Could Education Tip the BC Election?
BC is now deeply involved in a critical election for education activists. There are higher profile issues like the housing crisis, the LNG fiasco, even bridge tolls but it is also true that the very conservative Liberal Party (LPBC) has mishandled and underfunded the education file so badly over the last two decades, tied to the fact that the election really hangs on 8-10 swing ridings, that elevates education to at least the ‘sleeper issue’ level.
10 ridings that could decide BC election:
The ‘school wars’ in BC are nothing new. They predate the Vander Zalm Social Credit (1986-1991) regime. “STOP VANDERLIZING THE SCHOOLS”. The ongoing war of attrition has long featured the powerful British Columbia Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) against the union bashing Social Credit/LPBC regime of the day. This war has often included the progressive leaning Vancouver School Board and other progressive boards vs. right wing Ministers of Education, Premier Clark being one of the worst.
For non BCers there are really two political formations in BC provincial politics. First there is the ever present BCNDP a 35-45% party, a sometime government party and often official opposition party. Secondly there is the ‘everybody except the NDP party’ in the past represented by Social Credit and in recent years by a conservative-liberal coalition under the LPBC banner. In the deeper past there were official Conservative-Liberal alliances.
This alliance is financed by a coalition of Howe St, (the Bay St of BC), the resource extraction industry and the real estate industry. The ‘wild west’ still prevails in BC election finance where unlimited amounts of business interest money still flows to the LPBC in a fashion that has long been restricted or eliminated in all other provinces and the federal government. It is no hyperbole to say that the LPBC is a wholly owned subsidiary of the above mentioned business coalition. Yes the BCNDP gets financial support from the unions but to less than half the extent. The BCNDP favors the abolition of biz and union political donations.
Now to the issues.
The BCTF Supreme Court Victory
The primary backcloth issue is the Supreme Court of Canada decisions over two attempts by LPBC governments to restrict BCTF bargaining of class size and class composition issues in collective bargaining. Composition refers to the limits put on integrated special education students.
The issue is long and somewhat complex for non-insiders but to highlight: the SCC decision was 7-2 by the judges overturning a BC Court of Appeal decision favoring the government. It added 3500 teachers and has implications across Canada, notwithstanding the belligerence of the Nova Scotia Liberal premier’s recent decision. Since it took 14 years to get justice in BC. NS Premier McNeill probably assumes he will be long gone when this goes south.
Premier Christy Clark, rather shamelessly, took the SCC decisions as “an opportunity to reinvest in our schools”.
Probably the issue that upset families the most has been the closing of schools. There are wars inside Vancouver over this but rural school closings, as many other Canadians know, rips the heart out of small rural communities. The paternalistic attitude of ‘we know best’ from ministries of education usually runs along the line that – in this modern era of high technology we can serve your youngster better with a large centralized school that requires bus rides that verge on child abuse. Better this than with smaller schools in your community.
The obvious answer seldom invoked by progressives is let the parents decide. The board or ministry can make its pitch to the parents and those who favor retaining the local school can make their pitch. Then the families vote. Let the higher officials say that this is not the fairest way. Ridings like Boundary- Similkameen and Cariboo North may be ridings where school closings tip the balance against the LPBC.
BC has lost 250 schools under the Liberals since 2001.
The Seismic Issue and BC schools.
No secret to anyone, beautiful BC lies in somewhat of an earthquake zone and seismic protection of the schools is a serious issue. Sadly I am reminded of the great Szechuan earthquake in China when the most damaged buildings in the community were the schools where hundreds of children died. The parents accused officials of giving them ‘tofu schools’ that collapsed when the buildings of government officials withstood the quake.
The boards are way behind. There are 68 schools remaining in Vancouver alone and many more in the lower mainland. Predictably there is a push pull fight between the boards and the province but clearly, if the children are to be protected, only the province can afford to fund the retro-fits to protect them.
The Funding Issue
With the Alberta energy collapse and the Ontario manufacturing crisis, BC remains one of the only ‘have provinces’ in Canada but you would never know it from education funding. Shamefully, BC has the second lowest K-12 per pupil education funding in Canada and education’s share of the BC domestic product has been dropping like a stone as BC grants tax cuts to its richest citizens.
