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Clark's teacher reform bill 'smacks of a deal'

The last time the provincial government tried to reform the BC College of Teachers, it didn't go so well. Premier Christy Clark was the education minister and her attempt to wrestle control of the college away from the BC Teachers' Federation was eventually aborted.

With legislation expected to be introduced as early as Wednesday, Ms. Clark's government will try again. It is sure to elicit indignation from the teachers' union and elicit broad-based criticism from parents' groups and the college itself.

The teachers' college has been a source of contention for the government for years now. A report done for the government in 2010 by Victoria lawyer Don Avison indicated it was dysfunctional and badly in need of reform.

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Of central concern to Mr. Avison was the majority that the union enjoyed on the college's all-important discipline committee – an advantage it has used to protect bad teachers. Or so Mr. Avison and others have charged.

Under the new legislation, the union will no longer hold the trump card in disciplinary matters. The disciplinary committee will have more government-appointed representatives on it than the union.

Meantime, any new bylaws passed by the college will have to be approved by cabinet. However, the overall number of people on the college's governing council – which is being reduced to 15 from 20 – will in all likelihood continue to be dominated by union activists.

Of 15 council members, seven will come from stakeholder groups that are viewed to be government-friendly, while three will come from the BCTF. There will be five elected positions that will almost certainly be won by union-backed candidates.

Details of the new law were first disclosed by The Globe and Mail on Oct. 7.

According to Kit Krieger, the current registrar at the college and a former BCTF president, the makeup of the council is a fatal flaw of the new legislation.

"This legislation smacks of a deal," said Mr. Krieger. "In order to get some control on the discipline side, the government basically gave the union control of the college as a whole and that is outrageous."

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Mr. Krieger says the legislation fails to address the central recommendation of the Avison report: that the college needs to be completely independent.

"The regulator's job is to establish and enforce standards," Mr. Krieger told me. "But above all, the regulator is there to protect the public's interest and in particular our young children. The union's primary job is to protect its members and that often runs contrary to protecting the public interest and children in the classroom.

"The union has even resisted setting standards for the profession. That is supposed to be one of the key responsibilities for a regulatory body. The accounting profession has 130 standards. You know how many teachers have? Eight. That is a joke and parents should be rightfully angry."

Mr. Krieger says there are more than 40 professional regulatory bodies in B.C., and not one has a makeup similar to the teachers' college, because they understand that union dominance on such an institution represents a blatant conflict of interest.

"What the government is doing is nothing less than caving into the BCTF," said Mr. Krieger. "It is afraid of a showdown with the union and losing it. So once again it has given the union exactly what it wants, legislation that changes nothing and in fact maybe makes things worse than before.

"I can't believe how badly they have botched this. And parents should be furious."

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You certainly know the BCTF will be. The union is aware of what's coming and is not happy about it. Federation president Susan Lambert said it is a "myth" that the union uses its majority on the college disciplinary committee to protect bad teachers. And examples of it cited in Mr. Avison's report are filled with holes, she claims.

While the new legislation would certainly seem to fall short of what Mr. Avison was calling for in his report, it does give the government control of discipline. And it also gets to sign off on any new bylaws that are drafted by what is likely to remain a union-dominated college.

For the government, that appears to be enough. For others like Mr. Krieger, it has the earmarks of a sellout.

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About the Author
National affairs columnist

Gary Mason began his journalism career in British Columbia in 1981, working as a summer intern for Canadian Press. More

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