Christy Clark made promises to seismically upgrade schools in her last campaign — she didn’t keep those promises and she’s taking credit for others
In 2005, B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell promised to upgrade all of B.C.’s seismically high-risk public schools by 2020. The Christy Clark government has pushed that deadline to 2025 or even 2030, and has made more promises than progress.
Missing from all of this and presumably not invited were the many students, parents, trustees, city councilors and community members who’d worked for years to make this project happen.
Also missing were any of the trustees whose names ended up on the plaque below Premier Clark’s. I was the only one of them there and I wasn’t personally invited — I was there in my role as the Vancouver Observer’s Contributing Education Editor. And no invitation went to the riding’s MLA, David Eby.
But to heck with the politicization of the opening event, the important thing is the building is safe
Don’t get me wrong – getting a seismically unsafe building upgraded or replaced with a beautiful new building is fantastic news. It would be even more so, however, if students got an empowering message about civic engagement instead of reading a thank you to a minister who had nothing to do with getting the project completed.
Instead this could be a lesson about how we all contribute — through our direct participation in local government, community and school groups and by paying taxes.
That is how buildings get built and government allocates funding. I hope those lovely and articulate students who spoke at General Gordon and thanked the minister for their building don’t think it was some kind of a personal gift from him.
And as for the Premier’s name getting prominent placement at the top of the plaque — oh well. I remember when she was running to be the MLA in Vancouver-Point Grey, the riding General Gordon’s in, and the local PACs organized an all-candidates meeting. She refused to come. But there’s her name on the plaque.
Keep our focus on getting the rest of the schools done
So that’s about 400 more kids I don’t need to lose sleep about thinking about what happens if an earthquake strikes the Vancouver area during school hours. That matters (their lives, not my sleep).
But what also matters is that thousands more are still at risk, along with their teachers and other staff who spend their work days in high-risk school buildings. I don’t lose as much sleep about that now that I’ve been fired from the VSB, but I hope those still in various offices do, whether it’s the VSB’s government-appointed trustee or those in the provincial government.
I’m guessing it’s not on Clark’s mind all that much or she would have done things differently for the past three and a half years.
During her last campaign in 2013, Christy Clark made a stop at Vancouver’s Tennyson Elementary school and announced a long list of schools that would be getting seismic funding.
She said 45 schools would receive $584 million over the next three years, including 16 in Vancouver. I was there representing the VSB as Board Chair and after we both spoke we participated in an earthquake drill with the students. For some reason we were told to stand in a doorway while the kids did the right thing and climbed under their tables.
The next month Clark won the election but was humiliated by losing her Vancouver-Point Grey seat. I suspected we’d pay for that and I’m pretty sure we have.
Which brings us to now— three and a half years later — and where are we on those promised 16 upgrades for Vancouver schools? Nowhere. Not one shovel has hit the ground.
In fairness two funding agreements ‑ Jamieson and Tennyson ‑ have been signed in the past few months — both past the three-year promise Clark made during her 2013 election campaign. The other 14 VSB schools — Killarney, David Thompson, Maple Grove, Hamber, Point Grey, Renfrew, Mackenzie, Waverly, Cavell, Prince of Wales, Templeton, Wolfe, David Lloyd George and Bayview — don’t even have funding commitments from government.
And there are dozens of high-risk schools left to go after those.
Government likes to talk about approvals being delayed while "business cases" are being developed for schools. That's code for waiting for school boards to close more schools and pack more students into fewer buildings, safe or not.
Both the Vancouver and Richmond school boards have been under pressure from government to close more schools in order to get more schools approved for upgrades.
In some cases that meant moving kids from one high-risk school to another high-risk one, hoping that would convince government to keep its promise.
After months of struggling with plans to consider closing schools, the elected Vancouver School Board voted to suspend closure discussions in early October. The Richmond Board followed suit the next week. Education Minister Mike Bernier fired the Vancouver School Board the week after that.
Thousands of students are still in high-risk buildings.
Election day is May 9, 2017.