A Conversation Starter Or The End of A Conversation?

Ratified.  That’s the word which characterizes this weekend for me.  It denotes success and a goal accomplished.  It indicates progress and sets a marker for the way forward.

The Agreement in Committee, a framework for bargaining which was fashioned in a collaborative effort between BCPSEA* and the BCTF**, was ratified this weekend at two separate meetings: the BCPSEA Annual General Meeting and the BCTF Representative Assembly.

This is a bold step for these two organizations. It sets the stage for positive dialogue before the start of labour negotiations.  That doesn’t necessarily mean the discussions will be easier or decisions arrived at without difficulty; it does mean that the parties have opened a door to a respectful process, respectful interaction, and — I hope — results.

Yet this step forward may have been jeopardized given the startling turn of events on Thursday, January 24, 2013.


IMG_8512 Frame

On Thursday, the provincial government released a document entitled “A Framework For Long Term Stability In Education” ) which came as a surprise to many of us who have a role to play in the public education system in British Columbia.

Although stakeholder submissions had been made by key partner groups on the issue of bargaining before the December holidays, this framework was much broader and incorporated many more issues than I believe were contemplated in those submissions.

While the goal of “stability” in education is admirable, and the narrative that has been designed to sell this new initiative may sound awfully good, scratch beneath the surface and many troubling issues emerge.

For example, why 10 years?  Where is the business case for introducing a level of inflexibility which may take away from the employers’ ability to respond to changing circumstances and uncertain economic conditions? Given rapid changes in technology and the reassessment of education, which seems to be in progress in many parts of the world, proposing such a lengthy time span seems like building your foundation on shifting sands.

Premier Clark and Don McRae, the Minister of Education, have both spoken about the plan and the media, including the full array of social media, have played and replayed, digested and parsed their comments.  

I also had the opportunity of hearing Minister McRae speak in-person at the BCPSEA AGM today.  

He said, again, that this framework was just the beginning, but I see it as stalling momentum rather than encouraging it.

Rather than asking what the best way to fund the public education system may be, we are now debating the merits of establishing yet another separate fund to deal with specific aspects of program delivery and service provision.

Rather than asking what the best way to set educational policy may be, we are now debating who should sit at the table of the proposed educational council.

Rather than asking how to ensure the best working relationship between the parties who negotiate, we are now trying to guess why the government seems intent on stripping BCPSEA of its core mandate which is to bargain on behalf of the 60 school boards in the province.

This government-proposed framework, says Minister McRae, is a conversation starter.  

I see it, unlike the now-ratified Agreement in Committee, as a conversation ender.


*British Columbia Public Schools Employers’ Association (http://www.bcpsea.bc.ca)

**British Columbia Teachers Federation (http://www.bctf.ca)