For those who don't know who Don McRae is, he is the current in a long line of BC Education Ministers. The BC Liberal government has a habit of chewing through Education ministers which probably tells you they don't care much for the file.
You'd think Don's experience as a teacher would be useful in his ministerial role but since his appointment it has become quite clear that he can't, or isn't allowed to, think for himself. Instead all he spouts is party doctrine.
The video is a dramatization of an actual letter he wrote when he was a teacher, not a politician, to then education Shirley Bond, one of BC's worst-ever education ministers although Christy Clark and Margaret MacDiarmid were both awful too.
In the video teacher-McRae laments over class size and composition. As minister-McRae he tells teachers and parents that these aren't issues at all.
Christy Clark's B.C. Liberals may well be looking for the exit door soon.
Martyn Brown, former premier Gordon Campbell's chief of staff, doesn't think yesterday's budget holds good news for his party.
"I think the only ones jumping for joy today, really, will be the NDP because, effectively, this government has done the dirty work of saying it needs to increase corporate taxes, it needs to increase personal taxes on higher income earners, it's increasing MSP premiums."
B.C. by-election Wednesday to decide if the un-elected Premier of British Columbia gets a seat in legislature
One incredibly obvious plant was from a woman named Anna Lilly.
I'm rarely going to be in perfect agreement with Alex Tsakumis on any topic but here for the first time ever I'm linking to a piece Alex has written as he describes the scene recently at a wholly contrived "town hall" meeting for B.C. Liberal candidate Christy Clark:
As moderator, INCREDIBLY, was a fellow named Steve Kukucha. Now, full disclosure, I've known Kukucha since we were classmates in French Literature at UBC in the 80s and I consider him a friend. But his appearance was stunning.
No, not just because he's another staunch federal Liberal, part of the Marrisen set that brought you spineless Paul Martin, but because he is an Independent Power Project (IPP) executive, with, at one point, TEN LICENCES up for approval.
Clark actually had the incredible temerity, the unmitigated gall to stand there and answer questions about the environment and how she cared about the flora and fauna of sensitive streams-much like The Blessed Mother Teresa did about Calcutta's poor, all while seated two feet and hosted by a guy whose companies stand to make GAZILLIONS in profits on schemes that the B.C. Utilities Commission have declared "an answer to a non-existent problem."
It's a long piece but well worth the read if you are looking for reasons to block her election. Even if you happen to support Clark, maybe you'll feel a little bit of justifiable shame.
Lately elections have been mostly won by those who do their level best to pervert the democratic process and this saddens me. Isn't about time we all said we won't support any politician - of any party or political stripe - that willingly works away at undermining the democratic process, demeaning the very meaning of democracy? What's wrong with telling the truth and letting the chips fall as they may? We can handle the truth.
Clearly democracy in Canada isn't a sexy enough topic to base a winning election campaign upon because those who have tried have failed. But maybe as an issue it's enough to cause the fall of one: Christy Clark.
Education Minister Margaret MacDiarmid isn't going to have a good day, today, but that is only fair since I do not appreciate waking up to Canada's version of Dolores Umbridge as I listen to CBC's The Early Edition while fixing my morning pot of coffee.
In the fantasy novel series Harry Potter, Umbridge is a mean spirited toadie who takes over as headmistress of the education system for her boss the Minister of Magic. Umbridge and Cornelius Fudge are well and faithfully portrayed by MacDiarmid and Gordon Campbell.
For those not following the story, MacDiarmid had for many months avoided all contact with the Vancouver Board of Education despite many polite requests to engage in conversation made through official channels by VBE trustees.
As the deadline for issuing a balanced budget to Victoria has drawn closer, the propaganda battle being waged by the Minister has been growing more violent. To that end MacDiarmid enlisted the help of the Comptroller General to act as a special advisor to the Minister. Descending not on broomsticks but by helicopter like an advance squadron, the Special Advisor followed her very limited marching orders to a T, delivering to MacDiarmid a document which can only be read as political in purpose, despite the supposed lack of bias by an "auditor". A thorough examination of the document and the conclusions it makes will make that plain to anyone who cares to read for the truth.
Why will MacDiarmid have a bad day, today?
In the battle of words in which MacDiarmid has been lobbing cluster bombs across the Strait of Georgia repeatedly, there have been a few consistent narratives in the web of spin being spun. Today two of them will be unwound simultaneously.
