COLUMN: Getting back to teaching and learning

The B.C. Teachers’ Federation will have made its point – it can’t stand provincial governments telling it what to do.

OK, so after the three days of the teachers’ strike next week, we’re done, right?

The B.C. Teachers’ Federation will have made its point – it can’t stand provincial governments telling it what to do – and we can get back to the business of educating kids. Or are we going to drag this on for the rest of the school year?

Not likely, if the Libs pass legislation imposing a mediator and a cool-off period to August.

The sooner the better.

This entire set of so-called collective agreement negotiations has been absurd theatre from the opening act.

The BCTF opened with a bid for a 15 per cent pay hike over three years, along with ridiculous demands for bereavement leave and paid time off to look after a sick friend.

I know that unions usually throw an entire grab bag of goodies on the table before the real serious talks begin, but in this anemic economic climate, the BCTF’s  initial demands had to be designed to get the public’s attention, and ramp up the government’s blood pressure.

If so, it achieved both.

But instead of getting real, the process hit the wall and stayed there, for about a year and through 75 bargaining sessions.

The Liberals were locked into their net zero position. They had to be, since the rest of the public sector unions settled on that basis, and there’s a “me too” clause lurking in the wings for them, which says that if any other public service union gets an increase above zero, all the rest do as well.

That’s what many supporters seem to forget when they say, give teachers a cost of living increase of maybe a couple/few per cent.

OK, that’ll be a few hundred million. And then add the same to every other union that settled for zero. Now we’re talking billions of dollars.

Well, the government should just find the money. And where might that be? Don’t suggest the old drone about the government bureaucrats taking a pay cut. It sounds good, but it wouldn’t come close to a tiny fraction of the value of even a small hike to all union wages in the province.

The government is already running a deficit of nearly $1 billion.

It has put forth one of the most austere budgets in recent provincial history, and rightly so.

Should Victoria boost the deficit even higher? Servicing that debt will mean less money down the road for other little luxuries, like say, the health care system, which is hoovering nearly half of the entire budget.

The other option is this: If you want teachers to be paid more, then ask to have your taxes increased.

No thanks to the latter, and if we’re going to consider the former, then at least let’s put that money into the education issues that have largely got lost in the bitter rhetoric, such as more assistance for special needs students.

I don’t buy into the wage and benefits comparison argument – whereby one union compares itself to another, either here or in another province, and then complains it’s below par.

That’s a never-ending game, which just continually ratchets up costs to taxpayers with no tangible outcome of improved performance.

I believe most teachers don’t like the politics of the situation any more than most parents.  I’d also hazard a guess that most would welcome some pressure-relieving measures in the classroom over a highly unlikely miniscule pay hike.

If there’s going to be a mediator in this mess, I’d like to hear some reasonable thinking around that.

Meanwhile, I’d like our teachers to get back to teaching, and our children back to learning.

As for the students who planned to “walk out” today, there’s ant old term for that. Skipping class.

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