Teachers Need a Plan to Win the War

Written by Harold McNeill on September 3rd, 2014. Posted in Tim Hortons Morning Posts, Editorials


September 2, 2014: Make no mistake, the BC Liberals (Liberals in name only) is waging an ideological war on teachers. They are perfectly willing to let the current situation drag on without concern for the welfare of students, parents and teachers.  Unfortunately, the picket lines are helping the government win the battle, not the teachers. Every since the government made that 2002 decision to legislate away a legally binding contract section, they have committed to 12 years of all out war.

Update, September 17, 2014

So glad to see that negotiations seem to be producing some concrete action and that it appears the Government is backing off on E80 as well as tossing in some money toward the class size and composition issue.  It will be interesting to see the final agreement. I do so hope the teachers are able to get back to the classroom.

Update, September 10, 2014

On September 10, 2014, the Times Colonist reported that a group of parents plan to cross the picket line and occupy Lansdowne School (Hillside Ave., in Victoria, BC) on Monday, September 15, at 10:00 am (Families will gather). Crossing a legal picket line is not the answer and I have no idea why they think that will help.  On the contrary, it will be seen as a move against the teachers and if a confrontation occurs (however minor), the media will eat it up and teachers will end up being the losers.

Instead, why not join a group of concerned citizens at the picket line in support of the teachers move towards binding arbitration. To that end you are invited to:

Location: Lansdowne School

Meet at the corner of Richmond Rd and Lansdowne Rd
Time: 9:30 am on Monday, September 15.

Perhaps the teachers will be able to supply a few ‘Supporter’ signs.  If you cannot make it to Lansdowne, perhaps you would join the teachers at a school near you and advise them you are standing in support of the teachers at Lansdowne who will be facing the occupation of their school.

Everyone is cautioned —  this is to be a peaceful form of support for ending the strike. If any person arrives and is intent on crossing the picket line to occupy the school, they should be freely allowed exercise their right.

Thank you,
Harold McNeill (a retired parent of four)

Continue with Original Post

Note: Part 2 of this post provides a snippet of family history that speaks to the heart of the teachers dispute, that of class size, composition and teacher assistants. Our family worked hard for over three decades to achieve some balance in these matters, both in school and in the adult life of our son. Children and adults with learning disabilities and other issues that seriously affect their well being deserve to be given a bit more consideration rather than thrown under a bus.  Several other articles on this subject appear on this blog, the most recent being Living in the Shadow of Mental Illness and Abducted: The First Twelve Hours.  Both address the challenges of living at the margins of our society.

1. Introduction: Teachers are being forced to negotiate in a mine field

Clearly our family support all teachers, public and private, as they have provided an excellent service to our family as we raised our four children. Our youngest daughter worked for years in teaching, but moved on when greater opportunities were provided along another career path. Our entire society benefits greatly from the essential service teachers provide whether one has child or not.

I fear however, the BCTF (teachers) will lose this war if their leadership continues to follow a strategy scripted by the government. As recently as this morning (September 6) the government has rejected a call for binding arbitration. Why, because they need the confrontation. As the strike continues it will become increasingly unpopular in the public eye and the teachers, not the government, will be held largely to blame even though the government has acted in an unconscionable (and illegal) manner in provoking the strike.

If the same path is followed through to the end of  September or October, perhaps even Christmas, the Government will break the BCTF and in the process will break the bank and the spirit of many dedicated teachers. The only thing that might change that is a general strike and I don’t think that will happen.

The Government has nothing to lose and everything to gain by keeping children out of school and teachers without a pay cheque. They have nearly three years left with their mandate, so can do pretty much as they please as what happens today will be largely forgotten by 2017, unless the BCTF says ‘to hell with you, we will not play your stupid game.” By walking back into the classroom and continuing the fight in court and for public support, the government could very well lose everything including the next election.

To demonstrate how cynical the government have become, they are now handing over $40 a day cheques to those having children in public school who are twelve years of age or younger.  With a protracted strike that money could easily, at some point, be transitioned to a voucher system for private schooling. If the B.C. Liberals thought they could get away with it, they would dump the public school system tomorrow and implement a Charter System.