That Vancouver Board of Education trustees do not accept the advice provided by their own district's staff and management
That the Special Advisor had found the financial position of the VBE sound and that the shortfall was smaller than portrayed by the Board and there were ample opportunities to achieve savings.
This evening at a committee meeting the VBE's own District Management Team - the folks MacDiarmid says Chairperson Patti Bacchus and the rest of the trustees do not listen to - will destroy $7 million dollars of claimed "savings" the Special Advisor insists are there. The DMT, most of whom have served under other boards over many years, are calling out MacDiarmid and the CG for engaging in fantasy. (Full report - PDF)
The District Management Team has identified the following concerns with the Special Advisor's projections:
The Special Advisor has included an adjustment of $2.0 million for 2010/2011 to reflect what they feel is a conservative estimate for interest, leases and grant revenues. No detail is provided to support their adjustment. The updated VSB projection for 2010/2011 already includes an adjustment of $0.5 million for higher interest revenue.
The most significant concern with the Special Advisor's projections is the assumption that the estimated restricted surplus as at June 30, 2010 ($4.92 million) can be used to help reduce the projected funding shortfall for 2010/2011. The restricted surplus is already committed to fund expenditures that will be incurred in 2010/2011 related to outstanding purchase orders, school based expenditures (e.g. school supplies already ordered for 2010/2011) and other projects. Accordingly, these funds are not available to offset the projected funding shortfall for 2010/2011.
How could this be? Is the Comptroller General not well versed in accounting? Apparently not. $7 million is a rather large mistake to make, unless one's goal is grounded in the political not analytical universe.
There is a river of rhetoric spewing from Premier Gordon Campbell and Education Minister Margaret MacDiarmid these days. The sound bites being flushed out of Victoria invariably paint a picture of too many empty spaces being a key source of Vancouver's budget issues.
The conclusion the provincial government wants the public to reach is that closing a few schools would solve the budget problems Vancouver and other boards face. If only this were true, boards would have relatively easy decisions to make.
Prior to Easter, you stated there are 10,000 empty seats in Vancouver. Last week, you revised the number down to 7,000 empty seats. Neither figure is correct.
We've done our own review of the numbers, and we currently estimate our district-wide net surplus spaces to be 4,682. If we include portable classroom capacity in the total, we have a net surplus of 5,796 spaces. These figures are based on district enrolment as of Sept. 30, 2009. We have also assumed that all Kindergarten classrooms will become full-day Kindergarten classes with the implementation of full-day Kindergarten.
Since 2006 when the last inventory was completed, Vancouver has reduced available spaces by decommissioning portable classrooms. School reconstruction for the provincial seismic safety program is another opportunity to reduce classroom capacity in specific schools.
Without any demographic changes, new education programs the Ministry has ordered districts to implement or plan for, including full-day Kindergarten and early-education pre-K, will move the Vancouver district from a surplus capacity position to having a deficit of 715 seats based on current projections.
Unsurprisingly, neither the Minister nor Campbell mention that Vancouver and other districts are facing space shortfalls in the foreseeable future. Closing a few schools on a temporary basis will net a small savings to the board, but will not close the funding gap forced upon the district by Minister MacDiarmid and her boss.
More to the point what has been left unsaid by the Minister is that Victoria won't even permit a permanent closure and sale of any school by the Vancouver Board of Education.
Why? Because they know those spaces will be needed in the near future.
The following quotation is a response by Vancouver Board of Education chair Patti Bachuss to an ill-considered comment accusing school trustees of not being willing to work with the minister of Education. This content was borrowed from the comments section of Report Card, Vancouver Sun education reporter Janet Steffenhagen's weblog, referencing a story about the chilly reception given to Education Minister Margaret MacDiarmid at the recent B.C. School Trustees Association meeting. Be sure to view the video, because catching Minister MacDiarmid talking to any trustee is something of a rare event indeed.
In response to John Puddifoot - On the contrary John, trustees make extensive efforts to work with this Minister but she doesn't seem to want to work with us. We met with her last summer and briefed her on budget issues, past, present and projected. We showed her where our costs would be going up and made sure she understood and we welcomed any questions she had.
We asked where our overdue AFG funds were as the work was being carried out as we met. She said it would be along soon.
