Education Critic Robin Austin in the House: Hansard Excerpt

R. Austin: Maybe we can start by just bringing the rhetoric back down to the modality of the majority of the minister’s comments over the last hour and 15 minutes.

As he mentions, this is a complex bill that tries to do many things. We on this side of the House have stated already that we are going to oppose this bill, not because we think that everything in this bill is bad, but we think that the premise of the bill, the title of the bill — that this is going to improve our education system — is not wholly found out in the actual contents of it.

There are many elements of this bill which are going to, unfortunately, continue to denigrate large portions of our education system, and I’m going to speak to that in greater detail as I make my remarks. I would like to begin by acknowledging the fact that the minister and his staff did take the time and gave me the courtesy of a briefing prior to this bill being brought before the House. I respect that. I think that is good cooperation, and in a bill that has a lot of complex legalities, it has been certainly useful in terms of the opposition being able to analyze the bill and come up with hopefully some thoughtful comments.

[1535] I’m going to begin my comments by taking us, first of all, to speak about what it is that teachers do in this province each and every day. I think it’s important to put on the public record what exactly is involved in teaching. The reason being…. I mean, just this morning I was listening to a radio show and, of course, in the last few days I’ve been scanning

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every day. I think it’s important to put on the public record what exactly is involved in teaching. The reason being…. I mean, just this morning I was listening to a radio show, and of course, in the last few days I’ve been scanning all of the letters that have been coming in to the major newspapers around the province of British Columbia. I find it very troubling that people take to the airwaves and to the opinion columns of this province and make statements that clearly show that, frankly, they know not of what they speak.

I think it’s okay to make comments one way or the other. Everybody is going to be making comments about a potential teachers’ strike action. But I think it’s important that when people actually take their opinions to the airwaves, they understand what is involved in our education system and what it is that teachers do on a daily basis. I heard somebody this morning basically alluding to the fact that teachers are essentially overpaid — you know, that they don’t work hard enough and they get huge holidays.

Now, I spent about 2½ years working as an educational assistant in my school district, school district 82, and I had a great opportunity to see firsthand what it is that teachers do. Prior to that, my only experience was the typical experience of a parent. I’m going to speak to that later on, as well, because I was a foster parent who shepherded some kids with severe learning disabilities through the system in Terrace. But that, essentially, is what I knew of what it is that teachers do until I had the opportunity to work as an educational assistant.

Let me, first of all, say that the notion that teachers show up for work 20 minutes prior to their day starting, have a cup of coffee in the staff room, talk about the game the Canucks played the night before and then go into the classroom and start to teach is patently ridiculous. In order to teach, in order to spend six hours a day in front of children, an awful lot of work has to take place that doesn’t take place during the workday.

I’m glad that the member for Kamloops–South Thompson recognizes that. Teachers spend an inordinate amount of time outside the work schedule that the regular people think of as the teacher’s workday. Think of ourselves in this House. You know, when we have a member’s statement to make here, to bring up a topic of concern or to share something that’s happened in our constituency, we speak for two minutes. Yet in order to prepare that two-minute member’s statement, we have to think about what it is that we want to say, we have to collate our thoughts in a way that makes sense, we then have it take the time to write them, and then we come here and we present that. That’s just for two minutes of work — okay?

Now think about what a teacher does. A teacher isn’t preparing, every day, stuff for two minutes. A teacher is preparing work and standing up in front of a class and has to keep them engaged — through a variety of topics if they’re in elementary school, a variety of classes but maybe specialized topics if they’re in secondary school — each and every day for several hours for over 200 days a year. So the notion that a teacher only works from 8:30 till 3:30 needs to be disavowed. I mean, it needs to be challenged, and I’m challenging it right here, because teachers work very, very hard.

I also want to speak to the notion that somehow it’s okay for teachers to have a break in the summer while the rest of the world works. I learned something when I was working as an educational assistant. This is very important for people to understand. When you’re teaching, you are not simply exchanging information. You’re not just taking information that you know because you’re a specialized teacher and sort of forcing it down the throats of kids. You are engaging in an exercise, an act that is essentially giving a little bit of yourself each and every day.

What that does is that… If you are a teacher who cares about the job that you’re doing, it is an emotional…. It is a vocational act, not simply coming there and repeating some information that you happen to know and you want your children to understand. What that does…. It’s a bit like the social work profession. There are certain jobs where the nature of that job requires more than just the job itself. It actually requires you to give a little bit of yourself, a little bit of your soul.

[1540]

In those kinds of jobs, whether it be social work or whether it be teaching, it is important to have an opportunity to be able to reflect, to be able to recharge your batteries. So the notion that

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whether it be social work or whether it be teaching, it is important to have an opportunity to be able to reflect, to be able to recharge your batteries.

So the notion that maybe teachers should teach all year round, 52 weeks of the year, would not necessarily be a very good thing. In fact, it would be disastrous in terms of how they have the ability to be able to go and refresh their batteries.

I also would like to note that in the summertime…. Many teachers in this province spend their summers, after they take some time off for vacation, furthering their own education, because again the teaching profession isn’t one where you go to school when you’re young, go to university, and then you know how to teach and carry on teaching for, potentially, 30 or 35 years and never have to go and get further education.

It is a profession that requires constant renewal, constant learning. Yes, we have professional development days for that, but if you looked at most teachers….

We have a very high percentage of teachers in the province of British Columbia who have gone beyond their bachelor of education or PDP. We have a huge percentage of teachers in this province who, in the summer, go back to school, in some cases full-time, to get their master’s degrees, or they go on to get specialized as special ed teachers or to do other courses that further their education and give them the skills to help our kids. So I don’t think it’s fair for people to just make rash statements about how little teachers work, because that’s simply not the case.

I want to now speak for a moment about the history of what has been going on here for a number of years. As the minister pointed out, he is very fond of history. In fact, those of us who’ve been in this House for a number of years will know that it’s not uncommon, when we ask questions here in question period, for the good minister to take us on a historical journey.

I can recall many a time when he was the Minister of Health, and even currently as the Minister of Education, that if one of the members on this side of the House got up to ask a question which they thought was important and pertinent to the relevant ministry that he was in charge of, he would take us down a road of the 1990s — very common.

I want to be fair. Some of that history was revisionist. Some of it was partisan. But that’s okay. That’s the nature of who we are. We are, after all, politicians. And some of that history was accurate — right?

We need to acknowledge that when you’re in government for ten years or in this case almost 11 years, governments do make poor decisions. That’s a fact, and this minister was always wonderful at reminding us of mistakes that we have made.

I want to take us back through a little trip down history, because I think that at the root core of all of these problems that the minister has been very challenged with in terms of trying to negotiate with the B.C. Teachers Federation, there has been policy that’s been brought in place that has clearly just defied logic, has hurt our educational system and has fundamentally upset teachers, to the point where they feel disrespected, not treated as professionals.

A lot of that has been dismissed over the years, and now we have a piece of legislation…. I know the minister didn’t choose to bring it in this way. I know that he would have preferred, certainly, for one aspect of this bill to have been more consensual than it has turned out.

I think we need, first of all, to go back and look at what has happened since Bills 27 and 28 came into the Legislature. I think we need to not only understand what happened in terms of stripping out class size and composition from the contracts of the teaching profession; I think we also need to take a look, a very fundamental look, at what has resulted in our school system as a result of decisions that were made by the current Premier when she was the Minister of Education, early on in her term, that changed fundamentally the way that we finance our school system.

Without understanding those changes and the consequences that they’ve had on the school system, we can’t understand why it is that we’re so challenged here or the government is so challenged here by this negotiation or lack thereof and the reason why we’re now having Bill 22.

