Parents opting for private education are hearing Vision's Patti Bacchus loud & clear
"The Vancouver school board was fired today." The person speaking on the end of the line had either misunderstood today's news release from the Ministry of Education, I thought, or something had happened during the last couple of hours I had completely missed. "No, you're wrong," I challenged. "The Minister has simply appointed a special advisor, or in essence, brought in an auditor."
"Trust me," said my contact. "What happened today is tantamount to removing Vancouver's Board of Education from their jobs."
You knew it couldn't continue. The calls for the Minister's resignation, the manipulation of the budget to send fear into parents across the city, the political rallies sponsored by union organizers. It was reaching a boiling point, and the Minister wisely stepped in to kibosh the Vancouver School Board's political activism.
So on the one hand, it does indeed look like trustees have been sent to bed without their supper. On the other hand, it's an opportunity for Chair Patti Bacchus and her unruly Vision/COPE caucus to take the high road.
In the past several weeks Vision's Patti Bacchus has become the spokesmodel for private education in Vancouver. Parents are reeling because they don't know whom to believe. PACS all over the city are mounting letter-writing campaigns, and emailing friends and colleagues to get out to protest rallies for the TV cameras. Some parents are so exasperated by it all they are considering taking their kids out of the public education system, and operators of private educational institutions are licking their chops at all the potential increase in enrollment.
What has been amazing in recent weeks is to see Vision Vancouver's carefully managed relationship with the provincial government go sideways. The best and only person to control it is the caucus leader, Mayor Gregor Robertson, but he is nowhere to be seen.
Robertson's role should be to help calm the waters between Vancouver and Victoria. There is a huge risk that his entire social agenda for the city, which is heavily dependent upon funding from the Province, could go up in smoke.
For example, after the city conducted its extraordinary homeless count – the first conducted by the city alone and without Metro Vancouver's involvement – why did Robertson allow Councillors Raymond Louie and Kerry Jang to take shots at Rich Coleman? Both were in the media pointing fingers at the Minister for more funding for HEAT shelters, much to the chagrin of Coleman.
Over at the school board you've got Patti Bacchus and her fellow Vision colleagues condescending to Minister MacDiarmid, accusing her of misleading statements or ignorance of basic math. Thankfully NPA Trustees Carol Gibson and Ken Denike called their colleagues on the matter, and reminded them that personal attacks were not going to help Vancouver's student population.
For further proof that Roberson has no control over his caucus, tonight we learn that Coun. Andrea Reimer has put forward a motion to city council to condemn the province over school board funding. What on Earth could that possibly do to help other than to further erode relations with Victoria? NPA Coun. Suzanne Anton pulls no punches when describing how Vision has handled the education file:
"I feel that a stream of constant whining that we get from the school board, from the school board chair, and obviously now from Coun. Reimer, does a great disservice to our school system. It's sending out a message that our system is no good anymore and of course that's not true. It's sending out a message that we can't possibly manage and that, of course, is not true," Anton said.
Taking a page from Premier Glen Clark's political handbook is not the best strategy. Clark infamously baited Ottawa to stake his ground out in B.C., and only made his home province a laughing stock. Bacchus seems hard-wired when it comes to making intemperate remarks about those she disagrees with. Perhaps its time for her caucus to put someone else in charge, such as the relatively mild-mannered Trustees Mike Lombardi or Allan Wong, at least until things cool down.
Bacchus leaped in front of TV cameras tonight, predictably expressing her outrage at Dr. MacDiarmid. But there's no escaping the fact that the BC government today cast a very loud vote of non-confidence in Vancouver's school board. I predict that Bacchus and her Vision/COPE caucus will continue to inflame relations with the province for the weeks to come. And it will only serve to hurt our school system, while needlessly upsetting parents and students.
There's only one person who can prevent this. Mayor Robertson, it's time to kick the leadership thing into gear, or at least give Magee the okay to dole out some tough love.