From the first note of souring contract negotiations between the teachers' union and the employers' association, social media and online comment sections fill up with accusations from people who support the teachers or dislike the government that doesn't care about the public school system because Premier Christy Clark's son attends an independent school.
But for the other 84 members of the Legislative Assembly, we have no idea where they chose to send their kids to school. So we asked.
We emailed a one-question survey to all 85 MLAs -- including Premier Clark -- on May 26 and 27 asking them to select one of the following options regarding what kind of school they chose for their kids:
1) Independent school 2) Public school 3) Home schooling 4) Rather not say 5) I do not have children.
By our June 6 deadline, almost two weeks after the initial email, and after a follow up email and calls to constituency offices, we only had 19 responses. That's 22 per cent of elected provincial politicians -- some represented by their constituency employees -- that would even acknowledge the question.
Dear @christyclarkbc, Your children should be in the public school system so our education would actually matter to you. You're too distant.— Douglas Ferguson (@DougJCFerguson) June 6, 2014
@christyclarkbc Your kid is in private school, so you YOU DON'T CARE, but our kids have provincials coming. END THIS STRIKE.— Terence Winkless (@TerenceWinkless) June 6, 2014
'We will not be responding to that'
Five refused to participate via constituency employees who said some version of "we will not be responding to that." This included Liberal MLAs Jordan Sturdy, Pat Pimm, Marvin Hunt and Todd Stone, as well as NDP MLA Jennifer Rice.
NDP MLAs Jenny Kwan, Harry Bains, Leonard Krog and Gary Holman responded that they sent their kids to public school. So did Liberal MLAs Gordon Hogg, Doug Bing and Darryl Plecas.
Krog described himself as "proud" of his school choice: "My children went through the public school system. My mother, my wife and my sister-in-law all taught in the public school system. The first of my grandchildren are already enrolled in the public system and I expect my other two grandchildren will attend public school in due course."
Independent Vicki Huntington responded that she doesn't have any kids, as did NDP MLAs Jane Shin, David Eby, Mike Farnworth and Spencer Chandra Herbert, though both Eby and Farnworth said if they had kids they would go to public schools.
Two Liberal MLAs, Mike Bernier and Michelle Stilwell, chose both public and private schools for their kids, and Stilwell has also tried homeschooling. Both indicated the choice was complicated.
"I have five kids, and have used both public and private [schools] for different reasons, so can't really give you one answer," Bernier said.
No one who responded chose to send their kids to private school only.
Of the 71 MLAs who refused to participate -- either by saying "no comment" or not responding at all -- 43 mention their kids in the Legislative Assembly's online bios. The bio of NDP MLA Bruce Ralston even says he sent his children to public schools in Surrey and New Westminster.
Voting with school choice
Both NDP and the Liberal caucus communications staff contacted The Tyee shortly after we started calling constituency offices to see if MLAs had seen the survey. Both indicated MLAs would be reluctant to answer.
"I expect many will choose not to share personal information about their kids. We also don't keep that sort of private information centrally," said Mike Lowe from the NDP.
Ben James, caucus communications for the BC Liberals, also said it was private information, and that the word "survey" indicated anonymity. We didn't say anything about keeping names anonymous in the email, nor did we ask for children's names, grade level, or the name of the school they attended.
There are several reasons why parents would choose an independent school over a public one, and most reasons aren't political.
But with the sour labour history between the government and the BC Teachers' Federation, where politicians send their kids to school is in the minds of many a vote in favour of or against the public school system.
Like most participants in a democratic process, the majority of the province's MLAs are choosing to keep how they vote secret.
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