Time for province to make a deal

Next year’s provincial election could be won or lost by how the B.C. Liberal party plays its cards in the ongoing dispute with teachers.

Next year’s provincial election could be won or lost by how the B.C. Liberal party plays its cards this week in the ongoing dispute with the province’s teachers.

The teachers have been on a relatively low-key strike since September. There were concerns then about how job action would affect kids in the classroom. Fortunately, judging by the dearth of complaints, it seems most teachers have kept the drawn-out labour negotiations from inconveniencing parents or politicizing students.

But this week’s vote to escalate the strike is a magnitude beyond holding back grades on report cards or piling paperwork on administrators. If teachers vote to walk off the job even for one day, you can bet the public will pay a lot more attention to this issue.

Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that. Even if it does, the province will gain little by sticking to its hard-nosed strategy. Teachers spend a lot of time with our kids and play a vital role in the health of our local communities. Portraying these frontline workers as greedy or easily replaceable will do little to bolster the Liberals’ flagging support. Indeed, legislating teachers back to work instead of working harder to negotiate a deal will effectively arm the NDP with more ammo ahead of the May 14, 2013 vote.

This government, under Gordon Campbell, paid a heavy political price for showing arrogance toward a labour movement that is still a powerful force in this province. Any currency the Liberals had from the public’s disdain of previous NDP regimes has long been used up.

Unless Premier Christy Clark is in a hurry to go back to her radio job, she needs to stay away from the kind of comment she recently made on her former employer’s station. Clark said she didn’t think the province could make a deal with the teachers. That’s simply not true.

The time has come to appoint a mediator and agree to abide with whatever decisions he or she makes.

Teachers, by their considered actions, have so far earned the public’s respect. Now is the province’s chance to do the same.

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