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Open letter for Premier from Kootenay Columbia Teachers: The Steel-Gate Between Us

Dear Premier Horgan,

On November 23/24, 2019, BC teachers and the NDP held meetings at the same venue in Victoria, BC.

Over 200 teachers met on one side of a “steel-gate” and you, and 800 of your colleagues, met on the other side.

Some of us assisted several of your most elderly delegates, with accessibility issues, on our side of the steel-gate, to maneuver the lengthy maze of walkways required to access your meeting.

We have never seen this access to the Victoria Convention Centre closed before and were told that the decision to lower the gate was made by the hotel. We trust that you, and your NDP colleagues, would never intentionally impede access between us.

To us, the closed steel-gate between us was ironically symbolic and even though it was only a few centimeters thick, it represented the divide between us and you, and your colleagues, that has developed since you formed the government in this province.

It even prompted one Victoria Times-Colonist reporter, Les Leyne, to comment, “They tried dual conventions Saturday in Victoria, but it was like two opposing teams taking timeouts in separate locker rooms.”

We have 20 questions for you and your responses will help us measure the depth of the divide that has grown between us and whether it can be diminished:

1.       Why won’t you allow, or encourage, all of your cabinet ministers to meet with us at their constituency offices to discuss education issues?

2.       Why did you just shrug your shoulders when you were asked by a teacher at our rally why your government continues to employ Liberal government appointees at BCPSEA ,who, together with the Deputy Minister of Education,  are advancing Christy Clark’s, “neo-liberal”, “data-driven” agenda of “Flexibility and Choice”; “5 Big Bargaining  Ideas”; “Transforming Public Education”; and,  a new simplified “K-12 Public Education Funding Formula”, where , “Every child counts—either as taxpayers or social welfare recipients”(Anderson, 2006)?

3.       Why are you supporting a meaningless consultation process and the inevitable implementation of a “simplified” education prevalence funding formula that will level-down services and reduce the amount of much-needed assessments to better understand our students’ needs?

4.       Why are reporters claiming that we have yet to find a government with which we can get along when we clearly did get along with governments such as those lead by Dave Barrett who clearly understood the dynamics of our classrooms?

5.       Why are you, and your government, continuing to allocate Classroom Enhancement Funding to private schools which, in some instances, is being utilized to subsidize private school teacher salaries, when it was public school teachers that fought for 16 years to have our illegally stripped contract language restored and we need that funding to improve learning conditions for students in our public school classrooms?

6.       Why do so many of your government’s positions on education fly in the face of everything you and your colleagues have said in opposition for 15 years?

7.       Why do you, and your colleagues, persist in chanting a Liberal-style, “Highest Funding Ever” mantra, and claim, that you have added over a billion dollars to the education budget, when all you are really doing is restoring some of the funding that was illegally removed by the Liberal government in stripping class size and non-enrolling teacher ratio provisions that we had paid for in an 1998 agreement reached directly with an NDP government, by our accepting 0%/0%/2% in salary?

8.       Why did you, and your NDP Education Spokesperson, Rob Fleming, rail against the FSA when you where in opposition and why is your Deputy Minister of Education now shaming superintendents for having low FSA student participation rates?

9.       Why did you tell us, at a BCTF rally held during our job action on September 5, 2014, that, “As BCTF members you have rights that were hard fought for. Do not give them up!” and now your government sanctioned tabling of proposals levelling down those rights at the current provincial bargaining table? http://bcndpcaucus.ca/news/john-horgan-bctf-rally-sept-5-2014/

10.   Why did you, and your government, fund Site C and LNG, instead of increasing the education budget, when you told us at the same rally, that, “I’ve never seen so many committed British Columbians that know that the single most important investment that we can make is in our children[Emphasis added]?”, and, “In Christy Clark’s World, you don’t deserve fair compensation”? http://bcndpcaucus.ca/news/john-horgan-bctf-rally-sept-5-2014/

11.   On September 1, 2014, you wrote a letter to Christy Clark, urging her, “to personally and directly involve yourself in the negotiations, setting a new tone that respects teachers and our public education system”. You also confirmed NDP Education Spokesperson, Rob Fleming’s call for Christy’s “incapable [Education] minister” …to be relieved of his duties” for his apparent feckless and “destructive” handling of the labour dispute in our public education system. Do you still have full confidence in now, Minister of Education, Rob Fleming and the same Liberal BCPSEA and Ministry “hold-overs” to manage our current negotiations and potential job action?

http://bcndpcaucus.ca/news/horgan-writes-open-letter-premier-clark-b-c-education-dispute/

