Two years into the global pandemic, the BC Provincial Health Services Authority’s strategy has become defined by its contradictions. All social gatherings that depend on and feed voluntary community energies are banned. All social gatherings that feed for-profit business markets are encouraged. All industries that drag workers into harm’s way are exempted altogether from restrictions. The buck stops not with the government or business, but with the individual.
Tomorrow morning a group of parents and supporters will be picketing outside one of Vancouver’s most well-funded private schools. While public schools remain closed, private schools continue to operate and draw on the public purse. We will be picketing to call for the immediate opening of public schools, full funding for a quality public education system, and an end to public funding for private elite schools.
Teachers across the Province went on strike yesterday and will continue for the next two days. With over 41,00 teachers walking out, the industrial action was one of the largest demonstrations in decades. Teachers withdrew services in protest of Bill-22 — provincial legislation against collective bargaining for salary, benefit improvements, class size and quality of education. The bill seeks to immediately force teachers back to work without a contract, but also undermine public education in the long-term.
Yesterday’s demonstrations followed on the heels of a powerful, diverse student walkout last Friday on the Vancouver Art Gallery lawns. Despite uncooperative rainy conditions, the student walkout saw an enthusiastic show of politicization by the province’s youth along diverse lines of class, race and ethnicity. The students made an overwhelming call for justice and equality for fellow students and teachers across the province who have been adversely affected by eleven years of neoliberal austerity measures, cuts to education, anti-union legislation, coupled with generous corporate tax cuts.
BC Liberal leadership candidate Kevin Falcon’s campaign team sent out a press release yesterday (Jan 4) proposing that BC teachers’ pay should be tied to student performance. Falcon offered only vague ideas on methods and criteria for measuring student performance.
Falcon’s proposal has drawn condemnation from many quarters – not only teachers unions, but also the Vancouver and Burnaby school board chairs. Today, even the Globe and Mail editorial (entitled “Show us the money”) was thoroughly skeptical of proposal’s costs/benefits.
Vancouver School Board Trustee and Vice-Chair Jane Bouey told The Mainlander today (Jan 5) that Falcon’s proposal “assumes the greatest problem facing BC students is teachers. There is no evidence this is true.” If anything, fault lies at the foot of Falcon and his party: “The real issue is chronic underfunding, after more than a decade of cuts at district levels.”
Of Falcon’s proposal, Bouey said “there is no real evidence that merit pay works. Children are not widgets that just need to be produced more efficiently…It isn’t just that it doesn’t work, there is some evidence that it actually can make things worse.”
This is the first of five installments of our “Top Stories of 2010” countdown. None of these stories would have unfolded or seen the light of day in the absence of community organizing and grassroots activism.
In 2010, BC Liberal Education Minister Margaret MacDiairmid continued Gordon Campbell’s attrition policy aimed at undermining pubic education. Underfunding rocked school districts across the province. Parents organized against the cuts, and their campaign forced MacDiarmid to at least temporarily reverse cuts to the Annual Facilities Grant.
While many elected school trustees across the province timidly implemented the cuts, the Vancouver School Board (VSB), which had a $17M funding shortfall, fought back. On April 4th, VSB Chair Patti Bacchus suggested that MacDiarmid resign for denying the funding crisis. On April 10th, MacDiarmid asked the Comptroller General to “review” VSB finances. The VSB found out about the review through the media, for which MacDiarmid had to apologize. Bacchus emphasized that the real issue – provincial underfunding – was excluded from the scope of the review.