[1545]

I’m going to go back and, first of all, start by speaking about the changes to the funding model, because it is critical to everything that we’re talking about here in terms of having the resources to do the things that the minister hopes could be done as a result of this bill. My understanding, in speaking to the minister and hearing him talk here

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to the funding model, because it is critical to everything that we’re talking about here in terms of having the resources to do the things that the minister hopes could be done as a result of this bill.

My understanding, in speaking to the minister and hearing him talk here, is that essentially what he’d like to happen in the school system is for the people who work in the school system at all levels — the principals, the vice-principals, the teachers, the special ed teachers, the educational assistants, any outside help who are involved with a child — all to sit around and work out in a collaborative manner how to best create classrooms, how to best create a plan for a child if that child is designated with a special need.

That’s all well and good. Perhaps in nirvana that would be fantastic, if we could have that happen each and every day.

The unfortunate thing is that the reality of the resources that are in our school system don’t allow for the collaborative process to take place because, at the end of the day, very often — and I’ve been in many of these meetings — once you sit down and look at all of these challenges, the solutions require either some special ed help, and maybe there aren’t enough special ed teachers, or it might require some EA time. It might require two or three children being taken out of the classroom temporarily by the librarian to teach them something else.

Very often those resources simply aren’t in place, so at the end of the day, a lot of what we’re talking about here, unfortunately, goes down to dollars and cents and resources.

The education system, as the minister will acknowledge, is a complicated system, but here’s one thing that we do know about it. It is a system largely driven by the adults and paying the salaries of the adults who work in that system. Unlike other large ministries….

I know that the minister was the Minister of Health. There are many, many large cost drivers in a ministry as huge as the Ministry of Health. You know, when we go to our doctors, we want the latest medication. Maybe we need a surgical thing; we need time in hospital. There are the drivers of technology in the medical system that have hugely increased our cost of delivering health care. There are the cost drivers of new medications that are constantly coming up.

But in the education system it’s different. Eighty-three cents of every dollar that is expended out of here into the operating budgets of our education system in the K-12 system goes to pay one thing: salaries — okay? And why is that? It’s because the education system is based on the interaction between adults and children in a classroom setting. That’s what it’s about.

It’s not simply the teachers. Of course, the teachers are the primary factor here. They’re the ones who the kids spend the vast majority of their day with. But we also have to pay the principal and the vice-principal. We also have to pay the secretary. We also have to pay the educational assistants. We also have to pay those who make sure that our schools are clean and are safe.

At the end of the day, it’s all about what resources we’re willing to put into ensure that when our children go to school, they come to a place that is of comfort, a place where every adult they interact with from the time they enter that school property till the time they leave is somebody who gives them a positive sense of themselves and adds to their learning and to who they are as human beings.

We need to go and take a look at some of the fundamental changes that have happened since the B.C. Liberals took office. I’m going to speak to a document, funnily enough, that was put out by a member of the press several years ago that spoke to the agenda that this government had when it came into office and to the changes that were made at the policy level that have not just helped but have largely created the difficulties and the challenges in our education system.

I want to begin by pointing out that while I’m criticizing these parts of the education system and the challenge that they have, in spite of all of that, we still to this day have an incredible education system here in British Columbia. All I want to do in going through this document is to point out how much better it could have been under the B.C. Liberals had some of these changes not been made.

[1550] I’m going to quote from this document because it’s important for all of us to understand what happened here, and I’m going to make reference

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I’m going to quote from this document because it’s important for all of us to understand what happened here, and I’m going to make reference to things in here.

After the government came into power in 2001, in their election platform they had assured British Columbians that they were going to protect education spending. Now, there are a couple of things in society which are sacrosanct amongst British Columbians and amongst Canadians. We hold very dearly to the notion that public health care and public education are not just a right; it is something that is fundamental to our society, to the values of British Columbians.

So every government, whether it be of the right or the left, tries to always ensure that those two programs are treated with respect, because at the end of the day, it’s the foundation of who we are as a society, and it accounts for the bulk of spending at the provincial level. I think I’m right in saying that between health care and education, it probably amounts to 70 cents of every dollar that we spend here. So it is critical.

So let me read what was going on at the beginning of this Liberal term.

“Despite their election promise to protect education spending, the B.C. Liberals are actually cutting funding to many B.C. school districts. Some may have to close schools as a result, and the Liberals want to shift the blame for underfunding schools away from themselves and onto locally elected school boards.”

Those are the recurring themes in a fascinating, nine-page document that I obtained on Friday, the day that the Education Minister, who is now, of course, the Premier of British Columbia, announced that the government’s new funding formula for B.C. schools. It’s entitled Cabinet Decision Document, and it’s stamped “confidential” and signed by the current Premier of British Columbia.

The document reveals the reasons behind Friday’s move to per-pupil student funding and away from the old system known as program-and-cost funding. The document signed by the current Premier on January 25 of that year explains that the old formula obligated the government to “meet or manage each increase in cost or each new service offered by school boards.”

But with a total education funding now frozen or protected, in the language of the B.C. Liberals, the document warned the cabinet. And here again I quote. The document — this is an internal document — warns the cabinet that “given government’s direction that education funding will be flat over the next three years, the current program and cost-funding formula will not work.”

It goes on to say: “The ministry will be called upon to make decisions about which programs to cut or reduce in order to offset unavoidable cost increases. Responsibility for reductions will thus rest with the minister and the ministry, not with the local school boards.” The document details the political peril of sticking with the old funding formula, and under the heading — and again, I’m quoting — “Disadvantages of the Status Quo” it goes on to say: “The province will be seen as responsible for funding all costs, with overall flat funding and rising costs, this option would require the minister to decide annually which programs and services should be cut throughout the province.” Oh, dear. That’s not good news for any government, is it? Seriously.

That would force, again, the current Premier of the province to take responsibility for cutting education programs. Well, obviously, that’s the last thing that the government wants to be doing is taking the responsibility for that.

So what do they do? Their solution is this. Their solution was to scrap the old system and bring in a new one based on student population — okay? The key was this. Funding is tightly capped, and individual boards decide where to cut, making them the bad guys. Tying school board funding to the number of students in each district means that some boards, count on mainly rural ones, will lose the population lottery.

[1555]I’m quoting here. “Some school districts will be affected by redistribution, and their funding will decrease,” the document reveals. Then there’s this little notation of this poison pill. “If enrolment unexpectedly increases, it might even be necessary to

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I’m quoting here. “Some school districts will be affected by redistribution, and their funding will decrease,” the document reveals. Then there’s this little notation of this poison pill: “If enrolment unexpectedly increases, it might even be necessary to reduce the per-pupil amount.”

“The Liberals realize that this zero-sum game is a pretty flimsy disguise for offloading costs and political damage onto school boards.”

Now here’s the really interesting stuff. “Under the disadvantages of this internal document of that new system, the document says, “boards” — that’s school boards around the province — “will criticize government for not adequately funding their costs. Some boards may make poor decisions about how to allocate funds.” One curious line in the document reveals that the government will “remove caps on spending on administration.”

So here’s the thing, hon. Speaker. We have had this ongoing battle around school funding since 2001. Between 2001 and 2005 there were two hearty, defiant souls on this side of the House speaking out against this change to the funding formula. From 2005 onwards, I’m glad to say, we have had a larger opposition speaking about it. We have had constant debates in this House about things that have resulted from this change to the funding formula.

We have brought into this House, from every district in British Columbia, constant cutbacks that have happened in our school system. Yet the government will stand up, minister after minister — I’ve seen three or four of them here — and say: “Well, wait a second here. The per-pupil student funding went up from last year, and it was higher than the year before and the year before that.”

