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Long-running battle over education detention-worthy

British Columbia Teachers' Federation President Susan Lambert announces B.C. teachers will begin a three-day strike at news conference in Vancouver, B.C., on Thursday, March 1, 2012.

Darryl Dyck For The Globe and Mail/darryl dyck The Globe and Mail

My heart goes out to B.C.'s 41,000 public-school teachers. Every time I see one of those brightly decorated classrooms, walls covered with heartfelt student drawings, posters and other captivating pictures, with kids beavering away at their work, their eyes eager and attentive, I'm reminded once again how much teachers contribute to society.

The learning that goes on in our schools is not always perfect, but without it we'd be in pretty poor shape. So, thank you, teachers, for all you do.

And I agree. You work hard and you deserve a raise. Whether your salaries are fourth-highest among the provinces, as the government claims, or ninth-highest, as the BC Teachers' Federation argues, one still wonders why we can't at least match Manitoba.

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Unfortunately, that's not the end of the matter. There's an inescapable reality out there. Teachers are not the only fish in the salary sea caught by "net zero." (Get it?) Tens of thousands of other public-sector employees undoubtedly felt they deserved a raise, too, but they settled for zero, and the chance of the government bending that mandate for teachers, no matter how deserving, is, well, also zero.

So what do we have? A collective bargaining mess. The BCTF still demanding a 15-per-cent wage increase over three years. George Abbott and Christy Clark in a tiresome good cop-bad cop routine. A three-day strike by the teachers that saved the government $33-million and accomplished nothing. And a nasty bill, egregiously labelled the Education Improvement Act, that digs into the heart of working conditions in the classroom.

After-school detentions for both sides, I'm afraid.

Goodbye, years gone by

Vancouver is too self-satisfied for its own good. When it comes to heritage preservation, the city is strictly small-time. Think of a city you like to visit and chances are it has done a good job maintaining large slices of urban character from days gone by.

Not so in Vancouver. This is a place where money talks, and what it says, mostly, is "tear down and build up." Marvellous old buildings and houses are left to deteriorate. Then, they end up being demolished, because saving them would cost too much.

Sure, Gastown has somehow survived, there are examples here and there of salvaged treasures, and pro-heritage developer Robert Fung is wonderful, but they are isolated.

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I'm still mourning the loss of the stately Birks Building on the key corner of Georgia and Granville, erased forever in favour of a soulless office tower, without a shred of distinction or character.

More recently, the fact no one managed to find a way to preserve the historic, 104-year old Pantages Theatre speaks volumes. This was the oldest surviving vaudeville theatre in Western Canada, featuring a marvellous, balconied interior. Gone.

Now we have this week's destruction of a rare "ghost sign" from the past, advertising a 1922 Harold Lloyd silent comedy. The painted billboard on brick magically emerged on the side wall of a downtown building being prepared for demolition. After two weeks of exposure, which drew thousands of photo-snapping admirers and interest in saving it from a local restaurant developer, the sign disappeared. Just like that.

Bon mots

Apologies are in order for New Democrat MLA Bruce Ralston. Your distracted, disorganized correspondent has waited trop long to acknowledge Mr. Ralston's epoch moment in the legislature recently. It was way back last month when, courtesy of the worldly representative from Surrey-Whalley, for the first time in the annals of Hansard, reference was made to the 15th-century French poet, François Villon.

To an appreciative legislative assembly that included Kevin Krueger, Mr. Ralston proceeded to enunciate in flawless French the vagabond poet's famous weather report: " Ou sont les neiges d'antan?"

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Alas, some honourable members, so well practised in the utterance of "oh oh," could not even manage an "oo la la."

So, bravely stepping into the breach, I offer the following poetic morsel of my own to commemorate Mr. Ralston's bon mots.

To wit:

"There are strange things done when debate does run,

'mid the pols who moil for votes;

For days, MLAs have moaned queer 'yeas,'

But the queerest they ever did moan;

Was that day in the 'leg when one said the word neige,

And mentioned François Villon."

Robo round-up

Speaking of the French, c'est dommage that Captain Reynaud isn't around to deal with all those robo-call miscreants. There's no reason to think what worked in Casablanca wouldn't work here. You know the drill. "Round up the usual suspects."

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