The B.C. government will provide more money for special-needs support in the province’s public schools, and impose new training on teachers, according to Premier Christy Clark’s first throne speech.
Lieutenant-Governor Steven Point delivered the speech Monday to open a new session of the B.C. legislature. It confirms that the province’s “net zero” negotiation mandate for public sector union contracts will be imposed for the B.C. Teachers’ Federation, whose contract expired last June.
But after two years of a “net zero” wage freeze that has been accepted by most government unions, the speech hints that public sector employees may start seeing wage increases again for contracts that expire in 2012, if “co-operative gains” can be made.
The BCTF has been refusing non-essential duties since school started in September, and on Monday the B.C. Public School Employers Association met to consider reducing teacher pay or imposing a lockout in an effort to force a settlement.
The BCTF is demanding wage parity with other provinces and a range of benefit improvements, as well as hundreds of millions of dollars to reduce class sizes and increase special-needs support staff.
“Today, school boards and parents are seeking additional flexibility and choice when it comes to educating our students to provide an education second to none,” says the throne speech, the traditional document that sets goals for the year to come.
“These changes will be bold and represent a significant improvement in how, when and where education takes place.”
The speech also commits the government to make sure teachers who “abuse their position of trust are removed and not permitted to return.”
B.C. Liberal house leader Rich Coleman confirmed Monday that means amendments are coming to legislation governing the B.C. College of Teachers.
Victoria lawyer Don Avison reviewed the college last year and found that BCTF influence allowed teachers to return to classrooms after being convicted of serious crimes including cocaine trafficking and sexual assault of students.
Cariboo North MLA Bob Simpson said Clark succeeded in putting her stamp on government and setting a legislative agenda for the next session. However, he expressed concern over some of the language used in the speech including the goal to “modernize” education.
“That is the language of privatizing education from Campbell’s era,” he said.
“If it means privatization it means the premier is asking for a fight.”
Simpson also noted he has concerns with the direction of the government’s social policy that suggests the non-profit sector should partner with the corporate sector in an attempt to fix the issues of poverty.
“My concern is that it is absolutely public policy that creates enforced poverty. Government sets income assistance and disability rates … both of which trap people below the low-income threshold, so government policy creates that poverty trap and going to the not-for-profit sector and saying here’s how you can fundraise and get money from the corporate sector isn’t going to fix that.”
Simpson further called Clark’s creation of a statutory Family Day holiday and the TV access for the trials of alleged Stanley Cup rioters, populist appeals.
Other highlights of Monday’s throne speech:
• B.C.’s first Family Day statutory holiday will be Feb. 18, 2013.
• To reduce the backlog in B.C. courts, legislation is coming to relax restrictions on part-time work performed by retired judges to provide “surge capacity.”
• Prosecutors in Stanley Cup riot cases will ask for TV and radio access to cases, which are expected to start this month.
• New legislation is promised to restrict scrap metal sales to deter metal theft.
— With files from Tom Fletcher