But here’s what happened. By breaking up the envelopes — the directly funded areas of our school system — and going to the per-pupil student funding model, the government was able to say on every occasion that the per-pupil student funding is going up. Yes, it was. The problem is that the amount of funding that was going up by the per-pupil funding level was not comparing to what would have been in the system had we retained the previous formula for funding the school system.

That is at the crux of so many of the disputes that we have had with this B.C. Liberal government. That is what has counted for the fact that while per-pupil student funding went up and the overall level of funding went up, it didn’t pay for the increased costs. It didn’t pay particularly for those kids who were designated with special needs.

As the minister pointed out, we have three levels of diagnosis for allocation for special needs. Prior to this there were more levels of designation for kids with special needs. What happened when the funding formula model changed was that some of those envelopes for some of those designations were thrown into the per-pupil funding. As a result of that, what happened? As a result of that, kids were getting diagnosed. They weren’t getting the adequate resources put in because that was now part of the per-pupil student funding model. Of course, there were challenges, naturally, with every single school district trying to figure out how to provide services as the needs were going up while the compensatory amount of resources coming into the school system wasn’t happening.

You know, hon. Speaker, what this document shows is that there was a deliberate agenda here. We’ve heard in this House so many rhetorical things about the teaching profession and about education. There isn’t a member in this chamber who stand ups and thinks that having a great public education system isn’t a worthy goal.

But what our constituents out in the real world expect isn’t simply for us to say good things about the public education system and how we value it. What they also expect is that each and every year when government makes decisions, the decisions actually follow the rhetoric of what they say is important to British Columbians.

[1600]I can tell you that in my discussions when I travel around the province of British Columbia, people speak volumes about how important public education is. Unfortunately, the nature of education compared to health care makes it very difficult for people to get as emotionally tied to it as we do with health care. I think it’s largely because health care is instantaneous. We have a challenge, a health challenge. We want to go and see

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compared to health care makes it very difficult for people to get as emotionally tied to it as we do with health care. I think it’s largely because health care is instantaneous. We have a health challenge. We want to go and see a doctor. We want a fix today. If our child suddenly gets ill, we want a fix today, and there’s no way the government can say, “well, I don’t have enough money for that,” right?

Education is much more complicated than that to the extent that education happens over a long period of time. We start in the kindergarten system and it goes all the way through to grade 12. It’s a system that needs to be resourced all the way through that child’s career. The learning happens and the resources are given over a long period of time, so we don’t notice immediately as we would if we walked into an emergency room with a broken leg and found that there wasn’t a doctor available, there wasn’t a nurse and there weren’t any of the materials to fix that leg. So it’s been more challenging for those of us, and for everybody, to be able to advocate and to understand what has happened as a result of this change in the funding formula that severely restricted the resources that go into our public education system.

I think that that is a very important factor in many of the discussions we have here. It’s the reason why, in part, the relationship between the B.C. Teachers Federation and government has been so challenged, because teachers don’t just simply go to work and teach. Part of the responsibility of a teacher, from an ethical point of view, is to be an advocate. It’s very similar to people who become social workers.

A teacher is one of the best advocates on behalf of the children who they have in their class. The other serious advocate, of course, is the parent, but in many cases…. This is not something that any of us should be happy with, but for a variety of reasons many parents either don’t understand the power and the role that they play in advocacy or, quite frankly, they don’t have the skill sets or the capacity, the wherewithal.

Where I come from in northern B.C., I have a very large population of aboriginal parents. When cuts are made that affect aboriginal children, the notion that many aboriginal parents would go into the school system, meet with their teacher, sit down with the principal and say: “Hey, my child is failing here and needs extra resources, or I think my child might have some learning challenges here. Could we get my child assessed?”

Many First Nations families in particular…. I’m not singling them out. There are plenty of parents in British Columbia who don’t appreciate and understand the important role of advocacy that they may have to do. But many people find it very challenging to go into the school system and deal with professionals and have to work in an atmosphere where people have gone to university and have lots of schooling and maybe speak a specialized language. That’s very off-putting for them — really off-putting for them. While many of us in this chamber might think: “Well, that seems a bit odd. I would have no problems going and picking up the phone or walking into my school and saying, ‘Hey, I think my kid has got a problem'” — but we should appreciate that’s not necessarily the case.

In all those instances of all of those children for whom their parents either are unwilling or unable to be the advocate, who else is going to advocate for them if not the teacher? Who else is going to do that? So that is a critical role of every teacher. It’s part of their professional learning. It’s part of their responsibility, and do you know what, hon. Speaker? In the last 11 years the role of advocacy for teachers has grown exponentially. Why? Because teachers are at the forefront of everything that is challenging in our society.

[1605]The Leader of the Opposition mentioned earlier today in his budget response that one of the challenges that we have to deal with economically in British Columbia is the gap between those who have and those who have not. The reports that came out recently in this province clearly state…. And these are statistics that don’t come from the basement of the NDP research department; these are statistics that one can get just from B.C. Stats or from the federal statistics.

The gap between those who have and have not in this province has grown exponentially over the last 11 years — exponentially. So we have huge

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one can get just from B.C. Stats or from the federal statistics. The gap between those who have and have not in this province has grown exponentially over the last 11 years — exponentially — and so we have huge levels of poverty, not just amongst families but amongst children.

When children are in poverty they come to school with added challenges, huge challenges. You might think that the main people who have to deal with families or children in poverty might be the Salvation Army. It might be the person’s local church. It might be the social workers. It might be the non-profit societies in our society. It might be the health care system. It might be the addictions system or mental health, because all of these challenges become hugely greater as a result of poverty.

I would argue that the single professional group that on a daily basis deals with poverty and child poverty to a greater extent than any other group in our society are the teachers. They’re the ones who on a daily basis have children coming into their classrooms, into their schools, who are dealing with huge challenges at home.

Some of them are obvious. Plenty of children, sad to say in British Columbia in 2012, arrive at school hungry. Plenty of children arrive at school with the emotional scars of things that are going on at home, and there could be a variety of reasons. It is our teachers who have to deal with that.

It’s not like these kids could be adults. You know, if you’ve got a problem and you’re an adult, you can somehow switch off from your problem and try to make it through the workday. That is the part of the capacity of skills that we as adults all have to perform when we go to work — right? You leave your problems at home, and you try and focus on your job for the day.

Our children’s job for the day is to come to school. That’s their job. The teachers’ role, as professionals, is to do everything they can to help those children, primarily in their learning but also to help them cope with whatever circumstances that child has got. They can’t switch it off. They can’t say: “I’m not hungry.” They can’t arrive at school and pretend that the fact that things were going on in their house the night before challenged their ability to sleep, their ability maybe do homework. They come with all of those problems.

So it is a huge responsibility for our teachers to be the advocates that they are, and that is why the learning conditions, the classroom conditions, are so fundamental to every debate that we have in this Legislature. This Bill 22 speaks to further changes around class size and composition, some of which aren’t changing anything for the worse, but some of which are.

I’m going to just quote a little bit here of what the attitude was of our former Minister of Education as a result of the challenges that came about from the changing of the funding formula that she brought in. At the time when there were only two members in this House speaking on behalf of the opposition, she was asked to confirm claims that 46 schools would automatically be shut down. Here’s what she said. “Different districts have chosen different priorities which reflect local needs because they are all locally elected. So we’re letting them do that. That’s the law of the land.”

Don’t forget, she ran and her colleagues ran on a platform to protect public education. But as a result of changes to this funding formula, it meant automatically that every school district in the province was going to have to make cuts, huge cuts. Sometimes it led to school closures, and sometimes it led to changes in the number of specialized teachers, but it led to huge cuts.

