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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 17, Number 6, April 2005

2005 AGM Roundup

by Glynis Andersson

The 89th BCTF Annual General Meeting, in Victoria last month, was a tremendous success. Jinny Sims was returned as president, Irene Lanzinger as first vice-president, and Susan Lambert as second vice-president. Jill McCaffery, George Popp, Lynda Toews, Fran Robinson, and Val Windsor were all elected members-at-large.

Jim Sinclair brought greetings from the B.C. Federation of Labour, Barry O’Neill brought greetings from CUPE, and Penny Tees, from the B.C. School Trustees Association, also addressed delegates. CTF President Terry Price spoke on the activities of the Canadian Teachers’ Federation.

Keynote speaker Jukka Sarjala delivered a fascinating presentation on why Finland is ranked number one in education. Professor Sarjala, former director-general of the National Board of Education in Finland, told delegates what he believes are the reasons behind Finland’s extraordinary success in public education.

He spoke of the principle of equity integral to Finnish culture, of how students’ health and welfare are of primary consideration, of how learning is student-centred, and how teachers are highly respected and given extensive autonomy. He also informed the audience that few private schools exist in Finland and that there are no standardized tests other than the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA).

Sarjala also pointed out that Finland has many small schools, noting that only 3% of schools have more than 500 students, and no schools have more than 1,000 students. He discussed philosophy and pedagogy with regard to heterogeneous groupings, special education, and collaborative practice between teachers and school authorities.

Equally captivating was Maude Barlow’s informative presentation on the American agenda for trade relationships with Canada and its impact on education and virtually every other aspect of our lives.

BCTF AGM delegates listened attentively as Barlow exposed the agenda being set for Canada by George Bush, Paul Martin, and a very powerful business lobby, the Canadian Council of Chief Executives. She painted a truly frightening picture of what the future holds unless we unite to resist American dominance and the nearly unstoppable march toward privatization.

Imagine a North American passport or, a North American logo that would be promoted throughout public schools. Unfortunately, these aren’t merely figments of the imagination. They are actually being planned in meetings between government and business officials.

According to Barlow, we are now at the point where nothing is "off the table" in Canada’s trade negotiations with the U.S. Our water and our oil is up for grabs. The oil from our Athabasca tar sands is feeding the American war machine.

Maude Barlow also spoke about privatization in healthcare, education, and welfare services as well as the danger posed by the U.S. Patriot Act. She said that the goals of those setting the trade agenda are contrary to what Canada is about, but "they will not take the soul out of us because we are the keepers of democracy, the keepers of public education!" Barlow thanked the BCTF for being a leader in Canada in speaking out against this trade agenda.

The 2005 Annual General Meeting also included a summary of the recent BCTF Teaching and Learning Conditions Survey. The response rate to the survey was excellent, with more than 14,500 submissions. Some key issues highlighted by the survey include an increase in students with special needs yet fewer resources to deal with this situation and dissatisfaction with large class sizes. Furthermore, a full 90% of respondents indicated that their workload had increased to meet accountability requirements. (Editor’s note: A big thanks to all of you who took the time to send in your survey.)

Since the overarching theme of this year’s AGM was privatization, it seemed only logical to hear from the BCTF Task Force on Privatization. Delegates were shown a seven-minute video that captured the highlights of the Public Education Not For Sale II conference held in February. That was followed by a very compelling talk given by Rick Guenther of the Task Force. He spoke about the work the task force had been engaged in over the last year and why it is so important to make resisting privatization a top priority. He concluded by stating that the role of the task force "is to impede the insidious encroachment of the market into the public space."

And given that the AGM was held in Victoria, there was a rally at the provincial legislative buildings. Over 700 BCTF delegates marched to the legislature carrying 2,500 red balloons to mark the 2,500 lost teaching positions, and placards bearing the name and location of each of the 113 schools closed by the Liberal government since 2001. Local presidents delivered petitions signed by teachers from their locals demanding a restoration of contracts, bargaining rights, and learning conditions stripped from collective agreements to a representative of the government.

BCTF President Jinny Sims told the media covering the rally that the BCTF has three key demands: restoration of students’ learning conditions to where they were in 2001, restoration of fair collective bargaining rights, and a fair and reasonable wage increase.

The 2005 AGM had many moods. Delegates mourned the loss of teaching positions and closed schools, they celebrated the contributions of their peers including Mavis Lowry and Dale Lauber, they decried the injustices foisted upon teachers and students by the Liberal government, and at the end of it all, they went back to their schools and communities with a commitment to spend the next year working to improve public education.

Glynis Andersson is an administrative assistant/writer in the BCTF’s Communications and Campaigns Division.


AGM sets priorities for 2005–06

In order to support members in their day-to-day work with and for students by providing effective leadership and advocacy in support of public education and by involving members in the professional, economic, and social justice initiatives of the Federation, delegates to the 2005 Annual General Meeting set the following priorities:

  1. Advocate for full, free collective bargaining.
  2. Reclaim a strong professional leadership role for teachers.
  3. Highlight and extend the social justice initiatives of the Federation into the work of locals, PSAs, and other programs of the Federation.
  4. Expand organizational capacity with a focus on engaging new members.
  5. Increase our involvement in the labour movement through affiliation with the Canadian Labour Congress and continued affiliation with the B.C. Federation of Labour.


Impressions of my first AGM…

Laura Barker, Invergarry Learning Centre, Surrey
All teachers should have the opportunity to go to at least one AGM and experience the democratic process in action. The vast variety of issues that were covered emphasized the importance of strong involvement in our local unions to stay informed on important issues in working and learning conditions. The passion expressed on so many issues—from socially responsible investment in pensions to membership in the Canadian Labour Congress—was both moving and invigorating. I am astounded at the level of commitment and depth of knowledge of the hundreds of delegates who gave up their spring break to work on improving the profession for students and teachers. It was a fascinating experience.

Carl Janzé, Templeton Secondary School, Vancouver
I come away from my first AGM with my passions rekindled. The obvious commitment and vision of the delegates to protect and nurture the students in B.C. classrooms has quashed the cynicism I had felt was looming ever larger, what with the stories we hear about teachers in the papers and on television/radio. I can only offer my heartfelt thanks and relief that there still are those who are prepared and able to voice their anger over the state of our classrooms thanks to this government.

To paraphrase an anecdote related to us by Maude Barlow, of the Council of Canadians, "Fighting for what’s right is like taking a bath... If you don’t do it every day, you stink."

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