As fallout from this underfunding. The remuneration of BC teachers lags way behind Alberta and Ontario at the same time as the cost of living in Vancouver puts housing out of reach of many. It has reached the point that even a young two-teacher family cannot even dream of affording a Vancouver home.
Firing the VSB
The LPBC government fired all of the 9 trustees on the Vancouver School Board due to claims of a “hostile working environment” and a foot dragging budget approval process. We suspect that the LPBC government simply did not want the trustees in office during the provincial election because the trustees, particularly the four Vision Vancouver trustees, have credibility and a popular following across Vancouver and the government wanted to silence their criticism during the election. For non-BC types, Vision Vancouver is a progressive umbrella political organizing coalition in Vancouver municipal politics. The right wing runs under a Nonpartisan Association (NPA) banner having four trustees and there is one Green Party trustee. Sadly, the Greeny usually sided with the NPA.
The over torqued accusations of a hostile environment apparently came from 1-2 snowflake VSB administrators who didn’t like being second guessed by trustees. The actual purpose of trustees of course, is to second guess administrators on behalf of the community.
With any luck, the jackboot attitude of the LPBC to local democracy will cost them a close seat or two in Vancouver. Vancouver Fraserview is expected to be close. BC NDP should be shifting a few active campaigners from safe seats to Fraserview.
Money for Private Schools
Rather shockingly in 2017, when populist politics abound , BC still funds private education with come caveats depending on how much a school follows the BC curriculum, up to 50% of the tuition cost. This means giving tax money to elite private school parents who obviously don’t need the money. The most obvious case is Premier Clark’s son who attends the St Georges school in the tony Point Grey neighborhood.
What is even more shocking is that public polling does not support this funding but the BCNDP does not openly condemn it or promise to phase it out? It gives one pause. Why not?
Some education activists have made the case (see link). Come on NDP.
The Party Platforms
The Green Party BC has the most extensive platform but at 12% in aggregated polls they stand to win only 1-4 seats mainly on the Island. Their mainland votes however, could be critical in deciding whether BC has an NDP or Liberal government.
GPBC is promising:
Free preschool for 3-4 year olds
Free daycare up to 3 years old for working parents
Increased funding for K-12 over four years to $1.5 billion.
$35 million for reading readiness
$140 million over 3 years for teacher PD on the new curriculum.
The BCNDP Promise:
$10 per day Quebec style childcare
“Properly fund classrooms and make them earthquake safe”
Make student loans interest free
Cap tuition fees
Make Adult Basic Education and ESL free.
The Liberal Promises
“Maintain BCs world leading K-12 system”
“Review” the funding formula
One of the great status quo programs.
Free advice from The Little Education Report.
This election will be close it seems. The GPBC cannot win but could win 1-4 seats. Probably 2 at most. Nevertheless the GPBC votes in seats they do not win, particularly on the mainland could decide the election particularly in the 8-10 critical ridings.
To this report a political master stroke would be as follows. NDP leader John Horgan would announce that whether the NDP ends up with a majority or a minority government, either way, the job of Minister of the Environment would be offered first to Andrew Weaver, leader of the GPBC. This gives mainland GPBC voters every reason to switch their vote to the NDP.
Horgan would point out that he would still be premier and NDP environmental policy would come first unless Weaver could convince the cabinet otherwise.
There are serious considerations all around. Some NDP MLAs already have their eye on the seat. Some blue collar NDP voters consider the GPBC too far out. Weaver could refuse the seat in advance. The latter doesn’t really matter. The olive branch was extended. Some GPBC member will tell Weaver not to take it. No problem, it is just an offer. The primary purpose is to switch votes.
The NDP is campaigning to change the voting system to a Proportional Representation system. This recognizes the issue in advance that a PR system in the future means a coalition system with the GPBC holding a potential balance of power.
There are twenty reasons to oppose the offer and one reason to support it. It just might tip the election to the NDP.