[1610]She went on to say…. The minister at the time, now our current Premier, was asked whether she even knew herself how many schools had been closed, and that’s when the buck-passing began. I’m quoting her again. “I can tell you that local school districts have made those decisions across the province, and those are the people that you’ll have to speak to.” In other words: “Don’t blame me if your kid had to travel further. Don’t blame me if your schools close. Don’t blame me if you lost the library teacher and the librarian. Don’t blame me if

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the province, and those are the people that you have to speak to.” In other words: “Don’t blame me if your kid had to travel further. Don’t blame me if your schools close. Don’t blame me if you lost the library teacher and the librarian. Don’t blame me if you don’t have a special ed teacher who can assess or give any effective instruction to the regular teacher to give them some extra advice as to how to change or adapt a child’s program.” That’s not the minister’s fault here. That’s now the responsibility of the local school district — right? Go see them. That’s why we have locally elected school trustees.

But let’s get to the heart of the matter here. School district trustees have a responsibility of governance, locally, of their school district, but every dollar, every centime of resource that comes to the school system, comes through decisions that are made right here in this chamber. Okay? Right here in this chamber. So to say to people: “Well, hey, you know, go speak to the school trustees. These are local decisions. They’re obviously taking the best interests of the local community. They know best, you know. They live there. They can make the best choices….”

An Hon. Member: Disingenuous.

R. Austin: It’s beyond disingenuous. It is just…. I don’t know.

When I was working in the school system, I used to get angry. Every day I went home feeling pretty angry at what was happening because, you see, I worked in the school system when exactly this was happening as a result of changes to this funding formula. I saw it firsthand on the ground, in the classrooms, and so I used to go home very angry. I’ve now, luckily, done some anger management and got it out of my system, but I can see why teachers haven’t — right? — because, guess what? Teachers are still in the classrooms; 11 years on, they’re still there each and every day battling it out, having to do more with less, and trying to stretch and put things together because they care about the kids in their class.

They’re frustrated. Understandably, they’re frustrated, and so that’s why we’ve seen them resort to the action that we saw them take last night. And you know what? First of all, it’s a fundamental right for people to make those decisions. It’s a democratic organization. But just speaking on a human level, I can understand why, after 11 years, teachers are taking such drastic action to make a point as to what has happened in British Columbia in the education system over the last 11 years.

You know, it beggars belief to think that people on the other side of the House will constantly get up and say they want to improve the education system, when, clearly, decisions were made, policy decisions based on ideological choices were made to underfund the public education system — but to create the atmosphere or to create some notion that somehow we were increasing funding to the public education system, even though the needs were getting greater and they weren’t being satisfied. And on the previous model, many of those needs would have been satisfied.

You know what? The minister was the Minister of Health, and he’s now the Minister of Education. I acknowledge fully that there will never be enough money in the world to take care of every need in health care and education. I acknowledge that. I’m not expecting us to suddenly take our revenue levels to that of Sweden and Norway and other countries and create a system…. We’re just not there — right? That may be my personal choice. I don’t think it’s the choice of British Columbians. But what I have to say is that it is incredibly disingenuous to continue this facade that somehow we are improving education while at the same time constantly cutting it.

You know, we’ve spent the last 11 years…. It’s like photographing kids — and my colleague here has used this allegory before — where they’re small. They’re one year old. They’re trying to take the photograph, and the photographer is going: “Look up here. Look up here.” Meanwhile, all kinds of stuff is happening down here — right? That’s what’s happened here over the last 11 years. It’s “Look up here. We’ve got high school funding….” But the reality was that the per-pupil school funding level was not taking care of all of the needs.

Here’s another quote:

“People started to get active. People started to realize that, as consequences of these decisions that the B.C. Liberal had made, there would be all kinds of challenges in our school system, and so parents started to get organized. They started to advocate, not just on an individual basis for their children, but parents who had the skills realized, ‘You know what? If we’re going to make this a public issue, we have to go and advocate along with the teachers and along with making this a public issue so all parents understand what’s going on.'”

[1615When parents raise concerns about the cuts in real

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public issue, we have to go and advocate along with the teachers and along with making this a public issue so all parents understand what’s going on. When parents raise concerns about the cuts in real funding to schools, the Education Minister, who is now the Premier, dismissed them as “representatives of unions and other opponents of the government.”

Now, some probably undoubtedly are, but others are supporters of the government’s general direction. They just believe that the B.C. Liberals have messed up by failing to cover increased school costs and want a chance to discuss the policy, and that does not seem like such an unreasonable position for people to take in a functioning democracy. That was written by somebody in the Vancouver Sun as a result of the educational cuts that started under the current Premier when she was Minister of Education.

You know, this crossed all political boundaries. I can quote here people who were school trustees in the past who are now sitting in this House on the Liberal side. I mean, there’s the member for Langley, the Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation. She was a school trustee. I believe she was the chair of the school trustees of the Surrey school district when the now current Premier was the Minister of Education.

She put out this statement, being outraged at this change and how it was going to affect the Surrey school district. So plenty of people understood what was going on — okay? Plenty of people on the B.C. Liberal side of the House understood what was going on — okay? I could quote other trustees whose political views we know because they are out there in their local communities.

I mean, in small towns in British Columbia, while local government and school governance is not a partisan issue…. People don’t run on slates, for the most part. People run just as community members. But in small towns in British Columbia, we all know who we are, we all know which side of the fence we sit on, we all know which philosophical lens we look at the world through. I could quote numerous — numerous — trustees who thought that these changes were absolutely disastrous.

Here’s what the president of the School Trustees Association said at the time of these changes happening. This is Gordon Comeau. He said that the province’s education budget has been cut by $300 million over the next three years because the government has piled extra costs on the school districts, including the $150 million for the teachers wage hike that was introduced after this government came in and negotiated right here in Victoria.

He goes on to say: “Cuts are happening. They are happening in the classrooms. Schools are going down. The government should not have imposed a contract on teachers which they did not want to fund. This has left the boards feeling stunned, and if this hadn’t happened, school boards would have been able to manage their budgets.”

So here you go, once again. The government changes the funding formula that drastically restricts resources that would have come into the school system as a result of the previous model of funding and then, as if to add injury to insult, decide that they are going to not pay for a portion of a salary increase that happened almost ten years ago.

So what does that do to the school systems? What it does immediately is that every school system has to go and look at how to find the money in their budgets in order to provide those resources that didn’t come in. What does that mean? Well, it means that children don’t get assessed. It means that the class sizes go up. It means that classroom conditions in terms of the number of children with identified special needs would go up. It means that kids didn’t go on as many field trips and have experiential learning as well as classroom learning. It meant a whole bunch of things — okay?

This was a classic example, just another example, of how the B.C. Liberals have underfunded the school system, and those have spread through over the ten years. So the government argued, of course: “Well, you know, this is all about flexibility and choice. We’re going to give you per-pupil student funding. We’re not going to tell you how it’s going to be paid, how it’s going to be allocated. You can go and do that — flexibility and choice.”

[1620]You know, I’m always a bit wary when I hear the words “flexibility and choice,” because they’re nice-sounding words. I mean, don’t we all like

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We’re not going to tell you how it’s going to be paid, how it’s going to be allocated. You can go and do that — flexibility and choice.”

I’m always a bit wary when I hear the words “flexibility and choice,” because they’re nice-sounding words — right? Don’t we all like choices? Doesn’t everyone in our life like choices? But there are times when choices are good. Like, I like to go through the grocery store and decide what choice of breakfast cereal I want to have. When I’m shopping for an automobile every few years, I like it go through all the Consumer Digest things and figure out what my choice will be on an automobile.

Those are legitimate choices that we make — okay? — but when your choice as a school trustee is which school you close down, which resource you cut…. Do you cut the special ed teacher, or do you amalgamate those kids?

