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A generation of BC children lose out

BCTF President Jim Iker . . . Premier Clark has a choice

The Editor, The Nelson Daily

This week the BC Supreme Court ruled, for the second time, that the BC government broke the Constitution, twice when it stripped teachers of our working conditions.

Those working conditions kept class sizes small, ensured students had access to specialist teachers, and provided extra help to students with special needs. This week’s ruling was a victory for teachers and students, but also for working people across BC and Canada.

That 2002 legislation, Bill 28 brought forward by then-Education Minister Christy Clark, was ruled unconstitutional in 2011.

On Monday, Justice Susan Griffin ruled that the government violated our rights again in 2012, when Premier Clark and her government re-enacted the same unconstitutional language from 2002.

Justice Griffin also found that the government strategy was to provoke a teachers’ strike and shut down BC schools to build public sympathy for more heavy-handed laws. The Premier and her government put their politics before BC students. 

Thankfully, the ruling has restored all of the stripped contract language from 2002. It’s been a hard-fought victory, and teachers are rightly celebrating that justice has been done. But it comes with a bittersweet sense that so much needless damage has been done to public education in BC.

This victory does not erase 12 years of cutbacks in public education or the fact that an entire generation of BC kids has been short-changed. Children who were in Kindergarten in 2002 are now in Grade 12 and about to graduate.

They have paid the highest price.

They can never get back what Christy Clark and her government took from them. Throughout their school careers, they have been in larger, overly complex classes, and received less one-on-one time than children who graduated prior to 2002.

Bill 28 also allowed the government to underfund education. As a result, BC has fallen behind the rest of Canada. According to the latest Statistics Canada data, BC is last on seven key measures of education funding.

BC’s funding is currently $1,000 less per-student than the national average. Only PEI is worse than BC in terms of per-student funding. This is completely unacceptable for a province as prosperous as BC.

But now, there is hope that those coming up through the system will start to see classroom conditions and support levels improve. 

In restoring our working conditions contract language from 2002, BC schools will once again be able to offer smaller classes, more support for children with special needs, and extra help for all students.

Premier Clark now has a choice: will she work with us to begin rebuilding our excellent school system or will she continue the fight?

Rebuilding has to start with government respecting the Supreme Court ruling and apologizing for its deliberate attempt to provoke a strike and shut down BC schools in 2012. 

Teachers sincerely hope government is ready to put education before politics and reinvest in our students.

Jim Iker, President, BC Teachers’ Federation