My sense at the rally this morning is that Government Ministers and Liberal backbenchers are clapping their hands knowing full well their public relations team are slowly painting the BCTF into a corner from which there is no escape. The Government of course, will continue to play to the immediate concerns of parents and will never address the deeper issues that pre-dated this strike (class size, composition and teacher assistants).

They will force the wage issue to the front and as they do, more people will say: “Look at those greedy, unionized teachers keeping ourBCTF Rally children out of school for the sake of a few more dollars!”  I heard a comment similar to that in Tim Horton’s this morning and the government will continue to spread this smoke screen in order to cover their tracks.

As far as the wage ‘issue’ is concerned, take a look at the two charts in the footer (1)(a) and (b). It is a reminder that BC teachers are not ‘wage hogs’. If this dispute was only about wages, the whole matter would have been settled weeks if not months earlier. So, ask yourself why?

Photo (September 2, 2014): This elementary school teacher stands with her two daughters.  She not only worries about her daughters, but also about being away from her classroom and students. Her greatest desire is just to return to the work she loves, but she well understands the deeper issues that need to be addressed. She is one of many who think the strike will not solve those problems as everything will be reduced to the lowest common denominator and for the government that is — money.

While wages are important and the BCTF have been unjustly singled out, four or five months without a salary will be devastating to many teachers and their families. However, if the teachers cave in and lose those BC Supreme Court rulings, everything they have fought for will have been for naught.  On speaking with several teachers at the rally, I think many have come to the same conclusion and think that a major strategy change on the part of the BCTF is required.

Even if Vince Ready comes back and brokers some “middle ground” settlement, the BCTF will have completely lost a fight they have justly shouldered for the past twelve years. Don’t forget, that fight was about adequately funding public schools, class size and composition and employing a sufficient number of teaching aids and specialists to assist kids with learning disabilities. For our family, it was transition in which we became heavily involved back in the 1970s and 80s.

2. A Family Story: Providing a place for persons with disabilities and other challenges comes with a cost.

My wife and I are the parents of four children whose oldest son, now forty-two, came through those years when large numbers of learning disabled children were housed in residential schools around the Province. This included many mainstream deaf and sight-impaired children enrolled in specialized schools.

ncss1-460x260Our particular residential school, Cedar Lodge, located at Shawnigan Lake on Vancouver Island, was home to more than one hundred children and teenagers having a wide variety of learning disabilities. The school came with a mess hall, classrooms, two or three children to each dormitory room, playing fields and a twenty-four hour a day mix of all the challenges that came with managing and teaching the learning disabled. All the while teachers and staff never forget these children were also dealing with ordinary challenges of growing up.

The teachers and staff were awesome, but they faced the impossible task of attending to the diverse developmental needs of children and teens whose disabilities ranged from moderate to severe, who missed their parents and siblings, and a fair number who were exceptionally disruptive because of the varying effects of attention deficit and other disorders. Our son was a great kid, but he was certainly disruptive in the classroom setting. As a small example, we occasionally dined  with our son in the large dining hall – that room provided a live demonstration of Chaos Theory.

One day, out of the blue, the government decided to close all those schools and transfer the kids into the public school system. While the motives of some may have been altruistic, it was more likely as simple as the Education Minister thinking: “Let’s save some money and give those lazy, overpaid public school teachers something to work at…”   Well, hard it was.

There was no grand plan (or any plan for that matter) on how this massive transfer of kids was to be accomplished and how public school teachers were to cope with the influx and educational challenges that would follow.  Around the same time the government was doing the same thing with mental hospitals and we all know the terrible outcomes produced for many adults who were in desperate need of professional help (4)(c).

When we entered the Saanich School District (#61), our son rotated through Keating Elementary (long since closed), Royal Oak Middle School and Stellys High School.  One other child also graduated Stellys and two from Claremont. Over the months and years, dedicated teachers worked hard to stabilize the classrooms by developing specialized educational programs for our oldest son and others like him. The bumps along the way included having many ‘mainstream’ parents react quite badly to having one or more learning disabled kids in the classroom with their ‘normal’ kids. Their concerns were not unfounded.