Do you take the time that’s been allocated for that child and say: “I’m going to take those hours of EA time, and I’m going to spread it out. I’m going to get that EA over there, who’s really supposed to be working with those two kids, who really needs to work with those two kids because they’re behind in their reading, and I’m going to take two or three other grey-area kids, who haven’t been designated because we haven’t got the money to even do the assessment. I’m going to take that, and I’m going to spread it out thinner.”

That is what has happened. That is what has happened for 11 years in the province of British Columbia, and it does a disservice to who we are as legislators. We have a responsibility, coming out of this Legislature, to do the right thing, to say to British Columbians: “Yes, your health care matters, and your education matters, and we’re going to make sure that it is resourced in a way that satisfies not just our needs but that speaks to our values.” But that is what has happened — 11 years of spreading things out more thinly.

Things got so bad that in one school district somebody actually went on a hunger strike to protest. This lady — she was an artist; her name was Claire Kujundzic — went on a hunger strike to prevent the closing of the Wells School. “I think what is happening is immoral,” she said.

The Education Minister, now the Premier of the province, and the then Premier, Gordon Campbell, keep saying that because of the new School Act, the decision rests entirely with the local school trustees, but if the legislation allows this is kind of injustice, it’s flawed and should be withdrawn.

We turn on our televisions every night, and we see what’s going on in the world around us. We see there are many jurisdictions around the world where people feel they have no option but to do things like go on a hunger strike. But we don’t think that things should resort…. In a free democracy — in a country like Canada, in a province like British Columbia — in order to fight cuts to the education system, we have to go on a hunger strike here. It’s beyond belief that anybody would resort to that — absolutely beyond belief.

But that’s what happened. That’s the history of this 11 years of the B.C. Liberal government. That’s the record on education. It’s tragic, and it should never have happened, but it’s still going on today.

This act — Bill 22, the Education Improvement Act — in fact continues to denigrate the system a little bit further. To think that all the people have had to come out and advocate and fight and argue with a system that has constantly been underfunded is not right.

I want to speak about what happened in terms of lobbying. Parents decided to get into the act of lobbying after these changes were made. After months of lobbying the government decided to respond to concerns over school funding. There was a coalition of Vancouver parents. They received a letter from the then Premier, Gordon Campbell, telling them that it would be inappropriate for him or any other member of the Liberal government to personally discuss their concerns.

Until now their lobbying, which included more than 15,000 letters to Premier Gordon Campbell and the Minister of Education, has received a meagre response. Earlier this month the then Minister of Education, now Premier of the province publicly refused to meet with the group, which boasts a membership of more than 14,000 concerned parents provincewide.

[1625]She said she believes the organization to be a front for political activists. Seriously, that was the attitude of the Minister of Education when all these cuts were happening as a result of decisions that she made. She’s now the Premier of the province of British Columbia, but apparently, in a free, democratic society when you go to take

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that was the attitude of the Minister of Education when all these cuts were happening as a result of decisions that she made. She’s now the Premier of the province of British Columbia.

Apparently in a free democratic society when you go to take serious issues of school underfunding and cuts having to be made to a system that was the envy of the world…. Right? Let’s understand something here. Our British Columbia school system not only was the envy of the world; it is still a great world-class education system.

I’m always very wary when I speak about these issues that I am somehow going to be seen to be undermining a system that I value. That is a challenge for any of us in this House when we speak to challenges — right? But I mean, I have been fortunate enough in my life to travel a great deal.

[D. Black in the chair.]

 

I grew up in Africa, and my mother’s from Sri Lanka. I’ve been all around the world. And absolutely, we have a system here that is great. But it could have been a whole lot better if these changes hadn’t been made. It could have been a whole lot better.

To the notion that when people bring this to the attention of the government that somehow they’re political activists just doing this in order to agitate, I mean, what does that say about our democracy? Seriously. You know? It reminds me of some of the comments that have been coming out of Ottawa recently in terms of people expressing their democratic opinion around big projects that are happening.

In my neck of the woods there’s been a large project that is very controversial. People have been coming out expressing concerns about that at public meetings and before the federal Energy Board, and the Prime Minister of our country said something very similar to what the current Premier said when she was Minister of Education: “Well, these are just people agitating. They’re political activists.” The only thing she didn’t add at that time was: “They’re funded by foreigners.” I guess they weren’t funded by foreigners, but good for them.

I want to speak for a second about what our education system means to all of us — okay? It is important for us to understand what the purpose of our education system is. As is often the case with members on the government side, they often make important speeches, not necessarily in front of the group whose interest is in that particular area of government policy, but often they make speeches in other places.

In May of 2002, while addressing the Vancouver Board of Trade, the local MLA and Education minister, who is now the Premier, spoke about her government working towards a future in which all children “have the opportunities they need to reach their full potential and both students and society have the support of nothing less than a top-notch education system.”

These are wonderful words. You often hear them spoken by members on both sides of this House. The weird thing is that as she was saying that, as she was saying those great valuable things about public education and how important it is, her very own school district at the time of Coquitlam was drawing to a close that year.

As the reality of the drastic extent of the Liberal underfunding of the education system set in, it had to be pointed out to her that at that time while she was making this speech about how valuable education was, her own school district was laying off 213 teachers in Coquitlam. They got layoff notices at the end of May. And to witness the shock, sadness and fear that many exhibited both on that day and subsequently….

It isn’t enough to go out there and continue to say positive things about education, to say that we want to help each and every child be the best they can be, and then remove the resources that support those children being the best they can be. That’s just not right, and that is what has happened year after year.

I want to take a few minutes now to talk about something that is fundamental to this bill and which the minister spent an inordinate amount of time discussing. That is the whole notion of kids with special needs and being designated and the suggestion that designating a child with special needs or treating that child with their label only is discriminatory.

[1630]I remember when I was studying social work, we did a lot of work on the whole notion of labelling. Certainly, there’s been lots of academic work done on the notion of labelling.

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You know, when I was studying social work, we did a lot of work on the whole notion of labelling. Certainly, there’s been lots of academic work on the notion of labelling and what that can do to a human being in terms of getting a label, being given that label, which can affect their life and the way in which they see themselves, and the consequences of getting a label in terms of how they’re treated by society and by every different structure and system that they interact with.

But here’s what I would say about it in our public education system. First of all, we acknowledge — and the minister acknowledged in his comments — that in order to find out if a child has a learning disability or a disability of any kind, we need to have them assessed. Inevitably, that assessment takes place by professionals who have gone and studied for years various areas of expertise, to spot what that learning disability is and to give it some kind of designation, some kind of diagnosis that enables government to be able to add resources to the overall school budget that help that child.

We can’t get away from the notion of labelling in the sense that we have to designate kids. We have to go and assess them. That is a critical part of our school system — okay? Now, I’ve spent time in classrooms. Inevitably, if you have a child that has an obvious disability, part of the great thing about inclusiveness is that all the children in that class have an opportunity to learn as they are growing up that the world is made up of all kind of people.

Some have disabilities. Some have huge challenges — physical, mental. In those cases it is very obvious, because the disability is one that is visible and can’t be hidden. It’s a great thing that we grow up…. We’ve supported inclusivity for decades in the province. It’s a good thing. It’s a good thing for teaching children as they become adults that that’s the way the world is made up.

There are, of course, many hidden disabilities. I speak, of course, about kids who have been designated with learning disabilities where, to look at them, you would never know that they have in a kind of disability. Yes, it’s true to say that if there is designated assistance to that child, inevitably that child is going to be seen by the other kids in the class as being different — right? They don’t look different, but why is it that every day, five days a week, an adult comes and sits beside little Johnny and helps little Johnny to scribe during a particular class?

