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BCTF hopeful about former teacher as Education Minister

British Columbia's fifth Minister of Education under the Liberal government was a public school teacher for 14 years before he became a politician in 2009. That gives BC Teachers' Federation President Susan Lambert some hope for an improved relationship with the Ministry.

"He had complained to the government (in the past) about the conditions in which he was teaching and how those conditions were blunting his effectiveness as a teacher because of class sizes, (and) the lack of support for children with special needs," Lambert says of Don McRae, Liberal MLA for the Comox Valley and newly appointed Minister of Education.

"It seems to me that we have somebody here who knows about conditions in the classrooms, and how knows that effective conditions means small class sizes, and that's good."

But she says B.C. didn't need a new education minister as much as it needs a new government position on public education. And this isn't the first time the BC Teachers' Federation (BCTF) has been excited by a new minister only to be let down when government's education policy doesn't change.

Lambert says the union was initially more excited by the appointment of George Abbott to the education portfolio. In the beginning of his tenure as minister, which ended today with the appointment of McRae, the relationship between the BCTF and government was better than ever under the Liberal government.

"Christy Clark refused to meet with the BC Teachers' Federation; Shirley Bond met with us sparingly; Minister MacDiarmid wasn't able to communicate, she wasn't briefed on the Ministry," Lambert recalls.

"George Abbott phoned me the day after he was appointed, and we had many, many meetings, and it seemed as if he was intent on improving the relationship, but in the end that didn't happen: he maintained the government position on funding, on net-zero during bargaining, and on seeking significant further strips from our collective agreement during bargaining. He ignored the voice of teachers in the development of the BC Education Plan. All very disappointing."

She's less optimistic about the creation of two new parliamentary secretary positions for independent schools and student support and parent engagement. Although she knew little about what the positions entail--she says The Tyee was the first to mention the new appointments to her--she is worried about what they will mean for public education.

"(Parliamentary Secretary for Independent Schools) sends chills up and down my spine. The most significant concerns that we have had with the policy directions of this ministry and this government is the privatization of public education," she told The Tyee.

"I am very concerned that the purpose of such a role would be to promote again the privatization of public education."

As for a position dealing mainly with students and parents, Lambert says that's two-thirds of the Ministry's overall responsibilities. She says restructuring the Ministry like this should have gone through public consultation first, which includes teachers.

"That is what you would need to do as the Ministry of Education. There's three legs to the learning stool: there's the teachers, the students, and the parents. What's the point of hiding that off from the centrality of the Ministry of Education?" she asks.

"That seems to be another way of spending money that's not being spent in classrooms."

The Tyee also contacted new Education Minister Don McRae and Robin Austin, New Democratic Party education critic, for comment but did not hear back by press time.

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

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