The B.C. government’s offer to pay parents for kids kept out of school by the teachers’ strike shouldn’t be taken out of context — it’s just another negotiating tactic.
And it’s a shoddy one.
Instead of playing silly games and trying to score points, the government should get serious about ending the dispute when talks resume next week.
Finance Minister Mike de Jong announced Thursday that if the strike continues into September, the government will pay $40 a day for each child under the age of 13 kept out of school by the strike. The money would come with no conditions, other than to compensate parents for child care, tutoring or other educational opportunities.
If it’s a cynical ploy to sway public sentiment in the government’s favour, it’s not likely to work. Yes, it will be a hardship for many parents if school doesn’t start as scheduled in September, but it’s education they want, not child-care services.
But let’s face it — de Jong’s message is not to parents, but to the teachers’ union. He’s saying the government has no interest in negotiating. He’s saying the government holds all the cards and isn’t about to fold.
De Jong said the scheme would use the money the government has saved from not paying teachers, a clear message that teachers can’t expect compensation for lost wages when they finally return to classrooms. It rubs teachers’ noses in the fact that the B.C. Teachers’ Federation’s strike fund has been drained, while the government is awash in the millions it has saved. It shows that the government has many options, while the teachers have one — strike action — and they have used it up.
It’s a clever strategy on the part of the government, but don’t mistake cleverness for intelligence. This is a bad idea for many reasons.
It sets an undesirable precedent. Since when does a government compensate people discomfited by a strike?
It does nothing to advance education in B.C. Paying parents to do educational things with their children is no substitute for the services of professional teachers.
Even if the plan had merit, children over the age of 12 are left out, and yet theirs is the education most threatened by the strike. Post-secondary opportunities for high school students are in jeopardy.
Where does de Jong think parents will find daycare services, already in short supply?
The wide-open nature of the offer holds potential for abuse and is an invitation for fraud. It’s dropping an opportunity right into the lap of scam artists.
The proposal bypasses local school boards that B.C. governments have already emasculated to the point of irrelevance.
De Jong’s plan feeds the widespread cynicism that most British Columbians have about government-teacher relations. The government that said it would seek a deal to ensure 10 years of peace with teachers can’t even get through a few weeks of a strike without muddying the waters.
The system is broken. The government proposal does nothing to fix it.
The intransigence is not one-sided. The BCTF leaped in with a strike vote too early in the process and sought a contract that was out of line with reality and with what other government employees received.
British Columbians are tired of this game. They are tired of tit-for-tat tactics and spitting contests. They are fed up with the posing and posturing. Parents want their children to be educated and teachers want to teach; they are stymied by a surfeit of politicking and a lack of leadership.
Both sides should stop trying to save face and start trying to save education. A child’s education is worth more than $40 a day.