Through a Rose-Tinted Looking-Glass: Christy Clark’s Tale of Two Frenamies

School started late this year for half a million of BC’s school children.

If you look at it through Premier Christy Clark’s eyes, those kids were treated to an extra-long summer break. No big deal.

It was inconvenient that negotiations between the teacher’s union and provincial government had ground to a complete and total standstill over the summer. Still, Premier Christy Clark had done her darndest to try to smooth things over. As she was famously quoted saying on a radio show last May, for those greedy teachers “[it’s] all about the money, it’s never about the quality of education.”

But as the BC Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) tried to explain, and was reported in the Globe & Mail on May 25th, it wasn’t in fact all about the Benjamins, or in this case, the Robert Bordens. Under the spot light, the job action was designed to pressure the province to keep its contracted word. This included respecting a B.C. Supreme Court order to put control over class size and composition back in the hands of the teachers’ union.

At least the parents were getting $40 a day to put their children in day camps, the Vancouver Sun reported, hinting at a change from public to private education. But try as they might, the Liberals were not able to calm the storm, and on the other side of the fence, passions were igniting into full out fire storms.

That’s the way the school year started, not with fresh notebooks and new friends but with kids at home alone, frustrated parents, and teachers out of money, out of patience and almost out of a job.

Just as it looked like all hope was lost, the CBC reported that BC Hydro and BC Federation of Labour called in their support- in the form of interest free loans totalling $18-million dollar.

That same week, the CBC announced more good news- about a thousand parents and kids joined protests at the Vancouver Art Gallery to raise their voice in support of the teacher’s strike on September 13th, with similar events taking place across the province at the same time. The crowd was mostly civilized, and very noisy. So loud, in fact, that Ms. Clark started to hear her voter base shrinking.

Maybe it was her impending trade mission to India, or maybe she began to recognize that the reflection of the damsel in distress in her mirror wasn’t so helpless. Either way, Ms. Clark suddenly remembered a chance encounter this past August with one Hassan Yussuff, the new president of the Canadian Labour Congress. At least that’s how Justine Hunter of the Globe and Mail wrote it, in her September 20th article titled “The secret meeting that broke the B.C. teachers’ impasse”.

From there, Mr. Yussuff was able to overcome what Ms. Clark said herself was “zero trust between the two parties”, and bring the teachers together to have a discussion with the government. And for the first time, Mr. Yussuff was somehow able to phrase things in a way that 44,000 educators across the province hadn’t been able to get across. Then, at long last, the BC Liberal government gave in a little bit, admitting that yes, special education teachers were necessary and a wage that recognized the rising cost-of-living was possible, slowly.

Eight days later, a deal was signed, and this week, BC’s school teachers returned to their classrooms.

And it was all thanks to Ms. Clark and her friend Mr. Yussuff, according to Ms. Hunter and her article.

However, alternate press shows a different story. The most interesting discrepancy is that besides Ms. Hunter’s article, there is no other coverage linking Mr. Yussuff to a resolution in the BC teachers strike. He did lend his support to the BCTF in a letter to Jim Iker, president of the organization, dated May 23rd. However, that’s a far cry from taking a front-line position in negotiations. Maybe Ms. Hunter’s been borrowing a mirror from Ms. Clark.

That would explain the way she completely omitted the other reasons for the government’s move towards a resolution. Ms. Hunter give no credit to the teachers who tirelessly and for no pay pursued a better education for their students from the picket lines, as covered by Yahoo Canada, The Province and CTV. This disappeared between the words, along with the roar of public support from unions, parents and students.

Ms. Hunter reports that Mr. Iker left the initial talks “with assurance” that Ms. Clark would be open to further discussions, despite a history of avoiding meetings with the union. However, the teachers he represents did not walk away sharing his confidence. In fact, the Globe & Mail reports in another article that one teacher felt like “we were in a boxing ring and they pulled out a knife. Then we saw our opponents on TV smiling and saying everything was great”.

Finally, as the CBC points out, the dispute could have been solved much earlier and without the magic of Mr. Yussuff, if only the government had been willing to meet the teachers part of the way earlier in the process.

At least Premier Clark found in Ms. Hunter someone who sees the world through the same lens.


Written September 22nd. Published to the web October 3rd.