Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Liberals, BCTF need to end feud

VICTORIA - My first reaction was to dismiss the BC Teachers' Federation defamation suit against Gordon Campbell as just the latest development in their tiresome feud.
But then I read the union's statement of claim, and its case looks pretty good. The union may not win, but it has a good chance of getting the issue before a judge, and the premier on the witness stand.
The teachers' federation is suing Campbell over comments he made five days before the election.
"Late last night British Columbians learned of a secret plan to hold a strike vote days after the provincial election," Campbell solemnly announced at the end of a long day of campaigning. "It's a duplicitous plan meant to engineer a school strike only weeks before provincial exams that would throw our school system into chaos. It's obvious that both the NDP and the BCTF have been trying to hide their true intentions. They have run a campaign of deceptions, half-truths and misinformation."
The Liberals had hit on school strikes as a 'wedge issue,' one that could be hammered between the New Democrats and their potential supporters. The Liberals made education an essential service, which means teachers have to maintain minimum service levels established by the Labour Relations Board if they go on strike. Carole James said teachers should have the right to strike, period.
It's a largely empty debate, since both parties would end disruptive job action. (The last two NDP governments legislated an end to school strikes.) But it was still a good political issue, and Campbell jumped all over it.
It may be he has proof to back up his accusations. But all we've seen as a local teachers' union newsletter reminding members of a scheduled meeting two days after the election on contract negotiations - their old one expired a year ago - including a discussion on when to hold a strike vote.
Worrying, perhaps, but short of a secret conspiracy to shut down schools just as thousands of Grade 12 students prepare for crucial provincial exams.
The BCTF says the charge damages the union's representation, one of the elements of defamation. It's hard to argue with that. And they say it's false, another key element. Under the law, the onus would be on Campbell to prove that had reason to believe the charges were true.
So union lawyers would get the chance to ask him about where he got the information, and who decided to raise the issue at the press conference. The court could order the Liberals to produce all their campaign planning materials that mentioned the BCTF. It would not be good for Campbell. (Yes, say some Liberals, but our lawyers could in turn grill the union leaders about their pro-NDP campaign and their job action plans. But all that all that likely means it that both parties end up looking bad, which only counts as a win if you've lost sight of the real goals.)
The BCTF and the Liberals have reason to loathe each other. The Liberals reneged on the teachers' contracts, negotiated in good faith. The BCTF has taken on the role of political opponent, campaigning for the Liberals' defeat. Neither party seems able to avoid poking the other with a sharp stick at every opportunity.
Both sides need to face reality.
The Liberals need to acknowledge that the BCTF is the bargaining agent for 43,000 teachers, who are rightly angry that hard-won contract agreements were broken by the government.
The BCTF needs to acknowledge that it's a union, not a co-manager of the education system. Its first job is to protect the interests of its member, and its positions on class size or student testing are driven by the duty to members, not the needs of children. That's simply a fact.
The two sides don't need to quit disliking each other.
But they should recognize they each have work to do together. It's time to start solving problems instead of fighting.
Footnote: The Liberal party, not taxpayers, is paying for Campbell's defence in the defamation suit. Meanwhile,
BCTF president Jinny Sims has written the premier to ask for a meeting on education issues. It should be a pretty unpleasant session, unless the lawsuit is settled.


Jordan Bateman said...


Isn't this lawsuit just another bargaining chip that the BCTF can use at any time?

Vigilantz said...

"its positions on class size or student testing are driven by the duty to members, not the needs of children. That's simply a fact."

I couldn't disagree with you more -and it appears that the majority of British Columbians disagree with you, as well.

In a series of polls, commissioned last year by the BCTF, British Columbians had the following to say:

78.5% said that class size limits should be negotiable

84.5% said that classroom teachers are the most credible source of accurate information about the public education system

88.1% agreed that teachers should speak out on public education issues

Interestingly enough, the polls also found that only 58% feel that the media is credible. Maybe the media should seriously consider ways to improve their rating to where it is comparable to that of the teachers!

Anonymous said...

I agree with the last poster. The BCTF makes decisions on behalf of the children we serve. Unless you've ever attended a BCTF AGM or Rep Assembly you will never understand how democratic the process is. I have spent countless hours in meetings where teachers have stood up to condemn the erosion of the learning conditions brought on by the Liberals. Standardized testing is not conducive to higher level thinking. Weighing the cow does not make the cow fatter. The money used in this area should be re-allocated to more useful and pedogically-sound programs. Test-mania is harmful to our students...just look at the USA and the damage done with their "No Child Left Behind" smokescreen. The teachers have also traded off higher pay for smaller class sizes in the past. Self-interest is not a word I would say accurately portrays the BCTF or BC teachers.