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Teachers call on BCTF to endorse NDP

A recent BCTF election ad.

Unlike other unions that endorse and donate to political parties, the BC Teachers' Federation (BCTF) prides itself on being non-partisan. Despite calling for a new government in their most recent TV ad, the teachers' union has been careful to avoid an outright party endorsement for the upcoming provincial election.

But some teachers think that should change. The Vancouver Elementary School Teachers' Association (VESTA) is putting forward a motion at this weekend's BCTF annual general meeting calling on the BCTF to endorse the provincial New Democrats on May 14.

"The change has been brought about by what we consider to be a decade… long attack on public education through government policy, strips of collective agreements, legislation," said Gerry Kent, VESTA president.

"While (the BCTF is) not endorsing a political party, I think it's clear that it's time that maybe we do. Especially in light of the current budget that the Liberals propose, there doesn't seem to be any help to remedy the difficulties that are affecting public education, which in our view have been put in place by the Liberal government."

VESTA has already endorsed the NDP candidates in all 11 Vancouver ridings.

"The Liberals have had 12 years to implement policy, and the policies that we want changed are the ones that they've implemented. Unfortunately in this political arena that we have in B.C., it seems to be a two-horse race," said Kent, adding the endorsement is as much a reaction to the Liberals' track record as it is to NDP campaign promises.

The NDP has yet to release its election platform. But the Burnaby Teachers' Association (BTA) feels it has a good idea of what the party's publication education strategy will be. The BCTF local is also endorsing the NDP candidates in their city based on parties' political track records and the responses to a survey the BTA sent out to the parties starting Feb. 25.

BTA President James Sanyshyn told The Tyee they sent the survey to all the Burnaby ridings' candidates they could find non-constituency office emails for. While they found all the emails for the NDP and Green Party candidates, they could only find one Conservative candidate email. Sitting Burnaby North MLA Richard Lee was the only Burnaby candidate announced for the Liberal party at the time, according to Sanyshyn, and his non-constituency email couldn't be found. Only the NDP and Green candidates filled out the surveys.

Samshyn said NDP responses included promises to address inequality by investing in public education; create a child poverty reduction plan; "take steps" to address class size and composition; eliminate Bills 27 and 28 once and for all; return full collective bargaining rights to teachers; and replace the Foundational Skills Assessments with a randomized test for one year before meeting with stakeholders, including teachers, on how to proceed with provincial learning assessments.

BCTF locals have the autonomy to endorse political candidates, and although neither VESTA nor the BTA will contribute cash directly to the NDP, the BTA will advertise their endorsement. VESTA is still deciding how it will "support" the NDP.

BCTF President Susan Lambert says she's personally always found strength in the union's non-partisan stance.

"We then are able to very, very objectively critique government policy and put a very credible voice forward that advocates for public education," she told The Tyee.

"Obviously some of our members would rather us endorse a particular party. That debate will happen at the AGM and we'll see how that vote goes."

Kent said VESTA is putting forward this motion to start a discussion, and he won't predict whether it will pass at the AGM this weekend. He also adds this isn't a permanent endorsement of the NDP -- the endorsement ends when the election is over.

"I think this will by no means be a unanimous decision either way. I think there'll be a heated discussion and I think there'll be a lot of participation in this discussion by members," he said, adding the public and government perception that BCTF members are in lockstep with union executive decisions is false.

"We represent a wide range of political views. … So the debates are always very informative and usually there is a difference of opinion. But at the end of the day, I think after hearing the discussion, I am hopeful that the BCTF will endorse it. But at the same time there's a very strong possibility that this won't pass.”

Either way, Kent is confident the public will get the message that the BCTF does not endorse the Liberal government.

Katie Hyslop reports on education and youth issues for The Tyee Solutions Society. Follow her on Twitter.

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