Randy Hawes, the MLA for Abbotsford-Mission in the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia, was right to introduce a resolution this week expressing approval for teachers and parents who are continuing to provide extracurricular activities for students in B.C. schools, notwithstanding a decree to the contrary by the B.C. Teachers’ Federation.
In March, a Liberal government bill put an end to the teachers’ strike action, pending recommendations by an appointed mediator. The union responded by declaring a work-to-rule exclusion of activities outside the classrooms, at a time of year when there are usually numerous concerts, sports events and excursions – often genuinely, enduringly enriching experiences for the students.
The teachers who are ready and willing to act as volunteers in these circumstances are admirable, as are the parents who do likewise. Mr. Hawes may be mistaken that these teachers are at risk of intimidation from their colleagues. But formal sanctions are certainly on the cards. Susan Lambert, the BCTF’s president, is not the only union official who has warned of this. In much the same situation in 2003, the BCTF did impose penalties on a teacher in Nelson, B.C.: a fine, a reprimand, ineligibility for union office, and publication of the matter in the union’s magazine. Some unpleasant pressures may be inevitable, but such naming and shaming would almost invite harassment of one kind or another.
An NDP MLA, Leonard Krog, accused Mr. Hawes of pouring “gasoline on a fire.” Four other NDP members spoke to similar effect. But the “fire” that ultimately matters more than the labour dispute is the loss to young British Columbians of many of the most engaging aspects of their school life – a community cultural life being turned to ashes. If anyone, the would-be union disciplinarians are the gasoline-pourers.
It is worth bearing in mind that, if symptoms persist, the NDP will be the governing party in B.C. a year from now. The debate on school activities is a reminder that the provincial NDP continues to be in close alliance with organized labour, and particularly with public-sector unions. It is not the British Columbian equivalent of a moderate European social-democratic party, or of Tony Blair’s New Labour.
The teachers that put their students ahead of a labour dispute should be recognized as public-spirited citizens, not as nuisances in need of the union’s deterrence.