Dan Brooks stopped in Salmon Arm last Tuesday to provide a solution to the teachers’ dispute, one he says is completely affordable.
Brooks, leader of the BC Conservative Party, addressed a gathering of about 20 people to outline his five-point plan.
Brooks emphasized that as a conservative, affordability is key. He said a solution would not require a tax increase, something that surprised him. Before he researched the numbers, “I was drawn to the idea it wasn’t affordable.” However, it is, he says.
“That’s what shocks me about the whole scenario.”
His five-point plan is as follows.
Point 1: The provincial government should drop its appeal of the latest ruling by the B.C. Supreme Court.
Brooks traced the history since 2002, when, with Christy Clark as education minister, the B.C. Liberals passed Bill 28 that took away bargaining rights such as class size and composition from the union.
A legal challenge of the bill by the teachers ground its way through the courts and, in 2011, the Supreme Court found the legislation was unconstitutional. The court gave the Liberal government a year to replace the legislation, preferably after ‘good faith’ negotiations with the teachers.
However, Brooks continued, the Liberal government passed Bill 22, “legislation that was almost identical to the first one found unconstitutional, to sidestep around the courts…”
Once again the legislation was challenged and the B.C. Supreme Court ruled in 2013 it was unconstitutional and the strategy was to force a strike. The government was then told to go back to the drawing board and negotiate. Now the government is appealing this latest court ruling.
“Dropping the appeal will be a good step,” Brooks said. “The Liberal government is going to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a court case they’re going to lose. It should go to classrooms, not courtrooms.”
Point 2: The province and teachers should sign a five-year contract that provides salary increases of 1.5 per cent per year or 7.5 per cent over five years. Brooks notes it is less than the consumer price index, less than the 8.5 per cent the teachers have asked for and more than the seven per cent the government has offered.
Point 3: Provide the teachers with a $2,500 signing bonus payable in equal installments over two years. The Liberals have offered $1,250, the teachers have asked for $5,000, so $2,500 would be a “rational compromise.”
Point 4: Class size and composition should be addressed through the province’s Learning Improvement Fund. The fund could rise in equal installments from $75 million in the current fiscal year to $150 million in 2017/18.
Point 5: Past grievances and future benefits should be sent to mediation to be concluded by the end of the 2015/16 fiscal year, with new allocations starting in the 2017/18 fiscal year.
He said the B.C. Liberals want to break the teachers union by maintaining the strike as long as they can.
“Breaking the union is not the solution to this – it really isn’t,” he said, noting that a public education system is fundamental, something that British Columbians and Canadians want.
“One thing that’s really important to remember is that teachers are not our enemies. In B.C. politics for the past 10 years, there’s been cultivation of a culture of demonizing teachers,” he said, noting it’s not healthy for B.C., for children or for the province’s finances.
One member of the audience questioned administrative costs in the system. Brooks said government spending comes down to priorities, pointing to an ICBC rate increase while the CEO is making $800,000.