It seems hardly possible that a responsible government would, in the words of Canadian author and social activist Naomi Klein, employ the “shock doctrine” of manufactured crises when it comes to governing services such as health and education.
Seems hardly possible, but some thoughtful analysts think otherwise.
Klein is best known for her political analyses and criticism of corporate globalization. She describes the “shock doctrine” as the process by which governing bodies are able to take advantage of situations “where there is a gap between fast-moving events and the information that exists to explain them.”
During these times, Klein argues, those caught in the middle become “intensely vulnerable to those people who are ready to take advantage of the chaos for their own ends.”
Klein suggests that when no crisis exists, government, for want of a strategy, will create one, with little thought to collateral damage.
Teacher and prolific blogger Tobey Steeves suggests that the conflict between the B.C. government and the B.C. Teachers’ Federation is exactly that — a manufactured crisis, the purpose of which is to create chaos in public education that will result in the final routing of the BCTF.
The collateral damage to public education becomes a secondary consideration in the pursuit of this goal.
Steeves, in defence of this thesis, lines up a series of troubling facts: the B.C. government’s firing of the board of directors of the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association, replacing it with a single CEO as public administrator; the appointment of a single chief negotiator described by at least one observer as “angry, disrespectful, and confrontational”; suspension of teachers and closure of schools; and the latest attempt to give parents $40 per day in lieu of an education for their children.
When not one, but two of B.C.’s most experienced mediators, Vince Ready and Stephen Kelleher, decline to touch the situation with a barge pole and the premier herself suggests that “no credible mediator” would become involved, the notion occurs that something is happening beyond the normal course of labour relations.
It hardly seems to make a difference now, as Steeves points out, that with only a few weeks to go before schools are scheduled to open, the B.C. Supreme Court, in its most recent judgment, concluded that “the government did not negotiate in good faith with the union after the Bill 28 decision. One of the problems was that the government representatives were preoccupied by another strategy.”
“Their strategy was to put such pressure on the union that it would provoke a strike by the union. The government representatives thought this would give government the opportunity to gain political support for imposing legislation on the union.”
In case that point was not clear enough, the court added that “when a full strike did not materialize, so important was a strike to the government strategy that in September 2011 [government representatives] planned a government strategy of increasing the pressure on the union so as to provoke a strike.”
To be fair, the BCTF, at considerable cost to its members and at the risk of costs yet to come, rose to the bait and called a full strike just at a time, July and August, when the government could not have cared less.
Having fired all of its guns at once, the union finds itself in the unenviable position of going back to the bargaining table while frantically trying to reload.
The government at this point might have briefly held the high ground, notwithstanding the court’s conclusion that it was in the business of manufacturing crises rather than governing wisely.
But no. Even before negotiations resumed, the government publicly insults the intelligence and aspirations of the parents of 300,000 children under the age of 13 by offering $40 per kid per day instead of an education.
Most political observers have no difficulty identifying and describing the long-term damage generated by and for governments that seek to govern by manufactured crises.
If it emerges, as it inevitably will, that the current conflict in public education is yet another crisis, this time manufactured by a politically inept union executive and a strategically maladroit government, and should resumption of negotiations fail even before they begin, the endless patience of both the voting public and public education’s teachers might at last expire.
Geoff Johnson is a retired superintendent of schools.