Two issues are top of mind as I write this: the teachers’ strike and the continued mishandling of our ferry system.
Negotiation finally succeeded to end the strike which has left students missing five weeks of school and has pitted teachers and parents against the government. Time and again, on picket lines and at protests I heard people question how the BC Liberal government could do this to the kids.
But this is a government that has played politics with education since it was first elected 13 years ago. It is a dangerous and divisive approach. However teachers, who are not generally militant people, were willing to oppose this attitude and fight for people in the education professions and for the future of public education. They stood up for their human rights: the right to bargain, to negotiate and ultimately, to strike.
The dispute also showed parents understood the fight has been about their children’s future and the future of all of us. It was heartening to see the support shown by parents and other members of our communities, both on the picket line and at events to help teachers’.
Public education is fundamental to society. It is a wonderful opportunity, an amazing equalizer. No matter where a child lives, the money the parents may have, the background they come from, every child has the right to free public education. Education is not simply about training kids to fit an economic model designed by a neo-Liberal government. It is about helping the development of children and youth so they can fully participate in our society. We need young people to learn the skills to become plumbers and we need young people to have the courage to become poets. We need young people to be in a position to earn a decent income and support themselves and we need young people who want to take risks and push their boundaries. This is what public education should lead to. It isn’t about a war with teachers, it’s about us, about how we perceive our society and our future.
The attacks on public education started early in the BC Liberal mandate, more than a dozen years ago. It was about the same time they started the disastrous quasi-privatization of BC Ferries. In both instances we are still trying to cope with the fallout.
This summer has been chaotic on our marine highway. Vessels have been overloaded because of cuts in services and island businesses are reporting significant losses because people cannot afford to travel by ferry. The Union of BC Municipalities commissioned a report on the economic impact of BC Ferries on the provincial economy, a study that should have been done by government before they started on the path they took in 2002. The report shows that if fares had risen only by the rate of inflation the provincial economy would be richer by $2.3 billion. The province and the federal government have foregone hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue. I remain incredulous that the BC Liberals claim to be stewards of the economy when the facts and figures are so stark; this approach is an economic disaster.
Of course this government’s response has been to shrug off the report. Instead it continues with its blinkered ideological and economically dangerous decision of more of the same. Fares will, without question, continue to rise – another four per cent increase is slated for the spring — services will continue to be cut. And the provincial economy will continue to suffer.
As the Shadow Minister for Transportation and Ferries I am visiting Prince Rupert and Haida Gwaii to meet with people about the impact of fare increases and service cuts on their businesses, their communities and their families. I’m having Town Hall meetings as well as individual discussions. I had hoped to build in a visit to the Central Coast and Bella Coola as well, but – what a surprise – the reduced ferry schedules and reduced ferry capacity on the Bella Coola run simply did not permit it to work.
This week I will be at the Union of British Columbia Municipalities conference where I am expecting a lively debate on the ferries’ report. I’ll also be accompanying municipal politicians and officials from the North Island to meetings with Ministers on problems facing our communities.
The week before the Legislature returns in October will see me doing some work on the Transportation file in the Interior. I intend to be back in time for the meeting in Campbell River of the Select Standing Committee on Finance which takes submissions from individuals and groups about what needs to be in next year’s provincial budget (www.leg.bc.ca/cmt/finance/budget-consultations.asp). I’ll also be up Island that week and round the week off at a meeting of the Island Coast Economic Trust.
As I mentioned in my last report, I am in the process of hiring for the Port Hardy office and hope to have someone in place by mid-October.
I can always be reached by phone at my Campbell River office: 250-287-5100 or toll-free at 1-866-387-5100. Feel free to friend me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @clairetrevena.