B.C. Education Minister Mike Bernier left some important things out of his year-end wrap up

OPINION: The BCTF's landmark court win was the biggest education news in BC — but Bernier didn't mention that.

Mike Bernier
B.C. Education Minister Mike Bernier at the Journée de la francophonie on March 15, 2016. Photo courtesy Prov of B.C. Flickr page.

B.C. Education Minister Mike Bernier is touting 2016 as “a banner” year for British Columbia’s students and education system in an opinion-editorial out this week.

While Bernier highlights capital investments, B.C. students’ impressive showing in the recent PISA results and the new provincial curriculum, he leaves out the year’s biggest education news.

That was, of course, the massive win for the B.C. Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) at the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) in November that found the B.C. government’s 2002 legislation that stripped the teachers’ contract to be unconstitutional. That landmark decision will likely result in hundreds more teachers being hired for B.C.’s public schools, including more specialist teachers.

As I wrote in November, the Vancouver School Board alone could need over 200 new teachers to come anywhere close to complying with the contract language that was in place prior to the 2002 legislation.

That old language is the basis for ongoing talks between the B.C. government and the BCTF. I doubt the BCTF is in any mood to make significant concessions after its members suffered through 14 years of larger class sizes with more students with special needs than they would have under their old contracts.

The SCC's surprisingly quick decision came after years of legal battles that made their way through the B.C. Supreme Court and the B.C. Court of Appeal.

Bernier’s wrap up also omits his firing of two democratically elected school boards — leaving citizens in the North Okanagan-Shuswap school district and Vancouver without elected trustees.

He replaced both fired boards with appointed administrators — Mike Mackay for North-Okanagan Shuswap and Dianne Turner for Vancouver, both former Superintendents of Schools.

School closures — those that went ahead and those that didn’t — also made a lot of headlines in 2016 although Bernier skipped over those too in his year-end op-ed.

After what was described as a “long and bitter” fight over closing Osoyoos Secondary School — the only high school in the town — to save money, the local school board got an 11th-hour reprieve with some last-minute government funding in late June and reversed its difficult decision.

Shortly after, the school trustee representing Osoyoos resigned and was replaced after a controversial by-election.

Richmond and Vancouver school boards also spent the spring of 2016 considering several school closures to meet Bernier’s demand that they have a plan to get to 95 per cent capacity utilization of school space to continue to receive seismic upgrade funding — until his sudden about face on September 21.

After months of emotional public meetings, rallies, petitions, email campaigns, both districts announced they were suspending further school closure discussions in early October.

And it’s a good thing they did as they’ll likely need a lot more school space due to that SCC ruling that will likely result in lower average class sizes, meaning districts will need more classrooms.

Bernier's about-face on the 95 per cent capacity requirement wasn’t his only 2016 flip-flop.

As Vancouver Sun columnist Vaughn Palmer’s “Backdown Bernier's from old school of higher yearnings” column noted, in late May government gave back some of what they took away from school districts in previous “administrative savings”, that Premier Christy Clark famously called “low-hanging fruit”.   

And it was indeed a banner year for some expensive private schools, although Bernier left that tidbit out of his year-end wrap up as well.

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