreme Court at that time, stopped their mean-spirited (illegal, as it turns out) attacks on the Union, and tried to come to agreements. But they just laughed up their sleeves, and kept on in their glib manner.
And now who’s laughing? Certainly not the taxpayers of BC who are paying an increase of over $740 million over three years. And despite their vindication in court, neither are teachers. The government has added a toxin to the work environment that simply was not there before the BC Liberals came to power in 2000 –one that is unlikely to go away as long as Christy Clark is premier.
It’s worth noting here that shortly before the Liberals took power, the outgoing NDP government had ended local bargaining of teacher salaries, thereby setting up a system that reduced BC Teachers’ leverage in negotiations with government. No more could agreements be whipsawed from district to district. Christy Clark and the Liberals squandered that advantage over and over, and now we all pay.