Honks from vehicles rang out through the cool morning air as they passed members of the B.C. Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) union that had gathered outside the BC NDP Convention at the Victoria Conference Centre on Saturday morning just before 9 a.m. and then again in the afternoon.
The teachers, all dressed in red, lined Douglas Street to hand out leaflets, wave their signs and talk with residents and convention attendees.
The union members were joined by BCTF President Teri Mooring who was in town for a meeting with the representative assembly – made up of some 300 teachers – at the Empress Hotel. Mooring also addressed convention delegates with a speech at 1 p.m.
Coquitlam teacher Deither Malakoff had come over to the Island for the demonstration and to spread the word about the issues B.C. teachers are facing when it comes to the negotiations with the province and with the new funding model being proposed.
The prevalence model, which is used in other provinces, would provide funding for students who need extra assistance based on statistics, not on head counts the way it is now, Malakoff explained. This could mean the students with extra needs could go unnoticed and fall through the cracks due to a lack of resources.
Teachers already pay for so much out of pocket including school supplies and other resources for students, said Chris Rolls, president of the Lake Cowichan Teachers’ Association and a teacher of 34 years. The new funding formula is unclear and will likely leave kids and parents fighting for support, she explained.
Rolls also noted that if class size and composition are not addressed in the new teacher contract, teachers will be unable to address the individual needs of all their students due to a lack of time and resources.
The working conditions for teachers in B.C. are resulting in a teacher shortage, Rolls said. New teachers can move to Alberta and make $20,000 more per year, she explained, emphasizing the salary gap between B.C. and most other provinces. She explained that new teachers in B.C. are basically at the poverty line.
Rolls pointed out that the negotiations and the protest on Saturday aren’t just about asking for a cost of living increase, but about making things better for students.
“Our working conditions are the kids’ learning conditions and you can’t separate that.”
The BCTF thought that the BC NDP recognized the importance of teachers in a way that the former BC Liberal government didn’t, Rolls said, but teachers are becoming disheartened.
Premier John Horgan acknowledged the protestors’ presence outside after making his keynote speech at the convention. He emphasized that class size and composition issues are “critically important to teachers [and] critically important to outcomes for kids” and that the province supports that.
“We believe in free and fair collective bargaining,” Horgan said. “We’re hopeful we can get a good agreement.”
There were several other protest groups outside the convention hall including the South Island Community Overdose Response Network and members of various environmental advocacy groups.
With files from Tom Fletcher.