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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 16, Number 2, November/December 2003

Misleading ministry ads

by Noel Herron

On the same day the Ontario Tories ran into trouble with their pre-election, taxpayer-financed ads promoting their support for public schools, the B.C. Liberals launched their second round (the first round was in late June) of full-page newspaper ads claiming that they are generous funders of public education.

Repeated requests in writing, and by telephone, to the Ministry of Education and to the government agency responsible for Liberal advertising on overall costs drew vague and evasive responses such as "Sorry; this information will not be available until the end of the year," "These expenses do not come from the Ministry of Education budget but from the government office responsible for all advertising," and the old standby "We will get back to you." A written request wasn’t even acknowledged.

One-day, full-page ads in The Vancouver Sun and The Province combined, cost $21,000. Conservative estimates from advertising agencies place the two-day, June/September, province-wide, Liberal advertising blitz at between $350,000 to $400,000.

No wonder government officials and Genesis Media, the government’s Victoria-based company, which produced the ads, are reluctant to respond to questions about their media campaign.

It’s okay to demand openness and accountability from school boards, but expecting openness from government is another matter.

Apart from the cost, the question remains: Are these ads believable, and are they accurate?

Only half the picture is given by Victoria. No mention is made of legislated contract settlements imposed on school boards without accompanying funding. No mention of the decade-long cutbacks, downsizing, and freezing that left school boards reeling in their struggle to catch up.

But even the fancy figures the Liberals presented in the ads have been challenged. In a trenchant written analysis of the Liberals’ all-too-slick presentation, Neil Worboys, BCTF president, notes, "For example, they (the Liberals) claim to be increasing funding for Kindergarten to Grade 12 education by $143 million, the amount announced in the February budget. But after the budget was tabled, Deputy Education Minister Emery Dosdall hosted a briefing for leaders of the organizations representing trustees, teachers, principals, support workers, and secretary-treasurers. Ministry officials clarified that only $50 million will actually go to public school classrooms, and not until 2004–05. The balance of the $143 million will go to private schools, changes in accounting practices, debt service and amortization, and other non-classroom related expenditures."

It is this attempt to manipulate public opinion with misleading ads in the face of the continuous erosion of programs and services in our schools that has a growing number of trustees and students very angry.

The public shellacking that Christy Clark received at the annual B.C. School Trustees’ spring conference in Kamloops is but one example, while in September, Richmond secondary students debunked the minister’s claim about added school choice by pointing to new school closures and growing wait lists for assessment.

That the B.C. Liberals felt compelled to launch this ad campaign at this time indicates their concern about growing public disenchantment of their policies. Expect more of the same over the next 12 months as 2005 draws near.

The Liberals may believe their claim that they are "funding (note, they do not say adequately funding) a first-class education system," but they seem unable to respond to questions such as:

  • Why are so many trustees being compelled to seek alternative sources of revenue to maintain key programs?
  • Why are more and more parent advisory committees holding raffles, teas, casino nights, and book sales to purchase basic classroom texts and supplies?
  • Why have almost 100 schools (mostly rural) been forced, with devastating results, to close their doors since the Liberals came to power?

Massaging information for public consumption with taxpayer-funded ads, while denying thousands of kids access to quality schooling, underlines the bankruptcy of the B.C. Liberals’ policies in education.

Noel Herron, a former elementary school principal, is a Vancouver school trustee.

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