British Columbia

Public Education and the British Columbia Provincial Election

Some of this blog’s readers are likely already aware that the Canadian province of British Columbia (where I live) is going to have a provincial general election on May 9.  Lots of issues are being raised in the election campaign: jobs, the cost of housing, natural resources, regional inequities, and campaign financing.

As in any election, education is also an important issue. The platforms of BC’s three major political parties – the Liberals (who, as the party with the most elected representatives in BC’s Legislature, are the current governing party), the New Democratic Party (NDP), and the Green Party – all have promises related to elementary and secondary (K-12) education. That’s heartening to see, because publicly-funded education is an essential part of a democratic, equal-opportunity society. However, the election discussions around BC’s K-12 public education system have not paid much attention to the significant events around that system in the last few years. I think these events should have a higher profile during this election – not just because (more…)

Supreme Court of Canada Decision in the BC Teachers’ Federation Case (Part II)

On November 10, the Supreme Court of Canada delivered an oral decision in the legal dispute between the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) – the union representing teachers in BC’s public school system – and the British Columbia provincial government.

That decision ended a 14-year legal battle between the two parties over the BC government’s decision to pass legislation that removed the language around class size and composition from its collective agreement with the BCTF, and that also excluded those issues from collective bargaining. The BCTF claimed that the government’s actions violated Section 2(d) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees freedom of association. Two previous Supreme Court of Canada decisions – in the Fraser case and the Health Services case – have established that in the context of labour relations, “freedom of association” includes workers’ rights to form unions and to engage in collective bargaining.

The Supreme Court decision on November 10 was remarkable because (more…)

Supreme Court of Canada Decision in The BC Teachers’ Federation Case (Part I)

This Thursday, the Supreme Court of Canada held its hearing of an appeal by the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation (BCTF), the union that represents teachers in British Columbia’s public school system.

This ongoing case – which started in 2002 – involves several actions by the BC provincial government in its collective bargaining for a contract with the BCTF, primarily around the government’s decision to pass legislation declaring that some items would not be bargained, and removing those same items from the collective agreement that was then in effect. The BCTF opposed both of these changes. Later, there were also issues around the government’s conduct during bargaining.

The BC Supreme Court twice ruled in the BCTF’s favour, once in 2011 and again in 2014. The BC government appealed the 2014 ruling, and the BC Court of Appeal overturned that ruling. The Court of Appeal decision was the basis of the BCTF’s appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.

I think it’s fair to say that all parties involved with this case expected that a case this complex would entail a lengthy hearing at the Supreme Court, followed by several months for the nine judges to review the arguments and write their decision. However, much to everyone’s surprise, (more…)

Water

Writing a blog is rewarding in many ways. But for me, one of the great and unexpected benefits of blogging is being inspired – even unknowingly – by the work of other bloggers.

This spring, a blog that I’ve really been enjoying is The Perimeter by photographer Quintin Lake. Quintin has done several long-distance walks in the UK, but last year he embarked on an epic journey – a walk around 10,000 kilometres of Britain’s coastline. He’s doing the walk in sections, as time permits; he estimates he’ll get back to his starting point (St. Paul’s Cathedral in London) in April 2020.

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve had some unusual opportunities to take photos – including a round trip by seaplane from Vancouver to Nanaimo. I found that for some reason my eye kept being drawn to water: its textures, its movement, how the light made it change. And I ended up taking a lot of pictures of it. But it wasn’t until a few days ago, (more…)

Universities, Governance, and Conflict

It’s been a turbulent time recently in British Columbia’s post-secondary education system. In August, Arvind Gupta, the president of the University of British Columbia (UBC), suddenly resigned less than one year into his appointment. A UBC faculty member was criticized for a blog post she wrote about the resignation; that criticism resulted in an investigation which determined that UBC had failed to protect her academic freedom. After the report from the investigation was released, the chair of UBC’s Board of Governors stepped down from his position. But then an inadvertent leak of documents by UBC reignited the controversy, and Gupta spoke out to say that he chose to resign because he felt he did not have the support of the board.

Meanwhile, in December, the University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC) announced that its new chancellor – the ceremonial head of the university – would be James Moore, a former federal Member of Parliament and federal cabinet minister. Moore’s appointment was opposed by the UNBC faculty association, UNBC’s two student associations, and two thousand signatories to a petition, including several members of UNBC’s Senate. They complained that Moore had been a key part of a government that had muzzled scientific research and ignored climate change, and that some of Moore’s own actions went against the values and principles in UNBC’s mission statement. Despite the assurances of the chair of the UNBC Board of Governors that the board was “listening” to these concerns, Moore’s appointment was finalized in January.

