When I read the back-to-school message from Education Minister Rob Fleming in the Vancouver Sun, subsequent radio interviews with CKNW and a TV interview with Global, I hoped that the provincial NDP government would attempt to create a positive narrative. I had hoped for a message about building a strong future, recognizing the strength of our excellent public education system in B.C., and praising the many thousands of teachers who work hard each and every day to educate and impart wisdom on our province’s children.
Instead, the Minister chose to lay blame and attack. As a former teacher myself, I would like to take the opportunity to address some of his points and make corrections.
The previous government put forward record levels of capital funding to address the portable situation in Surrey. The Minister named Salish Secondary in a recent interview with Province columnist Mike Smyth on the Simi Sara Show – a new school that was funded under the previous BC Liberal government and created 1,500 new student spaces.
Indeed, in the last fiscal year this government’s capital spending plan was lower than that of the previous BC Liberal government and remains lower for this year. Our government had $687 million allocated for capital in 2017/18, while the NDP spent just $557 million. For 2018/19 we had $678 million in capital funding budgeted, but the NDP again only have $557 budgeted. Of course, they have allocated more funding as we enter the next election.
The Minister has consistently chosen not to address his government’s broken promise on Surrey portables. Since he seems unable to provide an accurate number, I can tell you that the Surrey School District is using 347 portables this year, which is up from when the NDP formed government. A far cry from the promise of eliminating half in the first two years and the remainder in the following two. Oddly enough, during legislature debate, the minister said we should be expecting to see trucks towing out the portables in short order! The fact remains, Surrey is facing tremendous growth as people move to British Columbia from all around the world, but the NDP are showing no progress on a promise their premier made just two years ago.
Finally, the Minister claims that most districts don’t anticipate any problems with teacher shortages. He appears to have forgotten about the grievance the BCTF launched in June because of the shortage of TOCs, and the shortage of French immersion teachers in rural districts.
As 600,000 students go back to school, we can make a fresh start in how we talk about these issues. The Minister needs to get his facts straight because like all students across this province, he is being graded on his performance.
BC Liberal Education Critic
MLA, Peace River North