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B.C. education: Scrooge-like conditions or unrealistic demands?

Jim Carrey, digitally enhanced, voices Ebenezer Scrooge, all sharp nose and pointed chin. He never allows the role to slip into safe caricature. This Scrooge isn’t comically nasty – he’s truly, madly, deeply mean.

As B.C. teachers walked off the job Monday and the government pushes through back-to-work legislation, some local newspapers have come up with suggestions for a different approach.

The Kelowna Daily Courier says the government should look at closing more small schools and reducing the workforce to find more money. The public school system has 11,300 fewer students this year and almost 50,000 fewer than 2000, a drop of nine per cent. The number of educators dropped by 7.8 per cent from 2001 to 2008, says an editorial by managing editor Jon Manchester.

"No one wants their school to be the one to go, but how else do you meet increasing costs while there is less demand for the service? That's something both the provincial government and B.C. teachers ought to consider during their mandated "cooling off period," the newspaper says.

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The Cowichan News Leader Pictorial on Vancouver Island says their sympathies are with neither the government nor the teachers.

"Teachers want a wholly unrealistic wage increase and the government is doing an admirable impression of Ebenezer Scrooge as it has watched classroom conditions deteriorate without lifting a finger," the newspaper says.

The newspaper suggests separating labour negotiations on wages, benefits, hours, overtime and safety from issues related to education. "Hash out a strictly labour-related contract," the newspaper says. Then bring in an "independent auditor" who will function like an arbitrator, issuing a binding report on classroom size and composition.

"We just can't trust teachers, or the government, to keep educational concerns at the forefront during these talks. One side is coming across like a spoiled, petulant child. The other is a heavy-handed bully," the newspaper says.

The Campbell River Mirror published an editorial for Black Press newspapers that looks beyond the dispute with teachers to identify a pattern of behaviour.

"Nobody seems to be overly surprised that the provincial government has decided to use legislation to end yet another contract negotiation with B.C.'s teachers," the newspaper says. However they question Education Minister George Abbott's concern for the impact of the labour disruption on children.

"While this concern may be sincere, it certainly seems selective," the editorial says. The BC government did nothing in the recent provincial budget to alleviate child poverty, although the province has the worst rate in the country. The government has also not helped with the cost of day care or post-secondary education. "Meanwhile, the cost of living continues to skyrocket, but Falcon will not consider raising the corporate tax rate until 2014 – after the election. No, it's no surprise the Liberal government is pushing a legislated contract on teachers. It's just business as usual."

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The political repercussions of the Liberals' handling of the teachers' negotiations are not yet obvious. But politicians continue to jockey in preparation for the next provincial election, which is to be held in May, 2013. The Vernon Morning Star says senior Liberals have tripped over themselves to tell Vernon-Monashee residents how good a job Liberal backbenche r Eric Foster is doing on their behalf.

Premier Christy Clark praised Mr. Foster while at the B.C. Winter Games for bringing overcrowding at Vernon Jubilee Hospital to her attention. Health Minister Michael de Jong is expected to come to Vernon later in March , possibly to announce more beds for the hospital. Transportation Minister Blair Lekstrom likewise praised Mr. Foster as he unveiled plans for the realignment of a local highway. Highway 6.

"[Ms.]Clark and [Mr.]Lekstrom may have specifically focused on [Mr.]Foster because the Liberals fear their traditional hold on Vernon-Monashee is soft," the newspaper says. But their efforts may not be productive unless the government completes a local hospital and adds beds.

"Ultimately, it is action that is going to sway the voters and not back-slapping and kind words from politicians that pop in and out faster than a bagel in a toaster," the newspaper says.


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The NDP's prospects in Cariboo North remain in doubt as former NDP MLA Bob Simpson, who is now an Independent, continues to attack the NDP and Liberals with equal vigour.

Premier Christy Clark uses Question Period in the legislature to lecture the Opposition on how to be an Opposition instead of answering questions, Mr. Simpson writes in the William Lake Tribune.

"One could be forgiven for thinking she's auditioning for the role of Opposition leader, given the sorry state of her party's polling numbers and the likelihood that a B.C. Conservative will take a seat in the legislature whenever the by-elections are called," Mr. Simpson writes.

"The leader of the Opposition spends his time ducking and covering behind those same polls — afraid to give anyone a real sense of why he wants to be premier for fear of undermining his current bump in popularity," Mr. Simpson says. "[The NDP] refuse to state how they would address the current impasse with the teachers or avoid the upcoming battle with the other public sector unions that have indicated they will not accept the government's net-zero bargaining position," he says. "The leadership vacuum in B.C. has never been so stark."


While attention is turned elsewhere, northern cities are quietly coming to a decision on the controversial Enbridge pipeline that will carry Alberta oil to Kitimat to be shipped to Asia. The Smithers Interior News reports that Smithers council "in a surprising move" voted to oppose the Northern Gateway pipeline.

Just over a month ago, Smithers council decided to postpone a vote on the matter until after the federally-appointed Joint Review Panel rendered its decision on Enbridge's proposal. But a city councillor reintroduced the motion to oppose the pipeline and it was passed, 5-to-1.

In Prince Rupert, The Northern View reports that city council voted unanimously to oppose any expansion of bulk crude oil tanker trafficand bitumen export in Dixon Entrance, Hecate Strait and Queen Charlotte Sound in British Columbia. The council also decided to petition the federal government to ban bulk crude oil tanker traffic and bitumen export through those locations.

Earlier, Terrace and the Skeena-Queen Charlotte Regional District voted to oppose the multi-billion dollar pipeline project.


Meanwhile in federal politics:

By-elections may be the only recourse to clear the air, if allegations of political dirty tricks by the Conservative Party are borne out, says the Prince George Free Press.

The so-called Robocall scandal - where calls made on election day from a firm hired linked to the Conservative party were directing people away from polling stations – may destroy some political careers but the real damage is to the political system, the newspaper says.

"We all want people to become more engaged in our political system but who in their right mind wants to get involved in this kind of despicable chicanery?... The only way this type of cellar-dwelling politics can end is if our politicians, in the backrooms and the war rooms of political life, say "no" to such tactics. And if politicians want more Canadians to become engaged and involved, all they have to do is bring integrity and honesty back."

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