Christy Clark made education a key election issue — finally!

In the 2009 and 2013 election campaigns education was barely mentioned in debates or in news coverage. This election is different.

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If you haven’t watched it already, I recommend you do, although a stiff drink might be in order for some to get through the 11-and-a-half minutes of Clark’s responses.

The good news

A focus on education as an election issue is great news for parents around B.C., who like me, felt compelled to become public education advocates in response to the B.C. Liberal — and specifically Christy Clark —public education record.

And what a record it’s been. A recent Insights West poll shows three-in-ten parents (29%) say their family has been personally impacted by school closures, a proportion that rises to 44% in the Okanagan and Northern B.C.

And after 16 years of B.C. Liberal government, the polls found only “three-in-ten parents (29 per cent) say they have more confidence in the provincial government to make the best decisions related to education, while 57 per cent say they have more confidence in the school trustees in their area.”

In 2001, I didn’t consider myself an advocate or an activist and certainly not a partisan.

I’d never belonged to a political party or worked on a campaign. I sure as heck wasn’t going to run for public office. Christy Clark changed all that, and not just for me.

Dawn Steele was advocating to get support for her young son, who has special needs, back when Christy Clark was B.C.’s education minister. She joined forces, like I did, with a city-wide, pan-partisan group of parents called Vancouver Save our Schools (SOS) in response to the $25.5 million set of VSB cuts.

For Steele, the turning point to activism came from the stunning “lack of response to parents’ advocacy efforts” by government.

“The cumulative impact on a generation is something we lived,” she says, adding that she gets why a new generation of parents are becoming education advocates.

Richmond parent Kim Nowitsky became a founding member of the grassroots group “Richmond Schools Stand United” when her son’s school was on a list being considered for closure last year.

She says she wasn’t politically well-informed before then but after Richmond school trustees advised her to advocate in response to the threat of closure, she went out and connected with like-minded parents to fight the closures and for school seismic upgrades.

For her it’s not a partisan issue — she says she’d be happy to step back and feels like parents shouldn’t have to do all this advocacy work.

With an eight-year-old and three-year-old at home, Nowitsky hopes people will get out and vote for public education and says she’s a strategic voter and isn't aligned with any political party.

“I look at the record. The current government had a 15-year fight with the BCTF, which I see as something that worked against the school system, not for it. I saw the Education Minister, Mike Bernier, throw the Richmond school board under the bus regarding seismic upgrades and I saw the firing of the Vancouver school board.”

She won’t say which party she’s voting for but my bet is it won’t be the B.C. Liberals.

Over in Surrey, parent Cindy Dalglish took a similar trajectory after she got a letter from her child’s school last year saying its French Immersion program was being reduced.

She went to a school board meeting and found out the decision was due to the district’s space capacity issues caused by provincial underfunding. Ding. Another activist was born.

The former Green party voter chronicled her year-long journey to activism in a Facebook post, where she describes the frustration she felt trying to be heard by her B.C. Liberal MLA and Education Minister Mike Bernier and explains why she’s supporting the B.C. NDP this time.

Dalglish joined other Surrey parents in forming a group called Surrey Students Now, which advocates at both the provincial and municipal level, by fighting further development in Surrey until more school space is built.

She said she was so frustrated by what she was seeing happening in Surrey that she considered running in the provincial election and that she hasn’t ruled out a run for the Surrey school board in 2018.

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