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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 20, Number 1, September 2007

Summer Conference 2007

Building a better future

It’s not often the BCTF holds its Summer Conference outside Vancouver, so this year the conference provided something special for more than 400 activists who gave up four days of their summer vacation to attend.

The venue was outstanding and a fitting location to discuss the issues facing public education today—BC’s newest jewel of higher learning, Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops.

A smorgasbord of workshops and plenaries dealing with issues from law to social justice to environmental issues to legislation met the theme of Summer Conference 2007, Our Kids, Our Classrooms, Our World: Building a Better Future.

The core session, "Bills, Bills, Bills," was an in-depth review and discussion of Bills 20, 21, and 22. Delegates discussed the bills’ implications for members and locals; they talked about ways to make members aware of the legislation and its fallout; and they offered suggestions for provincial strategies for dealing with the bills, which were passed into law in May.

Labour’s Supreme Court of Canada victory was highlighted with a plenary by the man who led this legal charge, constitutional lawyer Joe Arvay. Arvay offered some personal and professional insight into the ruling that says workers’ rights are protected under the Charter of Rights. This well-respected courtroom veteran said that this case, launched by the Hospital Employees’ Union and aided by the BCTF, was "the hardest case I have ever done."

Arvay suggested that Bill 28, which will be challenged by the BCTF, "is headed to the same garbage can as Bill 29." He also paid tribute to the Federation for excelling "in using its political muscle and legal process to affect change" and commended the BCTF for "its role in the legal process to affect social change in Canada."

At another plenary, activists heard the disturbing predictions of Chris Friesen, director of Settlement Services, Immigrant Services Society of BC. Those who have had other opportunities to hear Friesen, know how chilling it is to learn of the lack of government strategies to deal with BC’s immigration issues and the serious impact that will have on teaching. Post-secondary institutions, says Friesen, are simply not equipped to teach what teachers need to know in the classrooms of tomorrow—and in some cases, the classrooms of today.

Friesen says in just a few years, one in three British Columbians will be foreign born. The implications for public education are huge as the system tries to deal with that expected influx of immigration.

Columnist and author, Linda McQuaig, offered a spirited address on inequality and social injustice. McQuaig says the neoconservative agenda has been very successful in "directing public anger" against what the far-right consider special interest groups--nurses, teachers, and civil servants. McQuaig says the neoconservatives have been very successful in "undermining the public’s confidence in government and the public sector" through underfunding.

If we lived in a Scandinavian country, our kids would not go to school hungry. McQuaig says, "That’s what social programs do, give equal opportunity to everyone."

She also tackled the unionization rates around the world: Scandinavia 80%, Canada 33%, and the US 13%. McQuaig says Scandinavian countries invest heavily in their workforce and their people and she points out, we don’t need to model Canada after the US—why not look to a progressive country like Finland?

The author says she loves speaking to teachers, because she knows they care about equality and social justice.

– Yvonne Eamor


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