Restore Democratic Rights to Vancouver Voters

Statement by the Communist Party (BC), Jan. 30, 2017


With BC’s 2017 election just three months away, anger continues to build at the Liberal government’s consistent record of attacks on public education. The Communist Party (BC) condemns the Clark government for underfunding public schools, transferring taxpayer funding to private and religious schools, and bullying teachers, parents, students, and school trustees who speak out for adequate funding. Despite the Premier’s attempts to whitewash her record in the wake of the Supreme Court of Canada ruling that the government acted unconstitutionally in 2002 by stripping the teachers’ contract, her party’s anti-public education stance is well documented.

The government’s policies forced school boards to cut thousands of classroom positions, costing a whole generation of children the quality of education that they deserved. These students will never recover those lost learning opportunities, and society will bear the ongoing costs associated with young people who have been deprived of supports they should have received during their schooling years. That social cost is far greater than the $2.6 million in legal costs of the government’s needless court battle.

The firing of the Vancouver School Board last fall is one of the most glaring examples of the Liberal government’s contempt for the people of British Columbia. Over many years, well before winning a majority on the VSB in 2002, COPE school trustees in Vancouver were known for defending the interests of students, staff, and parents in the city’s school system. Refusing to succumb to pressures to “just go along” with underfunding, or to refrain from advocacy efforts which challenged governing political parties in Victoria, COPE trustees on the VSB were tireless in their efforts to keep the impact of funding cuts out of the classroom. This principled stand continued with the Vision-COPE majority of trustees elected in 2008, and with the Vision majority of 2011.

During these terms of majority progressive trustees, the VSB kept up the pressure on the the Liberals to provide adequate funding for public schools, and cooperated with trustees, teachers, support staff, student and parent groups to advocate for improved public education. As outspoken critics of the government’s policies, Vancouver school trustees played a key role in efforts to inform British Columbians about the realities of the attack on the public school system.

For this reason, the VSB (like the BCTF) became the target of constant political attacks, first by the government of Premier Gordon Campbell (in which Christy Clark served as Education Minister during a crucial period), and then by the government of Premier Clark herself. On several occasions, both premiers made false allegations about the fiscal policies of the VSB, and wasted huge amounts of taxpayer dollars on witch-hunt investigations into the Board’s budget and management practices. Meanwhile, under both premiers, funding was being shifted towards private, elite, for-profit schools, with the aim of creating a two-tier school system in British Columbia – a fully-funded high-quality system for the wealthy, and a poorer-quality system for the rest of the population. Hundreds of public schools were closed and thousands of teaching and support positions were eliminated by local boards as a result of the government’s policies.

Underfunding has had a crippling impact in Vancouver schools. Figures provided by the VSB show that the Board’s 2002/03 budget was $415 million. By the year 2015, the amount required to maintain 2002 service levels was an estimated $559.4 million. Yet the VSB budget for 2016 was only $480 million – a shortfall of $79.4 million. This amount would cover the hiring of 810 entry-level teaching positions, and $13.2 million in lost services and supplies.

Facing growing opposition, and realizing that the Supreme Court of Canada was about to rule yet again in favour of the BC Teachers Federation in the court case over contract-shredding, the Liberals decided to play a classic political game, wrongly blaming the VSB trustees for failing to meet their legal obligations. The Board was fired hours before submitting a balanced budget for the 2016-17 school year, and replaced by a single appointed trustee. After the subsequent SCC ruling, the government finally was compelled to begin negotiating with the BCTF on some funding increases. The first part of this increase was $50 million for the entire province, enough to restore about 1000 teaching positions, with $4.4 million allocated to Vancouver, or 95 positions. This interim relief is welcome, but only a small part of the funding necessary to restore the cuts imposed over the past decade and a half.

The Communist Party of BC extends full credit to the BCTF for their well-deserved legal and political victory, and to the fired Vancouver trustees for their part in this struggle. We join with all those who demand an immediate byelection for the nine VSB trustee positions, rather than forcing one of the largest school districts in the province to limp along with one appointed trustee until the civic elections scheduled for November 2018. The people of Vancouver should not be punished for electing trustees with the courage and principles to fight for improved public education, even if this stance angered provincial politicians. They deserve the same democratic rights as other citizens of British Columbia, and they need an elected school board to defend the interests of our students, staff and communities.

When British Columbians go to the polls on May 9, the CPBC also urges voters to support candidates and parties which have demonstrated strong support for fully-funded public education, including complete reversal of the Liberal cuts, and a definitive end to the funding of private and for-profit schools, including the huge tax credits which subsidize parents who send their children to such schools. The CPBC’s candidates will speak out strongly for such policies; we urge other parties to do the same, and to condemn the drive to create a two-tier school system in British Columbia.

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