Education Minister Peter Fassbender has been making media rounds this week with the stated intention of publicizing a new government website that offers information for parents about options in the event the strike/lockout continues next month.
During interviews with CBC Radio, CKNW and Global BC, Fassbender declined to answer direct questions about bargaining, noting both sides have agreed to a media blackout. Still, he took a couple of shots at the BCTF and suggested that a union meeting in Kamloops this week means no bargaining is taking place.
(The union immediately tweeted that its bargaining team is available to meet at any time.)
That Kamloops meeting could also be a reason why Fassbender is making himself available to media outlets this week. He’s sending a strong signal to teachers that the government intends to play hardball past Sept. 2 and they should be prepared for a long, long strike.
I suspect he’s hoping his message will increase pressure on BCTF leaders at a Representative Assembly meeting Friday when they debate next steps in this protracted feud. Some teachers have been urging their union to lift the strike so they can return to work.
While they may be a small minority right now, a month – or more – is a long time to go without a pay cheque.
Speaking to Province columnist Mike Smyth on CKNW, Fassbender insisted government will not legislate an end to the dispute, even if there is public pressure to do so. “We have to change the way we do business,” he stated. “And when you do that, when you take leadership in wanting to do that, it’s not a comfortable place to be.”
He wouldn’t speculate on how long government would be prepared to see schools closed but told Global TV: “We’re not going to solve this through legislation. That’s very clear. The place to make it happen is at the negotiating table.”
Smyth made a suggestion to both sides similar to what BCCPAC called for over the weekend: End the strike and lockout so that kids can return to school while continuing to bargain behind closed doors and keep the fighting in the background.
But Fassbender said fighting in the background always moves to the foreground. “My goal as education minister on behalf of this government is to change that paradigm so we’re not back into that same cycle. It’s not easy to go there, it’s not easy to stay firm, but we’re going to stay firm and we’re not going to legislate.”
Smyth ended the interview, which can be found here, by describing the deadlock and the possibility that schools will be closed in September as a disgrace.
The ministry’s new website includes information about the $40/day that will be offered to parents for every day that public-school children under 13 aren’t in school. The money, which would come from savings due to schools being closed, won’t be paid until after the contract dispute is settled.
The website also recommends learning opportunities for students through Open School BC and LearnNowBC, adding: “While the resources are not a substitute for learning that occurs through our schools, they provide some opportunities for students to learn at home.”
The BCTF has filed a complaint with the employer, accusing Fassbender of breaching the media blackout.
I am a guest blogger for BCCPAC and do not speak for the organization.