You know what? If we try to do as it is suggested in this bill — to do away with the notion of having these designations, having these labels, I guess, and then not being willing to confront the reality of being able to help that child and not being willing to recognize that the number of children who have special needs in the class affects that class terribly — then I don’t know what we’re here for. That is basically throwing the whole notion of composition out of the window, and I don’t think that we should do that.

I realize that dealing with the idea of being discriminatory is one that is very, very complicated, but I think we need to be aware of a few things. First of all, the notion that we try to impede somebody is wrong. I think that there needs to be a system…. The minister used the example of one specific child — this is just one example — and that child is the fourth child with an IEP, an individual education plan, going into a class where there are already three children who have individual education plans.

I think the system that we need to have is one that gives the local school district the ability…. First of all, I would assume that they could have applied for an exemption in this case, because there have been thousands of exemptions applied for and given to allow more than three children with a special need in our class. That’s the first thing I would say.

[1635]Secondly, if we’re going to allow this to happen…. If we’re going to suggest, “Okay. Well, let’s have the local school group — the principal, the vice principal, the special ed teacher and the teacher — look at this,” surely what we need to do is to make sure that if the fourth child

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this to happen, if we’re going to suggest, “Okay, let’s have the local school group, the principal, the vice-principal, a special ed teacher and the teacher look at this,” surely what we need to do is to make sure that if the fourth child with a special need is going into a class, the resources are there to put into place whatever is necessary to ensure that that class works and is educationally sound.

The trouble and the challenges with Bill 33 are that it has put the school system in such a position that principals have signed off thousands and thousands of classes since 2005-2006 and signed them to be educationally sound, probably knowing in their own hearts, as former professional teachers, that it wasn’t educationally sound. But they were put in a difficult position.

It’s not just the school trustees who’ve been put in a difficult position as a result of the lack of resources in our public education system. It’s also principals and also teachers who’ve been put in difficult situations, because they’ve had to make decisions, in order to make a class work, that weren’t educationally sound, and they probably knew that. But there were only so many resources to go around, so that’s why they did that.

I think that in terms of principals it’s doubly difficult. I mean, a teacher was in a difficult position. If they argued with the principal, if they said, “I’m not signing off on that,” then the relationship in that school community between the administrator — the principal — and the teachers would have been untenable.

We have to remember something. Our educational system isn’t just all about adults working together trying to help improve the lives of our kids. These are all professionals who have to work together on a daily basis, so the ability for them to be able to construct and have constructive, workable relationships is critical to the work they do.

Imagine teachers who have been put in the position of having to have these conversations with their principal, with their administrator, when they knew clearly that the teaching conditions, the learning conditions for our children, will be untenable by having more kids in the class with special needs. They wanted to advocate for that, but the principal says: “Look, I’m in a difficult place, and so I’ve got to sign off on this. I’m sorry, but I have to do this.”

Why are principals in a difficult place? For one thing, they’re not protected by any union. They are all on personalized service contracts. They owe their job and their allegiance to the board — right? They’re administrators. So they were caught in this bind between government legislation that brought in Bill 33 and the fact that they had to follow the legislation.

Let’s not forget something here. When Bill 33 came in putting in all these restrictions, it wasn’t like they said: “Okay, we’re going to bring in these restrictions. We’re going to have no more than three kids of special needs. Here’s the money. Here are the resources to take care of constructing these classes in a way that is effective.” No, no, no. Bill 33 was passed here saying: “Here’s the law. You can take care of it back at the local school district. We’re not giving you any extra resources. That’s your problem to deal with.” Once again: “That is your problem to deal with.” So principals were put in an untenable position here — right?

I know this because, again, I come from a small town. I have coffee with teachers; I have coffee with principals. So you hear all of this, and so you know that it’s impossible. They were put in a position where they signed off on thousands upon thousands of classrooms which they, as former teachers, knew were not good learning conditions or teaching conditions, but they had to sign off on it.

Again, it’s disingenuous for this government to come forward constantly and say, “We are helping; we are improving our public education system; we are making it better somehow,” when the whole time they were not putting in the resources to cover even their own legislation.

What’s the result of that now? The result isn’t to say that well, maybe having three kids in the class was a good idea or a bad idea. No.

The solution here for the government is to say: “Well, you know what? It was really difficult. It was untenable. James Dorsey had to take care of 10,000 grievances a year, and teachers didn’t like doing it. It’s endless meetings. Here’s the solution. We’re just going to scrap them. We’re going to scrap the conditions that were there, put in place — why? They were put in place to make the learning conditions of our children better, but because it’s been a real kerfuffle, a real challenge, and there weren’t resources put in place, well, now let’s scrap them.”

[1640]Tell me, hon. Speaker. How is that going to improve the learning conditions of the children of British Columbia? Seriously. I could say, you know, where I live in northwest B.C., there are six police cars that work the roads from Haida Gwaii

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the children of British Columbia? Seriously.

I could say…. Where I live in northwest B.C. there are six police cars that work the roads from Haida Gwaii to Houston, and from the Yukon border to Kitimat. You know what the chances are of me getting caught if I speed? Pretty unlikely. Really, seriously. In fact, if I was to speed between Kitimat and Terrace, going to my two offices, the chances of me getting caught speeding are literally zero. There are simply not enough resources on the ground.

But you know, hon. Speaker, I don’t get in my car every day when I travel and think: “Well hey, I know it’s the law, but we can’t abide by this law. I’ll never get caught. Let’s just go speed.” But this is what is happening here in this bill in regards to taking out the number of special needs kids as a maximum. The government is essentially saying: “Yeah, we brought in this law. We thought it was going to be good. It hasn’t worked out that well, but it’s impossible for us to maintain it.” Why is it impossible for us to maintain it? Because it required resources to go in, to actually make that law and fulfill the mandate of the law. So they are giving up on the law they passed, and it’s not in the interest of our school children.

I want to spend a minute to talk about the ruling from Madam Justice Susan Griffin. It’s very clear that the government and us on this side of the House have a different opinion as to what was meant in this ruling. Now, I’m not a constitutional lawyer and my understanding is, of course, that neither is the Minister of Education, but the Minister of Education, of course, has access to lawyers here who work for the government, and their interpretation — if I heard the minister correctly in his remarks to Bill 22 — of Bills 27 and 28 and the unconstitutional stripping of class size and composition is: “Look, if we had done our due diligence, if we had sat down with teachers and explained to them and consulted with them as to what we were going to do, then that would have been fine. We could have carried on.” Okay?

His argument as I saw it was that it was entirely about the process. It wasn’t that what they did was wrong. It wasn’t that they stripped long-held rights that had been bargained over a period of many, many years. That wasn’t wrong; that wasn’t unconstitutional. It was the mere fact that they hadn’t sat down with the teachers and done some consultation.

On this side of the House we don’t see it that way. We don’t see it that way at all. I think that Madam Justice Susan Griffin will, once again, have to do some work on this. Our interpretation is that, yes, she was saying that there needed to be consultation, and, yes, she said that resources were removed and you have to compensate for some of those resources, but she also made rulings about the actual way in which these contracts were stripped.

They had been negotiated in a fair bargaining process. We have a long-held tradition in British Columbia and in Canada of the rights of unions and their employers to sit down together in a room to argue, to go back and forth, to bargain. It’s a messy process, but at the end of the day they come up with an agreement, a contract. That contract has to be honoured in the say way that every other contract has to be honoured in our judicial system.

