Friday, May 13, 2005

Teachers union gives Campbell his best campaign shots

VICTORIA - Gordon Campbell should send some sort of gift over to the BC Teachers' Federation.
The teachers' union has handed Campbell two of his most effective campaign moments. In the radio debate, he picked on three-term BCTF president David Chudnovsky, now running for the NDP. Do voters really want to see Chudnovsky at the cabinet table, deciding on the next teachers' contract, Campbell asked?
And then - five days before the vote - the BCTF makes the news, talking about a meeting two days after the election, when they will discuss a strike vote.
Campbell was all over it. "It's a duplicitous plan meant to engineer a school strike only weeks before provincial exams, that would would throw our school system into chaos," he said. Inaccurate and hysterical, but still politically effective.
The whole issue is fake. No government - left, right or in between - would allow schools to be closed by a strike for more than 10 days. Parents go crazy, because their children aren't learning and there is no one to take care of them (not necessarily in that order). Employers complain about the economic disruption.
But even if all governments end labour disputes that close schools. the Liberal and NDP responses to the issue still help define them.
The Liberals have made education an essential service. Teachers can strike, but the Labour Relations Board will decide what level of service must be provided, and how many people have to show up at work.
It's not really a protection against disruption. The labour board may rule that the essential elements of education can be provided in three hours a day. Two school districts have moved to four-day school weeks to save money since the last election, so the employer can't argue that a full school week is needed.
Carole James claims she would allow teachers the right to strike, but everyone assumes that she's not serious. An NDP government isn't going to look the other way if schools across the province are closed for months.
The real problem is that the current approach means there is never enough pressure on the parties to encourage bargaining. If the NDP is in power, the teachers' union figures it will do well when a strike is ended with an imposed contract, or backroom deal. If the Liberals are in power, the employer waits out the strike, counting on a good break from the government. It's a consistent incentive for one side to reject compromise.
Neither the Liberals nor the New Democrats have offered a sensible solution. The Liberals have a useful report from Don Wright that proposes replacing the phony right to strike with mediation, followed by final offer selection. (Both sides submit their best offer, an independent arbitrator picks one in its entirety, and that's the new deal. Major league baseball uses it to resolve salary disputes.)
But the Liberals haven't taken a position on the recommendations, which were released in December. And James hasn't offered any solution for resolving disputes.
They both get low grades.
But the teachers' union managers, they get an 'F.' The BCTF wants the Liberals defeated, and teachers have a right to be angry with the government. They negotiated contracts in good faith, and signed agreements with the province. And the Liberals decided government is above the law, and the contracts can be ignored.
Yet the teachers' union - through ineptitude, apparently - provided Campbell and the Liberals with a last-minute boost, in a close race.
It's a toss-up between the parties on the real education issues. The Liberals have not provided enough money to maintain the same level of educational quality that students had four years ago. That's a major failing.
The NDP would provide more money. But it would let teachers bargain issues like class size and staffing requirements, which should be decided based as matters of educational effectiveness, not labour relations.
Those are the issues that we should be debating.
Footnote: The significance of the BCTF meeting was exaggerated; unions routinely consider their next steps in negotiations. But that doesn't let the union off the hook. The teachers' federation has chosen to enter the political fray. That means competence is required, and wounding your allies is a sign of ineptitude .


Anonymous said...

"The significance of the BCTF meeting was exaggerated"

Now there's an understatement. I've heard the BCTF are threatening to sue Campbell. This is getting nuttier by the day.

Speakling of nutty, Campbell is ramping up the rhetoric, even enlisting his friends (ahem, donors) from the business community to make a public plea to the voters. Listening to their, "Vote for the Liberals or we're out of here" is kind of pathetic, isn't it? Think the Liberals are feeling a little desperate?

In the unlikely event that the NDP form the next government, the economy is not going to come to a grinding halt, the unions are not going line up to strike (or line their pockets), the sky will not fall—despite what the fear mongers say.

Anonymous said...

An excellent analysis, Paul. This is the first time I've seen anyone nail this issue so accurately in the mainstream media. And some of your CanWest colleagues, I'm afraid, have been among the worst offenders in terms of helping to muddy the waters!

Speaking of muddying the waters, look out for a fresh assault in the Liberals' war against the BCTF this weekend from their allies at BCCPAC, who have very carefully set both the date and the agenda for their annual general meeting to generate maximum political mileage.

I agree with anon #1 that things are getting pretty nutty out there -- I just read the ultimatum from the business leaders! I wonder how this must be going over with average voters, though -- Are people really buying this stuff, or is there a point when it starts to undermine your support and overall credibility?

I have to say that Carole James' relatively calm, moderate approach is looking more appealing by the day...

Anonymous said...

"An excellent analysis, Paul. This is the first time I've seen anyone nail this issue so accurately in the mainstream media. And some of your CanWest colleagues, I'm afraid, have been among the worst offenders in terms of helping to muddy the waters!"

Like Michael Smyth? He sounded more than a tad defensive tonight, going on about the BCTF's accusations of collusion between the Liberals and the media. Yes, the piece was news worthy, but I'm detecting a little too much glee, in some of the media over this.

By the way, another good piece Paul, thanks for providing some balance.

Anonymous said...

First off the fact that the BCTF is spending $5,000,000 on the election, that is followed by the NDP announcing that teachers will get the right to strike, followed then by a memo that mentions that they are discussing a strike.

If that is not the perfect optical storm for the Liberals to take advantage of. I don't know what is.

Although Paul is right that this may have got blown out of proportion. The only ones to blame for this "scandal" is the BCTF.

Whatever you view point this was just a plain dumb move so close to an election especially considering the factors mentioned earlier.

Anonymous said...

Your analysis is fine, but the title is wrong. Sometimes news comes across the wire as a "boom". For Example Balinda this Morning. Two things give big impact to a story. Obviously the importance, and then the presentation. Comentator after commentator have declared this a non story, the importance as an intelegent item is just not there. However, the presentation? Breaking News on T.V. , screaming Headline in the Sun, and one of the only times CKNW started the news with election stories. This happens and then all the media can not ignore it. Interesting that when Cambell was asked in the morning he did not make that big a deal out of it. It was not untill almost a full day after the huge "Presentation" of this minor story that Cambell jumped on it with force. The teachers did not give this to Cambell, the folks in the news backrooms put it on the platter. By contrast, I feel there were a couple of "bombshells" about fishfarms, and "donate gate" issues. Both big issues, but the big guys in the media did not give these stories any decent presentation. When commentators start taking issue with the presentation of the news. Actually having enough guts to debate the orientation of what we are served in the press, then I will begin to see things as democratic. Why is it that once a story appears, it is like Mosses put it there. This story, was on some level a big fabrication, and no pundit had enough guts to say the emporor had no cloths. WJT

JBM said...

Two points to consider:
1.) The members of the NDP elected David Chudnovsky to be their candidate, it wasn't the BCTF.
2.) CanWest Global donated $40 000 to the Liberal Campaign. the Vancouver sun and Global TV are oened by CanWest Global.
The Kremlin never had it so good.