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Departing B.C. teachers’ union head says Clark’s ‘goose is cooked’

B.C. Teachers Federation President Susan Lambert is stepping down at the end of the 2013 school year.

Jeff Vinnick/The Globe and Mail

The outgoing leader of B.C.'s teachers federation appeared to delight in the prospect of the province's scandal plagued government soon being ousted, as she addressed union members Saturday.

BCTF President Susan Lambert has often accused the governing Liberals of paying scant attention to teachers' concerns.

And her pithy assessment of Premier Christy Clark's current political woes earned Lambert a standing ovation at the annual BCTF conference in Vancouver.

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"You know, I may be a lame duck," Lambert told her audience of about 600 teachers. "But I think Christy's goose is cooked."

Lambert suggested teachers face a "critical time" in the future of education as they approach the May election – a vote the New Democrats have a very real possibility of winning.

"Our job now is to challenge the NDP, possibly our next provincial government, to commit to increase spending on public education – even if that means increasing taxes," she said, to resounding applause.

"That political advocacy is an inextricable part of our work as a profession because we are a social justice union of professionals," Lambert added.

The union leader, whose three-year term expires in June, predicted the coming year would bring some pivotal changes.

"We insist on advocating for fully-funded public education even – and especially – in these times of heated global competition and restrained government spending."

Teachers will need to tackle class sizes, funding cuts, and assess the pitfalls and possibilities of online and trades-based training programs before they're expanded, she said.

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"We can't stand by, watchful of that change," Lambert said. "We have to be engaged."

Provincial NDP leader, Adrian Dix, was to attend the teachers conference on Sunday.

The federation says B.C.'s education system ranks dead last among the provinces when Statistics Canada numbers are compared in seven "key measures of education funding."

Minister of Education Don McRae disputed that in an e-mail, saying B.C.'s per-pupil average is actually the highest in history.

McRae said provincial funding has increased by 37 per cent in the past 13 years — to a total of $8,603 per student.

The government also plans to provide $210-million over the next three years so districts can hire more teachers and educational assistants to address classroom needs.

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Student enrolment has also declined, he said, by about 66,000 since 2000.

The BCTF will select Lambert's successor as president on Monday.

The federation's First Vice-President, Jim Iker, is currently running uncontested.

Iker said he's optimistic teachers and the government can hammer out a new contract by June 30.

"This is the first time in over a decade that we're actually able to negotiate class sizes, class composition and teacher ratios," he said.

"Regardless of what government is in power, we're hopeful for that respectful dialogue. We know that hasn't been there so far ... and if it takes a new government, that would be great."

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