This morning I am a mother.
I am comforting my grade seven child. She’s upset that her class field trip to Victoria has been cancelled due to labour disputes. A field trip that has stemmed from her science class talking about the Sakinaw salmon months ago.
The Sakinaw salmon morphed in to a discussion on the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, and how the Federal Government introduced legislation to drastically change the structure the DFO. This led to my daughter and a classmate initiating a letter writing campaign amongst their other sixteen classmates to their local, federal and provincial politicians. Their teacher was incredibly engaged, able to use the students’ enthusiasm to promote cross-curricular competencies in social studies.
The students met with their local MLA Nicholas Simons.
Their MP John Weston visited them just last week in their classroom, interviewing a few on their thoughts.
The trip to Victoria was to be a two day event to tour the Legislature and see the seat of government in our province, and experience Question Period. This is a trip that the students have been fundraising for weeks to make happen ; through car washes, sponsorship requests, bake sales, face-painting, and bottle drives.
As a trustee that is involved in local and provincial advocacy, and well versed in the current situation, I can explain all the issues to my daughter. I can tell her how the Province is trying to balance their budget in order to maintain BC’s high financial rating.
I can tell my daughter about how the Liberals campaigned on a ten-year deal with teachers during last year’s election, but how minimally education came up during debates and through all sides during the election campaign.
I can explain how in balancing the provincial books, this means that Education funding is remaining static to districts, which leaves school districts across the province with a shortfall as they try to staff classrooms, cover rising costs of Hydro and BC medical insurance premiums; maintain aging facilities; and deal with the ever-changing provincial directives on cash management and labour policy.
I can tell my daughter about how the publicly elected trustee governance board at BCPSEA (BC Public School Employers’ Association) was fired last summer and how Minister of Education Peter Fassbender appointed a public administrator to oversee the organization, which then resulted in a scramble by BCSTA (BC School Trustees Association) to consult with boards across the province to establish new bargaining structure suggestions prior to legislation regarding BCPSEA was introduced, legislation that has not materialized, nor is it on the immediate horizon.
I can tell my daughter about the bargaining positions of the BCTF and BCPSEA are incredibly far apart, ranging in cost estimates of the millions to billions of dollars, and how depending on which side is presenting the information, the amounts fluctuate.
I can explain how many days the bargaining teams have met since last year, approximately sixteen months ago; how many nights they have spent away from their families, trying to find common ground in the chasm that separates them.
I can explain to my daughter how her teacher is caught between very difficult pressures between his employer and his union, which is why the trip was cancelled.
And even though we have had all of these discussions in my home, the conflicting messages that are circulating regarding strikes, lockouts, and the labour dispute are confusing to us all, let alone my daughter that is missing her trip to Victoria.
But this morning, I am a mother – I have loved up my kids, and given them hugs, cuddles and kisses, and reminded them to be kind to their teachers and fellow classmates, to the staff at their school. I am frustrated for my children, for their teachers, for the trustees and districts across the province, for all of us caught in the middle.
Let’s hope for a negotiated settlement that is fully funded by the province.