With honks of support from motorists coming every few seconds along Jacklin Road, teachers, supporters, parents and children rallied outside the Sooke school district board offices Friday.
The many handmade signs called on the government to “negotiate, mediate or arbitrate.”
“It’s basically a fight for public education,” said Langford’s Laurie Gitzel, a teacher with 27 years experience. “You can’t treat education like a business. Children are people, they’re not widgets.”
The rally came on the heels of an overwhelming 99.4 per cent ‘yes’ vote from more than 30,000 teachers provincewide who support binding arbitration, and have agreed to end the strike if the government will turn the matter over to an independent third party.
The NDP showed their support of the teachers on a provincial and federal level with Esquimalt and Juan de Fuca MP Randall Garrison and Victoria and Swan Lake MLA Rob Fleming each taking the microphone to offer encouraging words.
Juan de Fuca MLA and BC NDP leader John Horgan called out the BC Liberals, in particular Premier Christy Clark, for bad behaviour.
“Your rights belong to you. They’re not Christy Clark’s to rip up,” Horgan told a cheering crowd.
Former CUPE president and Sooke school trustee candidate Jan Peever commended the teachers for their courage in their willingness to give over the right to bargain to settle the matter.
“Let’s see if the government has that same courage,” she added.
The issues of class size and composition remain at the heart of the matter.
“This has been a revolving door for years and years,” said James Mullens, a retired university professor of over 20 years who’s been supporting the teachers from the beginning. “It’s like an educational groundhog day. We keep waking up to the same issues. Education has to be a priority. Not before other social needs, but before business.”
Mullen said the province has the money in contingency funds and other places.
“Why not use it now?” he asked. “Short-term fiscal responsibility does not trump long-term social need.”
“Research has shown that if a population is educated, the country does better economically,” added Gitzel.
If binding arbitration isn’t going to happen, teachers are pushing for negotiations, but say the E80 proposal has to be dropped first.
E80, according to the BCTF, was introduced by the BC Public School Employers’ Association in response to the Supreme Court’s ruling that the government violated teachers’ constitutional rights when it stripped bargaining power for class size and composition.
When the government applied for, and was granted, a stay of the judge’s ruling, the language allowing teachers to bargain for class size and composition was legally restored, but could not be implemented during this round of bargaining.
E80 “assumes that the restored language does not exist. (It) enforces the status quo. It simply refers to class size limits in the School Act, but does not guarantee them,” states a release from the BCTF. “In other words, E80 would negate a ruling from a superior court that upholds the restoration of the language.”
“They want us to give up our wins,” said Gitzel. “But we’re standing up for what we believe in. We’re a rich province, so what the hell is going on?”