Times in Trail: Is the dispute about money or education?

"How sad is it that we, the taxpayer, have to tell our chosen leaders how to handle this dispute."

If you think you’re tired of hearing about the teachers-province labour dispute imagine how it must feel if you’re a student or a parent caught in the middle?

With that in mind, it was gratifying to see some parents voice their opinion on Monday and even more so to see students finally speak up on Wednesday.

How sad is it that we, the taxpayer, have to tell our chosen leaders how to handle this dispute.

The voters in this province opted to put a Liberal government in charge of things once again, which only emboldened them to continue their “economy first” agenda at the risk of damaging the education of its future work force and alienating the very citizens they courted for votes in the first place.

It’s that kind of bright thinking at the ballot box that put Stephen Harper’s crew in charge of our country’s decision making and allowed them to spout off at every opportunity that they have the backing of the majority of Canadians.

Wow, only the worst employees would ever have the gall to say they have unfretted right to make decisions despite what the employer, in this case you and me, have to say.

Now before you think I’m laying all the blame at the feet of the government, remember every negotiation has two sides.

I’m a big fan of teachers. They do an invaluable service and, as parents, we trust them with the lives of our children just as much as we do doctors.

There are good teachers and bad teachers just like there are good doctors and bad ones. But the recent dispute has painted both sides with a black mark.

Yet how can two warring factions ever have a chance at a settlement when it seems they grow farther apart each passing day?

If the dispute is about money, then the teachers need a wakeup call.

Granted as I wrote this column Wednesday, the union announced it was rolling back its wage demand by one per cent.

Nevertheless, asking for a 12 per cent raise is out of this world considering what the rest of the working population gets.

And comparing their wages to those in other provinces doesn’t add up in my books. There are so many variables from province to province that it’s unrealistic to try and use that as an argument.

Like I said they do a valuable service for our society. But then again so do firemen, policemen and health care workers. Teachers do not have a monopoly on valuable services.

If it’s only about money then teachers need to step up and find common ground.

The government often trots out the usual rhetoric that the teachers’ union is asking for this much money while other public unions have settled for a lot less.

On that point, I have to side with Victoria. In the private sector rarely do employees see such an increase to their wages over four years, even over 10 or 15 years.

But if this dispute is about education then the teachers have a legitimate beef.

The B.C. government basically broke the law when it changed the rules on class size and composition and then thumbed its nose when the B.C. Supreme Court ordered the government to reinstate those provisions it illegally changed.

Imagine what would happen if you or I ever decided to ignore a court ruling. The government and its heavy-handed enforcement agencies would be breathing down our necks and probably take everything we have worked for to squeeze justice out of us.

But that’s not how it works when the shoe is on the other foot.

If this dispute is really about education then the teachers union should make the first step and lower their wage demand in exchange for improving services for students.

That would put the government in a position to walk the talk.

If this is about wages, then the teachers have made a move in the right direction. If this is about education then does the government refuse to settle based solely on dollars and cents and ignore the well being of students and what the highest court in the province has requested?

It wouldn’t be the first time our elected officials have circumvented the law but at least in this case there would be no hiding it in the backrooms of the Legislature or blacked out in public documents.

The upset parents and students would finally have evidence that the teachers are doing this for more than just money.

And they would see if the government really does care about education in the province or just giving it lip service.

We all have to live within our means but the growing trend to put a dollar value on everything that impacts our very standard of living – from education to healthcare – will eventually reach a tipping point.

Our education system isn’t some manufacturing job where educated children are pumped out and packaged on a daily basis.

It’s a continuous job that requires dedication, compassion, understanding and patience.

Something that each side of this argument is in dire need of right now.

Guy Bertrand is the managing editor of the Trail Times