The Education Sector Conference opened on Tuesday with a panel discussion moderated by CUPE BC Secretary-Treasurer Trevor Davies on the theme Current Challenges and Future Solutions.

Mike Lombardi, duly-elected representative of the Vancouver School Board (and recently fired by the BC Liberal government) said, “It’s report card time now, and if I was grading the performance of this government, I’d give them a big, fat ‘F’ with a recommendation that they be dismissed in May.”

Rob Fleming, MLA Victoria-Swan Lake and BC Official Opposition Spokesperson for Education hit it out of the park with delegates. “Public Education will be at the centre of the NDP campaign,” said Fleming. “All the signs are there that fighting for kids – as Mike Lombardi and his colleagues at the Vancouver School Board have done, standing up for families, fighting for communities, standing strong for our school system – that is what British Columbians want.”

“B.C. is dead last, in tenth place in Confederation, as a province that invests in education as a percentage of our GDP. You can’t sustain an economy by running public education down for 15 years,” said Fleming.

“We need to empower our kids to be resilient economic actors in the future, to build communities, to make a future for themselves, to make a contribution, and to make and create jobs in British Columbia. That is done by public education. That’s the message from John Horgan and that’s the story we need to tell.”

“We have a tremendous sense out there that people are with us,” said Fleming – who is encouraged by a landscape change since the last provincial election – telling delegates that last election there was no parent voice.

“Christy Clark has closed 250 schools in B.C. and tried to close an additional 40 this spring. Something wonderful happened. People in Liberal ridings like Osoyoos, Summerland, Penticton, and Quesnel rose up and said that ‘that is not going to happen. You are not going to rip these institutions out of our community. There is no need to do it and we’re not going to take it.’ Out of that, grassroots parent’s campaigns have mushroomed.  They now have a considerable presence and an organizational influence on B.C. politics. So now it’s no longer just CUPE BC and the BCTF who are defending public education,” said Fleming.

Kathy Corrigan, MLA Burnaby Deer Lake and Opposition Spokesperson for Advanced Education talked about the priorities of the Christy Clark government. “They gave a billion dollars of tax cuts to the richest two per cent in British Columbia over four years, while cutting the budgets of our Colleges and Universities. The result has been more stress on those working in post-secondary, higher expectations, less resources and cuts to programs. Cuts to programs that are not based on whether or not they’re the right thing to do, but based instead on the desperation to balance the budget and for the bottom line.” Corrigan said that the threatened closure of the College of New Caledonia dental program, providing dental care for low income residents, is a perfect example.

She closed by telling delegates that she has three grandchildren on the way. “For completely selfish reasons I want to have a new government, so that they have the opportunity, as all children should, to have a school system that meets their needs.”

Delegates made good use of the opportunity to ask questions of the panelists and attended workshops in the afternoon.

Visit the CUPE BC gallery to view photos.