What happened here was that the government, once again, just as they had changed the entire funding formula, just as they had done that, they also had an agenda to take out levels of funding for special needs. What they saw over time was that it’s hugely expensive to take care of all of the kids in our system and add dollars to those who have special needs. As we’ve learnt more and more about learning disabilities and learning challenges, more and more kids are now getting the help that they deserve — or should be getting the help that they deserve.

[1645]In my day I can remember conversations my parents had around the table when a child had a learning disability. This is going back a long time. Where I come from if your kid had what we now know is a learning disability and was having struggles in school, I can remember people saying things like: “Oh, isn’t he a bit thick? He’s missing some grey matter. There’s a bit of something not there.” We didn’t know 25 or 30 years ago that children who took a little bit longer to learn something, children who learnt in different ways, children whose

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He’s missing some grey matter. Something is a bit not there.

We didn’t know 25, 30 years ago that children who took a little bit longer to learn something, who learned in different ways, whose brains were wired in a non-normative process, in a different process, had the capacity to learn like everybody else. We didn’t know that 25 years ago.

But we know that today. We have got the science behind it. We know how we can diagnose people. We know how we can assess people. And we know that if we put some extra resources in, that child, who in my day would have been considered a little bit thick, can be a star pupil, can be all they want to be.

But you know what? It requires not just the ability and expertise to pay for assessments, it then needs the requirements of a government, of a society that says: “We’re going to pay for this.” We’re going to make sure that we don’t just have all the kids who succeed in British Columbia and make our PISA scores look so fantastic around the world.

We’re going to make sure that those kids who on the outside don’t seem to have any kind of disability, no physical disability, no mental disability…. But they have learning challenges that are very complex and can only be understood as soon as a teacher spends a little time with that kid and realizes — you know what? — Johnny here has got a problem processing certain things. Sarah here has a problem when I’m up and speaking for long periods of time. I can tell that this kid is not good at learning in an auditory way. She needs to have things put on paper, into images —whatever it is, right?

There are so many different modalities that a teacher has to teach to in a classroom, and we know that today. But it requires the ability of a teacher to be able to deal with that. It is very complex being in a classroom in British Columbia in 2011.

I remember when I was a community schools coordinator. One of the schools I visited was Edmonds Community School down in Burnaby-Edmonds. Actually, I believe that the member for Burnaby-Edmonds made a very interesting statement the other day about Burnaby’s Edmonds Community School. I remember going to that school, and I was astonished. It was so different from the schools that I was working with in Terrace.

In Terrace we dealt with a large aboriginal population, and we had high poverty rates. But to go to Edmonds was fascinating. There were people from the Sudan and Afghanistan and the Punjab and 30, 40 different countries. People who I had never thought had come here. You think of British Columbia; you think of a huge East Indian population, a large Chinese population. But here was a school taking in Afghan and Sudanese refugees and Ethiopian people.

And you know what? Our school system and our teachers have to deal with kids who come into the school system, some of whom have never even been in a school in their lives, some of whom have come from war zones. Think of that. They’ve come from war zones — right? They’ve been traumatized. So we have a system that has to try, and we expect our teachers to try and figure all of this out.

So isn’t it right? Isn’t it correct that if we’re going to do this, going to recognize not just the top 40 percent of kids who would do well anywhere, in any system just by virtue of who they are and the level of support they have from the home and everything else…?

Let’s not worry so much about the 40 percent who would do well no matter what system they had. Let’s try and figure out what we can do with the 40 percent of kids who struggle in our system for whatever reason — you know? That is our responsibility as legislators. And both sides of the House speak, at least rhetorically, about wanting to do that.

But it is expensive. I’m not doubting that. And what has happened over the last few years is that there has been a constant whittling away of the resources necessary to help a child who comes from a war zone. But we still expect our teachers to go ahead and do it.

And you know what? Teachers being who they are and wanting to do this job…. It’s like I said earlier, it is, in large part, a vocational choice. For anyone who’s attending university and deciding what they want to go and study and what they want to do for their life’s work, to become a teacher is, in large part, a vocation. And as a result of that, teachers will inevitably do whatever they can, under any circumstances, to try and make it work.

[1650]But it’s challenging, and it shouldn’t be that way, because at the end of the day we live in a province that is wealthy — wealthy in huge terms. I’m not speaking now simply about the current budgetary situation. Obviously, the budgetary

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we live in a province that is wealthy in huge terms. I’m not speaking now simply about the current budgetary situation. Obviously, the budgetary situation if this side of the House would have been in would have been different from what is in now, and we would have had different priorities. So that’s where we’re at.

What I want to emphasize is that we demand an awful lot of our teachers in the complexity of our classrooms, not just with learning challenges, and it is important that we have those resources in place. It hasn’t been for a long period of time.

So why is it that teachers decided yesterday to take a strike vote and have announced that they are not going to be attending work? Well, you know, teachers have reached a point, I think, and this is just my…. I don’t speak for them, but my assessment in hearing many teachers is that they have reached a level of frustration over the years, that they are going to what seems to be the last resort to make a statement. All teachers get math. All teachers understand math. All teachers know exactly where this is going. They know the makeup of the Legislature of British Columbia, and so they will have thought about that before their actions. They know where this is going to end up.

But in spite of that, they’re making a clear statement. It comes about as a result of the way they have been treated, and it comes about as a result of this bill continuing the actions of Bills 27 and 28. Think of the irony here. Think of the irony, hon. Speaker, where you have a bill that strips out long-held rights of teachers. It’s imposed by legislation. It’s brought down to the B.C. Supreme Court after many years, is ruled unconstitutional, and now here we are, ten years later, using the Legislature to impose a settlement on that piece of legislation — right?

It’s recognizing that those bargaining rights on class size and composition had to go back into the contract or had to be put onto the table — excuse me. They had to be put back onto the table and are going to be bargained in the future, but not today. Not today.

Teachers have undergone ten years of this unconstitutional action being imposed upon them. The government recognizes that because this piece of legislation says that as of June 30, 2013, those rights are going to be back onto the bargaining table — one month after the next election, coincidentally. But for now, of course, we can’t bring them back. We’re not going to do that — right?

That is the kind of frustration that teachers are dealing with. So it’s no wonder that they have become so angry and are taking this kind of action.

I want to speak to a few things that the minister brought up in terms of what he’s talking about in terms of Bill 22. He has mentioned something which certainly I am supportive of here. He talked about the notion of class maximums that recognize that in certain instances they need to be far smaller than the 30 maximum that is being brought into this legislation.

I know, having worked as an educational assistant in shop classes. I thought it very bizarre at the time that there would be shop classes with such a high number of kids, some of which also had special needs and without support for those kids in the class. I can remember doing metal work, and I can remember being in shop class where there were saws and all kinds of things. So I think that’s something, certainly, that we on this side will support, and I think that that is an important part of something that needs to be mediated, to recognize that that’s taking place.

I wanted to speak for a second about the solution to class sizes that go over 30, and the government’s solution as to the kind of compensation that can happen as a result of things that have come out of James Dorsey and him having to deal with all of these grievances.

[1655]The minister suggested that if a class is over 30, there should be compensation for a teacher. First of all, the teachers that I’ve spoken to have said very clearly to me that they don’t want extra compensation for classes over 30. They don’t want to be seen to be getting extra money. What they would like to see is to have classes that make their jobs

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have said very clearly to me they don’t want extra compensation for classes over 30. They don’t want to be seen to be getting extra money.

What they would like to see is to have classes that make their jobs better, that make the learning outcomes for the children in those classes better. So the notion that we should have classes over 30 and somehow give the teacher extra pro-D or prep time or a resource for their classroom…. I think you’d find that most teachers would much rather have smaller class sizes and much rather have the assistants in the classroom, if it was required, than start to go looking at larger class sizes. It is very important.