We were extremely fortunate to have been matched up with several highly motivated teachers who worked hundreds of extra hours to design and implement programs that enabled our son and others like him have a successful experience and to achieve a level of education suited to their ability.  The kids began to thrive as each year the system improved, particularly with the addition of “teacher assistants’ and other specialists who helped manage the classroom situation. Just shy of twenty, our son graduated with ‘his’ Grade 12 class at Stellys High School and the young man was beaming with pride when his classmates applauded his success.

Our son is now forty-two and while he continues to work in supported programs, most of those programs are now provided by private agencies that have become little more than a babysitting service for him. The useful, meaningful community work to which he had been assigned for over a dozen years in small work crews, was cut to the bone and it seems it is only a matter of time until that ‘meaningful’ work disappears altogether. Privatization of service into large agencies now costs the government three to four times as much as it did when small crew contractors provided the same service (based on our son’s experience).

I hasten to add that workers who deliver the programs at the street level are amazingly dedicated and motivated people, but they are so constrained by the dictates of government bureaucracy there is little they can do to adapt to individual needs.  They are captives of a system that is more interested in reporting, structure and elusive cost savings than in people.

Street PersonToday, across the street from the BCTF rally, I met another forty-two year old man standing at the corner Government and Bellville (photo left with his approval). He looked pretty down and out, but was chatty as he politely ask for a little change in his paper cup. During our short conversation it became clear his disabilities were longstanding and that his current life on the street would extend until one day he is found dead in a back alley. I don’t know anything of this man’s history, but could make some pretty good guesses based upon my career experience (4)(a) and (b). (Note: September 7 .. this afternoon I ran into Peter again and spoke to him about what his specific challenge was — response: “schizophrenia “.

The man is just one of many who was likely cut loose from mainstream society when he was much younger and with no one to advocate for him, no support and no money other than perhaps a small monthly government assistance cheque that he has no hope in hell of managing, he spends his days begging and living hand to mouth.

This could have been our son had it not been for great teachers and a strong family unit that stood by him and advocated for him through thick and thin. Many (most) kids found on the street have not been so lucky. As the government continues to cut corners and reduce funding for specialized needs, the problem will only become to become worse. We have all watched the sad decline in service at Community Living BC.  The result – real costs (both in lives lost and money spent) will be ten fold. Much of this could have been prevented if the government only understood and accepted that early intervention and support is what is needed, not more police, courts and jails.

In my thirty-year career as a police officer, I met dozens of street kids who had turned to drugs, then crime or prostitution in support their habits.  Some in our society, including our current government would say to them, ‘suck it up kid, get a job and get on with life’, but that is not going to happen for a young disabled, mentally ill or sexually abused kid who has been ‘cut loose’ by the system. Certainly a good number of these individuals are the authors of their own misfortune, but they are, in my opinion, in the minority.  It is a tragic indictment of our society on which many stories have been written.

3. Teachers: Losing a skirmish to win the war

I don’t think the BCTF can win the current battle as the game plan is being wholly scripted by the government.  Unless the BCTF backs away from accepting confrontation as the only battle plan; from speeches filled with heated rhetoric (as given by one political aspirant at the rally on TuesdayChildren: The Collateral Damage); from singing children’s songs and playing games on the lawns of the legislature (photo right), teachers will end up back in the classroom with a contract written by the government and having extinguished all that was earned during that decades long court battle.

Photo:  Dozens of grade school children seated on the steps of the legislature sing-a-long with a group of retired teachers. The children then paraded around the legislature laws as a BCTF Pied Piper lead the way.  While this provided an atmosphere of a ‘feel good’ family picnic, government members holding down the fort behind closed doors and windows, is committed to a no holds bared battle where these teachers and school children are the the enemy. 

