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BC NDP vows to do what is necessary to fix province's teacher shortage

British Columbia Premier John Horgan acknowledges "enormous pressure" to deal with a province-wide shortage of teachers, but says he has empowered his Education Minister to do what is necessary to fix it.

Rob Fleming said at a news conference with the Premier at a public-school library on Wednesday that 90 per cent of the thousands of teachers needed to comply with a Supreme Court of Canada ruling have been hired. He added that he is willing to consider ideas from the teachers' union to help find the rest.

Mr. Fleming and Mr. Horgan said there is no quick fix for the labour shortage, for which they blamed underfunding by the former BC Liberal government, which was in power for the past 16 years.

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The British Columbia Teachers' Federation (BCTF) has warned that the shortage of educators has become a crisis, and that staff such as librarians have to teach some classes temporarily even though school started a month ago.

Last year's Supreme Court ruling settled a long-running labour dispute, restoring clauses related to class size and composition that the former BC Liberal government had stripped from teachers' contracts in 2002.

That has forced the BC Liberals to start pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into the education system for additional teachers.

School districts have searched across Canada and internationally. During the news conference, which was about seismic upgrades to school buildings, Mr. Horgan blamed a lack of investment in education by the BC Liberals for the situation with the teachers.

"We're going to rectify that," he said, without providing details.

"There's an enormous pressure," Mr. Horgan said, adding that he did not think parents, administrators or trustees expect the new NDP government to have instant solutions.

"Rob has my full support to use whatever tools he needs to work with school boards, to work with districts, to work with the BC Teachers' Federation so we can get as many teachers into classrooms as we need to meet the needs of our kids."

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In an interview, Mr. Fleming said school districts are not calling the situation a crisis. "Many of them have hired all the teachers they require right now," he said. "We anticipated there would be some recruitment difficulties from the very outset. We had a very compressed amount of time."

He said the hiring of 3,500 teachers, largely linked to the court ruling, was the largest exercise of its kind in B.C. in generations, and more than 90 per cent of postings have been filled. "There's hiring every single day."

The minister said he was open to BCTF ideas such as a task force on recruitment. The teachers' federation has also proposed such measures as assistance with moving expenses and housing.

Glen Hansman, the president of the BCTF, said on Wednesday that Mr. Fleming's assertion that 90 per cent of the required teachers have been hired is probably true, but added: "So what are we going to do about the last 10 per cent?"

He said there is a need for talks on a game plan to find them. "We've got an urgent situation that needs to be attended to right now," he said.

Still, the union leader said the BCTF has a positive relationship with the NDP government, with a more open dialogue than with the BC Liberals.

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"Everyone recognizes, including ourselves, that hiring so many people all at once was going to have some challenges," he said. "We need some more action on the last 10 per cent."

University of British Columbia researchers have developed a spray-on concrete to help buildings withstand major earthquakes. A professor overseeing the project compared the spray-on material to steel at a news conference on Tuesday. The Canadian Press
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