This whole notion of class size and composition is at the crux of everything that teachers have been arguing about. And it’s not just teachers. I think two and a half years ago we brought into this House a letter that was signed by teachers; by CUPE, who represented the educational assistants; by the head of the Principals and Vice-Principals Association; by the B.C. School Trustees Association; by BCCPAC.

All the stakeholders in British Columbia came together to write a letter about two years ago to the then Minister of Education stating clearly that the cuts as a result of budget underfunding and the cuts that were being made in regards to class size and compensation were untenable. It is very rare in this province when you get all the educational stakeholders lining up to speak to one issue, but it happened when people were speaking to the B.C. Liberal government in terms of their educational policy over the 11 years. That’s how bad it has been. It has actually made a consensus.

What we’re going to see as a result of this bill is more dysfunction, more challenges, and the school trustees are going to have to go back and constantly take the flak for decisions that have been made right here in Victoria.

Just two weeks ago the budget was brought down here. Let’s speak to this for a second, because this is also going to impact what’s happening with Bill 22. The budget essentially has said that there is not going to be any increase to the K-to-12 education budget for the next year. Now, what does that mean? We already know, anybody who works in government knows, that when you are working in a system as large as education or health care, there are inflationary costs that are built into the system — lots of them.

In addition to those inflationary costs, government sometimes makes decisions that impose other costs that weren’t even part of the previous inflationary costs. Think of the increases to MSP premiums that our school districts are going to have to pay for every single adult who works in the school system.

What the government has done in the budget is essentially say to British Columbians: “Well, you know, times are tough. So I tell you what. We’re not going to increase the K-to-12 system.” That is going to result in every single school district, all 60 school districts of the province of British Columbia, having to look to make further cuts to make up for the fact that inflation is probably $100 million in a system as big as that.

So once again, while we’re sitting here debating the Education Improvement Act, we’re working with a government whose budget is actually going to harm education.

I’m going to wrap up by saying that we are going to oppose this. We are going to ask lots and lots of detailed questions during our time in third reading. I am sure that there are going to be many members on this side of the House who are going to be speaking out and sharing their opinions and speaking about what teachers and parents are telling them in their local constituencies.

But the fundamental reason why we are opposing this bill is because it is further going to strip the contracts. That’s what they’re asking for here. This is mediation that is going to require further looking at stripping of contracts. It does not address class size and composition. In fact, it makes composition far worse. It is using the legislative sledgehammer here when it was unnecessary to do that.

[1700]Do you know what, hon. Speaker? It’s almost Orwellian even in the description of it — the Education Improvement Act. I guess we’ve reached the point in our politics where if we use enough communication and if we use enough spin, somehow we can figure out that people will actually think that what it is we say, we believe. But

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I guess we’ve reached a point in our politics where, if we use enough communication and if we use enough spin, somehow we can figure out that people will actually think that what it is we say we believe.

But you know, maybe I’ll bring forward an amendment that we can change the name of this act. Maybe we’ll think of changing it from the B.C. Education Improvement Act to the “No child left behind, B.C. version.” “No child left behind, B.C. version” might be a good way of describing what is taking place here, because it isn’t just a question of a child that is going to be left behind, as hundreds of children have already been left behind.

This act is going to leave busloads of children behind — busloads of children behind — and we’ve already seen 11 years where lots and lots of children have been left behind and not been adequately supported. So why would I want to support a bill that is going to further reduce those extra resources that are needed?

I’m going to finish up here by talking and just having a…. There have been so many teachers who have expressed their concerns, so many parents, but I just want to put something into the public record, because I think it speaks to, generally speaking, how teachers feel. This teacher writes to the minister. It’s not a long letter, but I think it’s good to get on the public record. He says:

“I love to teach. I love the spark that opens up slow at first, then wider and wider, when a grade 8 student sees the wonder of life that teems in a drop of water. I love to watch the distracted and troubled young man who is always moving and never quiet find a calm centre as he steps onto the stage in our theatre production. I love the quiet sense of satisfaction that a student gets from finally taming the many-headed beast that is a quadratic equation.”

I hated quadratic equations, by the way.

“I love to see the young shy girl, who has worked so hard to never be noticed, find her voice as she steps into the light to sing in public for the first time. I love all of these things and so many more about the work that I do. I have the privilege and honour of working with the province’s young people, and am fulfilled and exhausted by it every day.

“I do work that has lasting and significant meaning in the lives of the people around me. I love that I can express myself creatively as I think, plan and dream about the best way to reach them, to help them, to explain. I don’t always succeed. Sometimes I’m so tired or my patience is not what it should be or I have not anticipated correctly what it is my students need. But every day, every semester, every year, I get to go out there and work hard to make it better.

“In order to make this happen, I need something from the hon. Minister of Education. I need you to listen to me. I need the minister to hear that I cannot connect with 30 students at once in a meaningful way. I need the minister to know that having four students with learning designations in addition to the one who is living on his own because his parents kicked him out and the three that came to school hungry because their parents live in poverty and the two that are dealing with drug problems is just too much. I cannot be the teacher I want to be in those circumstances. I cannot be the teacher that my students need me to be in those circumstances.

“I need you to know that I need some professional autonomy. I need you to respect the fact that most of the time I know what I’m doing. When I don’t know who to talk to, I can make my own good decisions about where I need to develop professionally. The kind of atmosphere that allows me to become the best teacher I possibly can be is one where you respect my skills and allow me to direct the places where I need to sharpen up. And yes, hon. Minister, I need to be compensated fairly. I need to know that the best young teachers, young people, that are my own students right now are not going to move away to Alberta or Ontario because there is such a huge disparity.

“I know that that is your job, and it’s not an easy one. And I know that there are many demands coming at you from contradictory sources, but please, through you, hon. Minister, these are our children.”

I think that letter just about says it all. I remember my early experiences of being an education assistant in Terrace, and I went into a classroom with a teacher very much like this. I remember it because it was very odd. It was in a downtown Terrace school, and it was grade 6. I walked in to help a child who was severely developmentally delayed. Her EA was away for a number of weeks, and I spent a number of weeks with this child.

[1705]I walked into this classroom, and I noticed that the lights were really low. They were very dim. I thought: “Oh, what’s going on with this teacher? I’ve never been with this teacher before.” When he started to teach, he spoke very softly, very quietly. A bit

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of weeks with this child.

I walked into this classroom, and I noticed that the lights were really low. They were very dim. I thought: “Oh, what’s going on with this teacher? I’ve never been with this teacher before.” When he started to teach, he spoke very softly, very quietly — a bit like our Leader of the Opposition does occasionally when he’s asking questions. I thought: “Wow, this is odd.”

I’m used to teachers who, by the nature of the job they do and the professional training they’ve done…. Generally speaking, teachers have their voice. They’ve found their voice. Certainly, in a classroom they’re very vocal, and that’s the way that I expect when I go into most classrooms. But this teacher had very low lighting, and he spoke very softly.

It was about a week after I had been working with this child and with his teacher that I realized what was happening. He had many years of teaching experience. He wasn’t a new teacher. He’s now retired, so I guess he’d probably been teaching for at least 25 years. He had worked in the north all of his working life, and he had become culturally aware.

He figured out something. He figured out that there were a large number of kids in his class who were undiagnosed but probably had different levels of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. They weren’t diagnosed, but he recognized that some kids displayed some of the behaviours of kids who had this.

He also recognized that over 50 percent of his class was aboriginal, and he realized that if he lowered the lighting in his classroom and if he spoke softly, the kids’ level in terms of the behaviour, the classroom management, changed. He was able to connect to those kids a bit better.

I bring this up just as an example of the kinds of teachers we have in British Columbia. We need to support them.

About Diane McNally