Those of us who know what this fight is about will support the teachers and children to the very end, but, with us, you are preaching to the converted. If you hope to win this war, you need to set your own agenda and work to place the government on the defensive. You have not done that, but have instead opted to play a bit part in the governments game plan. Do you think the government will ever sign a contract without including a clause that will extinguish those court decisions? If that happens everything the parents, teachers and others worked for throughout the 1980s and 90s will be gone as it has since 2002.

Your first order of business is as simple as walking back into your classrooms without a contract, but with a solid determination to turn up the heat on the government. By going back to school and mounting a massive PR campaign you will leave the government without the open confrontation they so desperately need in order to win this war.  They cannot again legislate on the matter if you are in the classroom doing your job, neither can they lock you out or force a contract upon you as that would leave them entirely on the defensive on all substantive classroom and funding issues.

You have an immense amount of room to push back, but carrying a picket in front of your school while singing labour union songs is not the path to success. That may have been an effective in a bygone era, but when rains began to fall and snow flies, standing around a barrel warming your hands while government ministers remain warm and cozy in their offices drinking their lattes, your message will seem hollow. Please consider another route.

Once inside the classroom with your kids, you, your colleagues and your organization can slowly, but effectively, take the real issues to the public and as you draw more people onside, the government will begin to feel the heat in a different way. Remember, those court decisions is their Achilles’ heel. It might take a few months – it might take a few years – but in the meantime, you will be working to help children and young people achieve goals they have set for their lives.  You will also be helping to improve conditions for the learning disabled.

This may seem counterproductive to some of the more aggressive, old timers at BCTF, but sometimes a short-term battle must give way to the imperatives of the larger war. And to be clear, this is a war being waged by our government.  If the Liberals continue to defy the courts and continue to thrown large segments of our society under the bus of ideology and austerity, there will come a day of reckoning. Perhaps it will have to wait until the next election, but the BCTF have already spent 12 years fighting this battle, why not wait a bit longer to bury the government in their own misdeeds (3).

Harold McNeill
Detective Sergeant (Retired)

NOTE: Do you know what happens when a labour union and union officials defy a court order?  Of course you do, they are gifted with hundreds of thousands of dollars in daily fines and the union leaders go to jail.  My guess is that won’t happen with our government and its leaders.  Watch the linked video to get a better sense of the real issue behind this dispute.

Why Teachers are so Angry

(1)(a) Today I received the following chart from a trusted FB friend. It outlines teacher salary increases as compared to others in the public and private groups. It is a stark reminder that teachers have not been the recipients of some great largesse.Teachers Salary Graph

(1)(b)  This Statistics Canada Chart was passed to me by another FB friend. It provides Cost Per Student comparisons between the various Provinces.  Take close look at the 2009/2010 figures (double click to open in full size).  As BC is at the bottom of the barrel, this seems to kill any BC Government argument they are overfunding schools in comparison to others. (Note: this is the most recent chart that could be located)

Stats Can on Student Costs A

(2) Yesterday, I received a short note from another FB friend who attached a copy of an article titled:  “Christian Obeck” (Link Here).  It provides an excellent summary on the government strategy in this strike.  Check also the linked articles in the right hand column of the post.

(3) On the way home I stopped at Monroe’s Bookstore (a locally owned favourite) and picked up a new title: Assholes ( *A Theory) by Aaron James (Anchor Books, April, 2014).  I have barely scanned the book, but am certain I will find a section that deals directly with Premier Clarke and the Minister of Education Fassbender.

(4) Links to related articles:

(a) Living in the Shadow of Mental Illness: Background on why the police have arrived at the frontline in dealing with the mentally ill.

(b) Abducted: The First Twelve Hours: Why many young people end up on the street and what it means to live at the margin of civil society.

Link to a 2012 post on the BCTF Rally at the BC Legislative buildings.  Links to other articles are also included in the post.

General background: BC Teachers Strike is Christy Clarke’s Strike

General background: Why Clarke Refuses to Hear What the Supreme Court has told Her 

The biggest obstacle to settlement seems to be E80, the language of which “according to government’s bargaining team, would replace any and all language around class size/composition that teachers (have) or might win back through the courts”.  Take a few moments and read up on a subject to which the media does not seem to give much attention. (Link Here)


The following Christi Clarke cartoons were circulated by a Facebook friend.


