While Minister of Education, George Abbott, is lamenting the lack of funds to address teacher collective bargaining, he conveniently forgets that it was his government that cut taxes for corporations and the highest wage earners in B.C., thereby blowing more than $8 billion from the province’s treasury over the past 10 years.
Instead, the B.C. Liberals, to balance the budget have been increasing the burden on those who sustain the economy: the working middle class. They have done this through the erosion of working conditions and the decrease in purchasing power of many B.C. citizens.
This past April, the B.C. Supreme Court decision found that the stripping of key classroom conditions from teachers contracts was illegal. Through that decision, the government will have to negotiate redress for the loss of $330 million over a 10-year period in public schools. If these funds had stayed in the system they would have kept class sizes reasonable and provided the necessary supports including counselling, special education, and library services for students. However, the government has refused to commit any funding for this redress, resulting in teachers having to go back to the B.C. Supreme Court for further clarification of their earlier decision.
This past July, a mediator in Saskatchewan determined that the teachers in that province should have wages increased by almost nine per cent over a three-year period.
In his decision, the mediator calculated the average wage of jurisdictions in Western Canada noting that B.C. teachers were the lowest paid. With the B.C. government offering no increases in compensation over an unspecified time period, that disparity will grow resulting in decreased purchasing power for teachers as the cost of living continues to rise. In School District 22, annual salaries amount to about $53 million with teachers’ salaries about 65 per cent of that or $34.6 million, most of which is used to support the local economy.
As Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz stated in response to the growing inequality in the U.S., “If we just made them (the wealthy) pay fair taxes… if we just made that upper one per cent pay their fair share that would make a very big difference.”
It is unreasonable for the government to claim that there are no funds for teachers or public education when it decreased corporate tax rates by an additional two per cent just a year ago and by six per cent over the past 10 years. Corporations in B.C. pay less tax than in any jurisdiction in Canada and nearly the lowest taxes in the developed world.
Abbott has a solution to address the court decision to restore services in our public education system and to keep public sector wages competitive.
The solution is to increase corporate taxes and income taxes on the wealthiest in our society.
Bruce Cummings, President,
Vernon Teachers’ Association