BCTF and the BC Government: It’s all about regime change

Adrian Dix can't sidestep net zero forever. (Photo: Rafal Gerszak for The Globe and Mail)

In 2007, a strike amongst City of Vancouver staff seemed to be inevitable. Other cities had settled, the final terms of the upcoming contract were already known, yet no one could stop the strike. Political interest in making the strike happen was a more powerful force than all the efforts to prevent it. And how well it succeeded: Mayor Sullivan did not last to serve a second term.

And now with the dispute between BC's teachers and the BC Liberal government it feels like that all over again. The over-the-top pronouncements by the BCTF regarding Education Minister Abbott hardly seem like the comments of an organization genuinely interested in settlement. They are the comments of an organization with a different agenda altogether:

“The punitive fines for contravention of the act are an outrageous and a deliberate attempt to intimidate, bully and bludgeon,” [Susan Lambert, BCTF president] said.

"Parents have to know we do not welcome this plan…The teachers are very angry. Teachers are very upset. This is a further assault on our profession.”

See Susan Lambert's press conference from Tuesday

BCTF president Susan Lambert masterfully points the finger at the government for playing politics, yet somehow the actions of the BCTF are not. Thursday morning the teacher's union announced they would strike to protest the government's "arrogance" and "cynicism". Parents across the Province are now stuck looking for child care for three days next week, tapping into limited household resources, vacation time, and if they're lucky, family or friends who are free Monday through Wednesday.

And the NDP are ever-so publicly quiet. Province columnist Mike Smyth says getting Adrian Dix to comment is like nailing Jello to a wall. The opposition are refusing to say where they stand. But we can be sure where their hearts are, and it's not in settling the issue any time soon. Strikes, trauma, and unhappiness all favour the party hoping to displace the current government, especially when polls show the majority of parents still behind teachers.

The NDP, of course, were the government who legislated the teachers back to work last time, in 1998. In fact it was the BC Liberals who managed to actually negotiate a contract in 2006, the only time recently that that has been achieved.

Make no mistake – this dispute by teachers is all about the hearts and minds of voters. The BCTF has been successful over the years at keeping the parents and public on its side. It remains to be seen whether they are able to do that during this job action, but history shows us that governments rarely win fights against better funded, better organized union apparatchiks (the BCTF have a multi-million dollar advertising war chest they're currently drawing down on).

On the one hand, the BCTF are at odds with the public mood as to balancing the budget, with the government's net zero mandate, and with their over-the-top demands for benefits. But on the other hand parents love their childrens' teachers and that is a powerful advantage for the union.

Minister Abbott, in Bill 22, is offering mediation and a $165m three year learning improvement fund to help teachers meet complex needs, ie special needs in the classroom, but the BCTF rebuttal only gets louder and more outraged.

The other public sector unions are now joining in. You have likely heard the major blitz of ads on the airwaves supporting their pals in the BCTF. If that contract opens up, then so do theirs, and you can wave goodbye to the prospect of a balanced budget in BC for a long time.

It's all about politics. It's all about the next election. The BCTF want their labour allies in the NDP governing. You'd be kidding yourself if you think it's about anything else.

– post by Suzanne Anton

Something you might not know about BC Hydro rates
Think "net zero" means no increase? Think again.

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  • Pat Johnstone

    Your argument is not even internally consistent, you point out that the NDP introduced back-to-work last time, but the Liberals negotiated a fair settlement, yet the BCTF voted to take strike action just to make the liberals look bad? A little far-fetched.

    I also don’t think you know what the word “apparatchiks” means.

    Regardless, the NDP are doing what all smart opposition parties do when the ruling party is in tatters: shut up and let them hang themselves. The last thing Adrian Dix wants right now is to take any attention away from Christy Clark. Every time she opens her mouth, his poll numbers go up

    • apparatchiks plural of ap·pa·rat·chik

      Noun: An official in a large organization, typically a political one.

  • Bill

    The fact that teachers are willing to give up 3 days wages to engage in a strike that is meaningless should really impress those parents that are just getting by financially and will have to incur further expense to cover those 3 days.

  • Max

    I watched an interesting documentary this past Sunday night, ‘Labor Pains’. It took a look at public sector unions and their contribution to ‘government’ deficits. (varying levels – municipal and up). It was somewhat educational as it gave you insight to benefits and other items that are not generally provided to the public that pays.

    It was on City TV – perhaps it can me viewed on-line.

  • Brilliant

    Christy needs to play the “we got your HST message about tax hikes” card. Drive hone the message the teachers raise would have to come out of your pocket.

  • Bobh

    The President of the Teacher ‘s Union. makes reference to teaching being a profession. It is hardly a profession. Considering the political process followed by the union leadership for at least the last 20. years. Are they not simply a wing of the NDP?

    • Bill

      When asked about her main accomplishments in a recent Vancouver Sun interview, Lambert replied “I’m just so proud of my union”. The BCTF is not a professional association, it is just a trade union.

  • Steve

    This article is very limited and biased. I’d encourage everyone to read at least a bit more broadly on this topic. For example he’s another post from a different view (also from a strong point of view).


    • skippy

      Visit Cheryl Angst’s blog, you will see that she writes fiction. Her characterization of the collective bargaining process between the government and teachers is just that — fiction. She is obviously grossly misinformed about the SCC decisions regarding teacher bargaining and legislation and that leads me to question the credibility of her entire post. Susan Anton’s post is bang on. The BCTF is engaged in politics pure and simple. They are seeking, through collective bargaining to change key features of education policy set by the provincial government. The BCTF was heavily involved on the campaign to defeat the HST both financial and in-kind contributions and the current bargaining dispute is an extension of the war with the liberal gov’t. this time, children are the BCTF’s fodder.

  • Brilliant

    Steve-Teaching programs across the country are churning out hundreds of graduates who would be happy to take the place of those like your articles author. The taxpayer is sick and tired of footing the ever-increasing bill for well-paid and well-benefitted public servants.

  • Disgruntled Parent

    If you are a teacher… it’s hard not to support BCTF as they provide you with your mortgage payments on that rental condo downtown that you own, all while you are shacking in your Kitsilano bungalow and living the good life in your Moonmayor’s city. Good work if you can get it, right?
    It’s about the kids, we know!
    Students are striking today on behalf of the teachers? Didn’t the teachers invent detention for the students who skipped classes?
    And, teachers… please, please, hands off of our kids and remove the politics out of the classrooms. You want to talk politics talk to me not to my 2nd grader!

  • Higgins

    Boy, I am so with Disgruntled parent above!
    Add me to the list please.

  • Sara

    As soon as all the teachers sign binding agreements to any person in their employment providing 6 months paid leave to look after any ill person related or not and give 10 weeks paid leave if any person that employee knows dies while also paying that employees replacement, they might have a credible demand. As I don’t think any child care provider, house keeper, yard maintenance provider or paper boy will ever see such an agreement the teachers should get a bit more realistic about what they think the taxpayers are willing to pay for.