Web Source Graphic:  Make no mistake, the BC Liberals have embarked upon a war against teachers. Christi Clarke, as the Liberal Education Minister in 2002, started the war along side Premier Gordon Campbell. Today, as Premier, her intent is winning the war at all cost. Children will be the collateral damage, but that makes little difference to Christi whose children attend private school.

Christi Clarke cartoon

Christi Clarke Cartoon






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  • Harold McNeill

    February 28, 2022 |

    Hi Robert, I do remember some of those folks from my early years in Cold Lake (Hazel was my aunt and our family spent many fond times with Uncle Melvin, Aunt Hazel and Family. I knew Lawrence and Adrian. Having read a half dozen accounts it is clear their were many false narratives and, perhaps, a few truths along the way. I tried my best to provide an even account from what I read. Cheers, Harold. (email: Harold@mcneillifestories.com)

  • Robert Martineau

    February 25, 2022 |

    Its been a long time since any post here, but its worth a shot. My Grandfather was Hazel Wheelers brother Lawrence, and son to Maggie and Adrien. Maggie Martineau (nee Delaney) is my great grandmother. The books and articles to date are based on the white mans viewpoint and the real story as passed down by the Elders in my family is much more nefarious. Some of the white men were providing food for the Indians in exchange for sexual favors performed by the Squaws. Maggie was the product of one of those encounters. Although I am extremely proud of my family and family name, I am ashamed about this part of it.

  • Julue

    January 28, 2022 |

    Good morning Harold!
    Gosh darn it, you are such a good writer. I hope you have been writing a book about your life. It could be turned into a movie.
    Thanks for this edition to your blog.
    I pray that Canadians will keep their cool this weekend and next week in Ottawa. How do you see our PM handling it? He has to do something and quick!
    Xo Julie

  • Herb Craig

    December 14, 2021 |

    As always awesome job Harold. It seems whatever you do in life the end result is always the same professional, accurate, inclusive and entertaining. You have always been a class act and a great fellow policeman to work with. We had some awesome times together my friend. I will always hold you close as a true friend. Keep up the good work. Hope to see you this summer.
    Warm regards
    Herb Craig

  • Harold McNeill

    November 26, 2021 |

    Hi Dorthy, So glad you found those stories and, yes, they hold many fond memories. Thanks to social media and the blog, I’ve been able to get in touch with many friends from back in the day. Cheers, Harold

  • Harold McNeill

    November 26, 2021 |

    Well, well. Pleased to see your name pop up. I’m in regular contact via FB with many ‘kids’ from back in our HS days (Guy, Dawna, Shirley and others). Also, a lot of Cold Lake friends through FB. Cheers, Harold

  • Harold McNeill

    November 26, 2021 |

    Oh, that is many years back and glad you found the story. I don’t have any recall of others in my class other than the Murphy sisters on whose farm my Dad and Mom worked.

  • Harold McNeill

    November 26, 2021 |

    Pleased to hear from you Howie and trust all is going well. As with you, I have a couple of sad stories of times in my police career when I crossed paths with Ross Barrington Elworthy. Just haven’t had the time to write those stories.

  • Howie Siegel

    November 25, 2021 |

    My only fight at Pagliacci’s was a late Sunday night in 1980 (?) He ripped the towel machine off the bathroom wall which brought me running. He came after me, I grabbed a chair and cracked him on the head which split his skull and dropped him. I worried about the police finding him on the floor. I had just arrived from Lasqueti Island and wasn’t convinced the police were my friends. I dragged him out to Broad and Fort and left him on the sidewalk, called the cops. They picked him up and he never saw freedom again (as far as I know). I found out it was Ross Elworthy.

  • Herbert Plain

    November 24, 2021 |

    Just read you article on Pibroch excellent. My Dad was Searle Grain company agent we move there in 1942/3 live in town by the hall for 5 years than moved one mile east to the farm on the corner where the Pibroch road meets Hwy 44. Brother Don still lives there. I went to school with you and Louise.