12.   On World Teachers’ Day, on October  5, 2015, you, and Rob Fleming, issued a joint statement: “We understand the challenges that teachers face every day in the classroom, and we will continue to fight every day on your behalf to improve education in BC.” Are you and Rob honouring your commitment consistent with your positions as recorded in Hansard?

http://bcndpcaucus.ca/news/b-c-s-teachers-deserve-thanks-world-teachers-day/

13.   On World Teachers’ Day, on October 5,  2016, Rob Fleming and deputy education spokesperson, Jodie Wickens, issued the following statement: “We know Christy Clark’s government has dragged BC’s public education funding from second best in Canada to second worst, [Emphasis added]and we are grateful to our teachers for their dedication and resilience in providing quality education to our children”, and , “ Knowing that we have such hard working and determined teachers encourages us to advocate for stable and sustainable funding for our school system. We can’t have a government that relies on random acts of funding for our children’s education. Teachers deserve better and John Horgan’s New Democrats understand that”. Do you stand behind your colleague’s statements and do you truly believe the current negotiating mandate is sustainable for the education sector?                                                                       http://bcndpcaucus.ca/news/statement-b-c-new-democrats-world-teachers-day/

14.   What have you, and your government, done to reverse the erosion of the education budget which was “dragged…from second best in Canada to second worst” during the Liberal government’s regime and has plummeted from 20%, the last time an NDP government was in power in 2001, to less than 11% now?

15.   Do you, and your government, truly believe that your incessant drive for a balanced budget and a “one-size-fits-all”, Liberal-style, “Sustainable Services Negotiating Mandate”, aka, “Mine Your Contract & Give Up Your Rights Mandate”, represents a healthy and realistic spending plan and that your intransigent position of, “The mandate is the mandate” and use of “Me-too Letters”  is any different than the Liberal’s “Cooperative Gains”, “Economic Stability” and  “Net Zero” mandates and negotiating tactics that you described as “destructive”?

16.   In 2007, the Liberal government justified a 53% raise for their premier, that was front-end loaded (all in one year)and that was  based on labour-market adjustment principles, which “lifted” the premier’s compensation level  from 2nd to last in Canada  to 2nd highest in Canada when the rest of us in the public service received “Net Zero”. All MLAs also received a substantial raise that year. Are you and your NDP MLAs prepared to roll-back your salaries from their current 2nd or 3rd highest in Canada to 2nd or 3rd lowest in solidarity with BC teachers?

17.   On October 7, 2019, Minister Fleming made this statement in the Legislative Assembly during Question Period: “What we hope to be able to do—and now that we have the assistance of a mediator—is to get to a place where teachers’ compensation is lifted ahead.” Do you and your NDP MLAs believe that teachers deserve fair compensation and a one-time labour market adjustment “lift” beyond the current mandate like you and all your colleagues received in 2007 and which all of you continue to benefit from?

18.   Do you, and your government, believe that, “Our kids and their teachers are worth investing in” beyond the mandate consistent with your messaging that, “the single most important investment that we can make is in our children.”? http://bcndpcaucus.ca/news/john-horgan-bctf-rally-sept-5-2014/

19.   We can’t help but wonder if we are still living in “Christy Clark’s World” and her “mandated rights” and her “widget-based” agenda for public education in BC or are we now living in “John Horgan’s World”?

20.   We have one more, clarifying, “21st Century Learning”, funding question with respect to your NDP President, Craig Keating’s,  report at your meeting in Victoria that, “for the first time in the living memory of most New Democrats we are no longer carrying a debt” when he tabled a financial statement with a two million ($2,000,000) dollar cash surplus when the NDP’s fund-raising cash on hand was only $353. Was that due to a government contribution to your party and how does that fall within your government’s Sustainable Services Mandate?

We know that you, Carole James and your NDP colleagues, did not feel as comfortable at your meeting in Victoria as you did at our job action rally in September 5, 2014 but we hope the words you spoke about our children being “the single most important investment that we can make” were true and that you, and your colleagues,  “will continue to fight every day on [our and our student’s] behalf to improve education in BC.” http://bcndpcaucus.ca/news/john-horgan-bctf-rally-sept-5-2014/

We held our meeting in Victoria because we wanted you and your NDP colleagues to see us in #RedforBCED and to hear our voices in our ongoing struggle to improve our working and our students’ learning conditions because, as Roger Baldwin said,

Silence Never Won Rights. They Are Not Handed Down From Above; They Are Forced By Pressures From Below.”

Thank you for your anticipated responses to our questions and maybe we can work on not lowering a “steel-gate” between us when we have meetings at the same venue in the future that impact our accessibility to each other?

Respectfully submitted on behalf of our teachers and our students,


Andrew M. Davidoff

President, Kootenay Columbia Teachers’ Union

lp20@bctf.ca

250-364-1740