These events have generally been framed by the media as a “they said”/”they said” scenario, with two different narratives struggling to become the one that’s accepted as the truth. Presenting the conflicting points of view is important in understanding why these disputes have arisen. But the “they said”/”they said” perspective omits the contextual picture: specifically, (more…)

Calling for a Public Inquiry

There is a situation going on right now in my home province of British Columbia that is deeply distressing to me as a researcher, as an instructor who teaches courses about employment, and as a citizen. I’m writing this blog post to join the calls for a public inquiry into this situation.

I have been told that this situation hasn’t received a lot of attention outside of BC, so I’ll explain what has happened.

In early September of 2012, Margaret McDiarmid, at the time the health minister in BC’s provincial government, held a news conference to announce that four employees had been fired and three employees had been suspended from the ministry’s pharmaceutical services division. (Subsequently, the suspended employees were fired, and a student researcher on a co-op term was also fired.) The health ministry’s pharmaceutical services division, among other responsibilities, assesses medications to determine whether they will be approved for sale in BC, and/or whether the cost of purchasing the medications will be subsidized by the BC government’s PharmaCare program.

McDiarmid stated at the news conference that the reason for the suspensions and dismissals was an alleged privacy breach involving confidential patient-related data. She also stated that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) were investigating the allegations.

Some of the dismissed and suspended employees were employed through contracts with the ministry, and some were permanent employees. Several of them filed wrongful dismissal and defamation lawsuits; others pursued grievances through their unions. One of the lawsuits alleged that (more…)

Public Sector Pay, Private Sector Pay, and the Fraser Institute

Last year, some of the research produced by the Vancouver-based Fraser Institute received some serious criticism. The Institute claims its work is based on “careful, accurate, rigorous measurement”. But the International Labour Organization – an affiliate of the United Nations – released a report which outlined extensive calculation errors and questionable methodologies in the Institute’s Economic Freedom of the World database. And it was also discovered that data for the Institute’s “survey of mining companies” were being collected through a website that was open to anyone, regardless of whether they knew anything about mining.

You would think that criticism like this would make the Institute look a little more thoughtfully at how it conducts its studies. But judging by its new report, Comparing Government and Private Sector Compensation in British Columbia, the Institute isn’t being any more careful with its work. The research presented in this report has numerous problems that contradict the Institute’s claims of “rigorous” and “transparent” methodologies – and which make the results of the research unreliable, to say the least. (more…)

When Sexism Maybe Isn’t Sexism

Earlier this year, the University of Alberta announced that former Canadian prime minister Kim Campbell had been appointed “founding principal”  of the Peter Lougheed Leadership College. In an article about her leadership style, for the University’s alumni magazine, Campbell wrote,

When women led in [an] interactive style, it was not recognized as leadership and they did not get credit for it. Men, meanwhile, were being trained to be interactive leaders and were rewarded for their ability to manage in this new way….it was clear that I had an interactive style of leadership. It had been the key to my success in passing contentious legislation as Canada’s minister of justice and attorney general from 1990 to 1993….This approach enabled me to pass a record amount of legislation when I was in the justice portfolio, but I was sometimes perplexed at the lengths journalists would go to to avoid giving me credit for these efforts….Journalists did not recognize my leadership as such because I was not making the noises they associated with leading.

Campbell didn’t provide any specific examples of where or how journalists had allegedly downplayed her achievements because of her gender.

More recently, British Columbia Premier Christy Clark alleged (more…)

Investigative Journalism: The Media Can (and Should) Do More of It

Recently I wrote a post about new information on the anti-union financial disclosure bill being debated in Canada’s Parliament. This new information was collected by two University of Regina researchers, and was mostly collected from publicly available documents. I also recently watched this segment of the Last Week Tonight with John Oliver TV show – a segment that brilliantly dismantles the Miss America Pageant’s claim to be “the world’s largest provider of scholarships to women in the world” [sic]. The information for this segment was also collected from publicly available documents.

Now admittedly the Miss America Pageant’s misrepresenting its scholarship awards doesn’t have the same potential large-scale societal impact as federal legislation, but the reporting of both sets of information has something in common. They’re both good investigative journalism – and neither was done by journalists. (One commentator calls Oliver’s work “investigative comedy”.) So why are comedians and university professors doing the kind of investigative work that media organizations should be doing, but generally aren’t?

From my own experience, I can suggest a couple of reasons why investigative journalism is not (more…)

30 Years of Dysfunction, and Probably More

On September 16, after nearly a week of intense negotiations, British Columbia’s premier, Christy Clark, announced that a new collective agreement had been reached with the BC Teachers’ Federation. The BCTF recommended that its members vote to accept the tentative agreement. While there was some very outspoken opposition to the agreement, 86% of voters supported it, and schools reopened the week of Sept. 22.

In her September 16 statement, Clark, with Education Minister Peter Fassbender at her side, promoted the deal as “historic” and as (more…)