The week in the Legislature has been dominated by debate on Bill 22, the inappropriately named Education Improvement Act. In very simple terms, it attacks the right to free collective bargaining for teachers and, in its prescription on the size and composition of classes, it seriously undermines the quality of public education. It is an ideological tool being used by the BC Liberals to go after two things they appear to hold in contempt: trade unions and public education.
The BC Liberals have said they want a full debate on the Legislation, but very few government MLAs have chosen to join in. I hope that the Agriculture Minister, Don McRae, will make his voice heard. When he was a teacher in the Comox Valley, he wrote a heartfelt letter about the problems he faced daily in overcrowded classrooms. He said he could not give proper attention to his students because of the lack of support for those with special needs. I quoted his letter in my speech on the Bill as well as the voices of many teachers from around the constituency who have been in touch with me to explain what daily life is like for them and their student in the classroom.
It is the right of workers to organise and to bargain collectively; those rights were hard fought and made a huge difference in the way our society works. But with legislation like Bill 22, these rights are being destroyed. A strong, publicly funded, education system is at the heart of a healthy, just and equal society. It is the right of every child – no matter where they come from, what their background is or how much money their parents earn – to have a decent education.