What will cost more in the education dispute in B.C.?

We need to talk. And no, I’m not being sarcastic. We really do need to talk, and in a way that speaks each other’s language

We need to talk. And no, I’m not being sarcastic. We really do need to talk, and in a way that speaks each other’s language, and in a way that we can each hear the validity in the other’s concerns.

Case in point: I and many of my fellow teachers have written countless public appeals for the government to do the right thing and to fund public education properly, an issue by the way which goes far beyond the proposals currently on the bargaining table. Ask a trustee.

The problem is that these letters and blogs almost always appeal to emotional sensibility, altruism and a sense of moral duty. All fine things and not surprising given that teachers are members by choice of a caring nurturing profession.

I think that instead we need to talk about economics.

The basic premise behind the government’s public position in resisting mediation boils down to “protection of the taxpayer.” In other words, what we are watching, in inimitable B.C. world wrestling-style political hyperbole, is really a policy debate over taxation.

It seems to me there are two potential positions for B.C. Liberal supporters: a) that public education should not be supported by tax dollars at all, in principle, or b) that a quality public education should be supported by tax dollars but mitigated by sound financial restraint.

Of the 30 per cent or so of the B.C. population that openly supports the government position, according to multiple polls, I am going to assume the majority of you fall into the latter. This is not idle speculation, either, as other polls have shown that a majority of B.C. taxpayers (regardless of political affiliation) support higher taxation, provided that the revenues flow to specific public benefits, such as schools, hospitals, infrastructure, etc.

I would argue that b) is a completely defensible position. My only issue with it is that I don’t believe the leaders you are supporting fall into the same category as you.

I will admit that I have no concrete proof that Christy Clark and Peter Fassbender fall into category a) above, but I ask you the following questions in the hopes that you will call for a more complete and transparent analysis of the economics of the situation.

• What will cost more? Investing in quality public education now, or paying later for all of the economic fall-out that research shows is correlated to poorer access to quality education.

• What will cost more? Settling 10 years of a retroactive grievance now for an unconstitutional injury, the fact of which is not up for debate, even in the upcoming court case, or kicking the problem down the road until such point that you are liable for the full damages.

• What will cost more? Paying the difference between the two positions as they stand, or shelling out $40 each and every day to a large portion of the 500,000 public school aged children in B.C.

As I say, I think we need to start to speak each other’s language and debate the issues for what they are.  I truly believe that the government’s economic argument is much weaker than it appears, but none of us can assess that properly if we are only offered spin instead of analysis.

Like bargaining, the success of a wider public debate like the one I am proposing will depend upon open, frank and honest commitment to facts and to the process.  That’s a long-term aspiration, though.

Mark Skanks, Local President,

Saanich Teachers’ Association