Ian Cunliffe’s heart is heavy.
Just like Bill 22, which has put additional stressors on an already stressed public education system, the Lower Mainland primary school-teacher/librarian has been running to raise awareness about the burdens the bill incurred on B.C.’s teachers.
Cunliffe is running the equivalent of 22 marathons in 22 days, traveling 1,100 kilometers on foot across B.C. to protest a decade of provincial cuts to the public education and Bill 22.
The former distance runner is raising alarm bells by alerting the municipal officials, parents and teachers about provincial cuts to education.
Previously, he has completed several marathons, including one in the Sahara desert to raise money for children in Darfur. But Cunliffe believes that enduring both physical and emotional pain now is a good use of his summer vacation.
“When you start walking a couple hundred kilometers at a time, you just don’t know how your body will react from day-to-day,” he explained.
“The other day my hips locked up completely, and it took over an hour to unlock them—and other times your legs feel great and other times your digestive tract decides that it no longer likes you, and you feel nauseous for hours.
“So it’s a bit of a guessing game.”
Sort of like Bill 22.
Bill 22 legislated teachers back to work last spring, extending teacher’s pay and benefits for another six months while mediation between the BCTF and the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association continued on issues such as class size and special needs support.
Bill 22 imposed a net-zero contract and restricted the ability of teachers to negotiate improved learning conditions, said Susan Lambert, president of the BC Teachers’ Federation at the time it was passed, and eliminated their civil and labour rights. The bill also suspended the teachers’ union strike action while calling on the assistance of a mediator.
The legislation did not impose a new contract.
“These three things—no more class size limits, no more ratios for special needs kids and no more guaranteed level of funding feels like the straw that’s breaking the camel’s back,” he said.
“The problem is that it’s not 10 or 15 per cent more work. There’s a certain point where you reach a tipping point where it becomes very difficult to effectively teach and manage in your classroom.”
Cunliffe began running from Sparwood on Aug. 8 and expects to end his journey at the Sea Bus Terminal in Vancouver on Aug. 31.
And he’s not alone. The Kootenay Columbia Teacher’s Union has arranged for Cunliffe’s accommodation, meals and vehicle support through a leg of volunteers Aug. 13-15.