A few weeks later we got a letter late on a Thursday advising us our AFG funds were being completely cancelled and they were clawing back $400,000 in holdback funds they'd allocated to us in June. Not a very cooperative way to work together.
We've been asking for a meeting with the Minister since late 2009. She finally agreed to me us last Friday, but cancelled a few days before we were to meet. We've sent her many letters about our challenges and I've left her phone messages that remain unanswered.
Her Ministry asked our district to work together on the possibility of shared services and we agreed to and that is underway.
We've sent the Minister all our budget documents and invited her to attend any or all of our public budget meetings (our offices are three blocks apart and she lives less than five minutes from our head office). She has not attended any meetings nor responded to our invitations.
While these quieter attempts at working together don't make the 6 o'clock news, they will continue. However when the diplomatic approaches are met with indifference or not even acknowledged, we have a responsibility to our students to stand up for the supports and services they need, and it is time for some slings and arrows.
Her response to that is to send in a Special Adviser who is now hampered by Terms of Reference that will severely limit any meaningful review that could result in something positive for our schools, although we're cooperating fully and hoping very much that we'll be pleasantly surprised by the outcome. Fingers crossed.
Just this weekend the Minister demonstrated her unwillingness to engage with trustees to address the very real challenges facing school districts. After her disappointing speech at the BCSTA AGM, the minister took only three questions from the hundreds of trustees gathered, several whom were lined up at microphones waiting to ask questions. She said she was too busy to take more but then walked over to the news media scrum where she took the time to answer seven questions from reporters.
So John, who do you think isn't willing to work with whom?
Patti Bachuss, Chair, Vancouver Board of Education
Years ago amid great fanfare Gordon Campbell made a promise to make B.C. the best educated and most literate jurisdiction in the world.
His grade? Whether one assigns an "F" for fail, or "Did Not Complete", the result is the same.
The recently minted education minister gets to wear the problem but won't have the clout to do anything about it.
B.C. schools face cuts to libraries, lunch programs (Globe and Mail, Wednesday Sept. 9, 2009) Maintenance, extracurriculars had to be cut to protect core funding, Education Minister says -- Ms. MacDiarmid said this is an "unusual year" and suggested money will be found if emergency repairs are needed. "The ministry is not suggesting that maintenance never be done again," she said. "If student safety could be in jeopardy, clearly we will work with the school districts."
I wonder if Ms. MacDiarmid, a medical doctor, believes that seismically unsafe schools - more than 300 in the province, almost 100 in Vancouver alone, some at high risk of collapse in a major earthquake - puts "student safety" in "jeopardy"?
Heard this morning: Harper/CPC spin that we "can't be having an election every year just because the Liberals want one".
Uh, no, it was Harper who called the last one, because he wanted to get one last election in before the economic poop hit the fan.
Of course some of us more alert types had already warned that Canada was rapidly sinking deeper in debt with Harper and Flaherty at the helm, even if the Finance Ministry games with words were still hiding it during campaign 08, only to own up to the badness a few short weeks after the polls closed.
Incidentally the BC "conservatives", Premier Gordon Campbell's mis-named "BC Liberals", pulled the same fast one this year too. You can see the movie playing in your head - finance officials chasing Campbell and Finance minister Colin Hansen down the halls of the BC Legislature, with Campbell and Hansen running away with their hands covering their ears "we can't hear you! Talk to us after the election!"
Like Harper and Flaherty in fall '08, Campbell and Hansen lied in spring '09. BC revenue was tanking long before spring 08 and oil and gas revenues could easily be forecast, before the spring election, to continue to remain low for many months if not a year or two. Both should be recalled for gross incompetence / wilful negligence in the discharge of their duties, or for outright lying to the public.
Maybe the average Jill and Joe don't pay attention to the minutia of BC and Federal finance reports like political junkies like me, but I'm sure most Canadians have the good sense to sense they've been lied to.
Why not change the game and promise, and actually deliver on the promise, to do government better?
I'm tired of being lied to (in the quest for seat count) and I'm tired of politicians and political ops banking on being able to spin and slide things past the everyday attention span of Canadians.
There is very little "democratic" (in the purest sense of the word, by, of, and for the people) in our current political tapestry and public discourse. A huge injection of openness and transparency and an elevated level of public discussion is needed.