This week is one of those few times in history when the B.C. Legislature is in session and at the moment classes all across British Columbia are not on account of the current BCTF strike action.
While this is not the first time in history that there has been a province wide strike it is somewhat unique to have a strike occurring so close to spring break.
Rather than engage in a finger pointing exercise I would like to provide some basic background information about the current strike and share some financial information to taxpayers regarding the costs of some of the issues involved.
The first point to be raised is that this is a legal strike that has been authorized by the B.C. Labor relations board under specific terms. Provided there is two days notice, the BCTF may withdrawal services for a period of three days for the first week and one day if additional weeks are to be impacted, again subject to notification.
Government has introduced legislation in Bill 22 that once passed would seek to end job action through the use of fines for future strikes, a legislated cooling off period and the use of a mediator.
Bill 22 also implements a $165 million learning improvement fund to improve support for special needs students.
Bill 22 also proposes other changes. Although classizes will remain unchanged for kindergarten through to Grade 3 there have been changes proposed for the class maximum of 30 students for Grades 4 to 12.
Under Bill 22 a class cannot exceed 30 students unless in the opinions of the superintendent of schools for the school district and the principal of the school, the organization of the class is appropriate for student learning, or if the class is in a prescribed category of classes.
If in the case of the former, additional compensation and resources would be provided to the teacher in question. This legislation is based partially on a model in the Coquitlam school district where there are currently ZERO classes over 30. Bill 22 also proposes mediation to help achieve a balance between seniority and qualifications when filling teaching positions.
This is similar to current contract language that exists in the Central Okanagan and Surrey school districts.
What Bill 22 does not address is demands from the BCTF for significant wage and benefit increases. Bill 22 proposes a net zero mandate that all other public sector unions have agreed to, currently 130 agreements to-date. The cost of the current BCTF demands are $2.06 billion over the next three years.
To put these costs into perspective the province would need to effectively maintain the HST and direct all of the excess proceeds entirely into funding the BCTF contract demands over the next three years.
As many citizens are well aware, the majority of British Columbians recently rejected increased taxes and the HST. As there will be less revenues as a result of this change in tax policy spending must also be adjusted accordingly. We cannot leave a burden of debt to our children and grandchildren that will only further comprise the ability to deliver important programs like healthcare, education and welfare for future generations.
Before I close this week I would like to wish the Penticton Vees organization best wishes as this week they will attempt to set a new record for most consecutive wins in history for junior hockey in North America. Job well done by the players, managements, volunteers and fans of this outstanding local hockey club.
Bill Barisoff is the MLA for Penticton.