Jan 04, 2018

Working with our friends

Although the last provincial election seems like years ago now, the reality is that the new BC NDP government led by Premier John Horgan has been in office for just six months as you read this edition of Public Employee. While much has already been accomplished, much more remains to be done after 16 years of right-wing BC Liberal government. (For a more detailed assessment of the government’s first six months, see Page 10.)

For 16 years, our organization has stood in strong opposition to the BC Liberal governments of Gordon Campbell and Christy Clark. Their policies caused widespread damage to our society and reduced an entire generation’s opportunities to succeed. CUPE BC stood up for our members and our communities in combatting BC Liberal policy, whether it was attacks on public services or taxation policies that favoured the wealthiest at the expense of working people and the middle class.  And we worked hard in every election to defeat the BC Liberals and elect a government that would do what’s right for the majority of British Columbians, not just the privileged few.  We also knew the BC NDP would be forced to clean up some messes left behind by Christy Clark – none more difficult or complicated to deal with than the Site C project.  While some are disappointed by the government’s decision to keep the project running, Premier Horgan should be commended for making a tough, fact-based decision rather than letting short-term partisan political issues rule the process.

And open door makes a difference

The question for CUPE BC now is: how do we transition from an oppositional to supportive role while continuing to stand up for our members and communities? In my view, our primary role—to advocate for and support our members, Locals and District Councils—doesn’t change at all. But with respect to our relationship with the provincial government, much has changed. For one thing, our voice is now welcomed and respected by the new government.

I have had many meetings with cabinet ministers and senior government staff on a wide range of issues since the swearing in, and will continue to do so. CUPE BC has had the opportunity to provide advice and policy submissions on everything from the first full NDP budget coming in February to the re-establishment of a BC Human Rights Commission, an important public entity whose elimination by the Campbell Liberals left our province as the only jurisdiction in Canada without one.

I know that many members in the K-12 sector are frustrated by the challenges school districts are facing as they implement the Supreme Court of Canada decision re-instating the BC Teachers Federation’s collective agreement that was torn up in 2002. As the government works to restore proper levels of funding for our education sector, local school districts and the provincial government are being made increasingly aware of the lack of resources for education support staff, including Education Assistants.

Fixing K-12 no easy task

One of my first priorities was to meet the Education Minister and brief him on how this impacts our 27,000 members in this sector. While I share our members’ frustration, it’s important to remember that the new government is still operating on the BC Liberals’ financial framework. I’m confident that Budget 2018 will begin to address these funding issues and those in other sectors like post-secondary, health care, and social services.

Our job at CUPE BC is to work to make our members’ lives better. That’s what we’ve always done, and it’s what we’ll continue to do. Having a government in Victoria that listens to us, and takes action, makes a world of difference.  It shows why political action is so important.

Paul Faoro is president of CUPE BC, British Columbia’s largest union, representing 87,000 workers delivering important public services in communities across the province.

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