Here in British Columbia, those of us who live on Vancouver Island are at the mercy of BC Ferries, which provides transportation between the mainland and the island. Now for lo-these-many years, successive governments have argued that the ferry system is NOT part of the highway system… This all leading to independent rate hikes and withdrawal of service as BC Ferries continues to claim difficulties in balancing the books. For many years BC Ferries operated as a Crown Corporation — a decision that most citizens were happy with, given BC Ferries crucial role in providing (in some instances) the sole transportation option to many remote Gulf-Island communities.
A few years ago, the government of the day felt the need to remove themselves from the business of BC Ferries, and dismantled BC Ferries as a Crown corporation, and set it up as a pubic company … with a single shareholder (the collective taxpayer!)
Anyhoo, drama has ensued with each rate hike, and reduction in service, ALWAYS accompanied by the mantra that people’s expectations about BC Ferries are unrealistic as it is NOT part of the highway system. Travel to-and-from Vancouver Island is an option, and we shouldn’t get our knickers in a twist because it is easier to drive uninterrupted from Sicamous to Prince George than it is from Vancouver to Victoria. (never mind that the freaking capital city of the province sits on an island!!!)
BUT I DIGRESS … Watching the news tonight, there was a kindly spokesperson speaking to the issue of drunken and disorderly conduct at ferry terminals. Seems folks have been capping their long drives to Tsawassen or Horseshoe Bay by cracking a cold one from the cooler. Mr. Spokesguy’s point was that being in a vehicle in the ferry terminal was just like being on the road in a vehicle — ALL THE RULES OF THE HIGHWAY APPLIED.
Needless to say, I shook my head … can’t have it both ways? Apparently they can!
Last night in Prince George we heard news of a massive explosion in a sawmill — the second large-scale, fire resulting in fatalities in less than 2 months. The mill in Burns Lake had also experienced a fire in 2011, which was deemed to be the result of an electrical malfunction. As of today, 1 man has perished in the Prince George Mill fire, with 24 more injured. The Babine Mill fire back in January resulted in 2 dead, 19 injured, and the complete destruction of Burns Lake’s main source of employment.
Fingers are pointing at the moment to the sluggish response of the Workers Compensation Board to the crisis at hand in Prince George. In the instance of the Burns Lake fire, there were official complaints to WorkSafeBC that airborne dust (both a health AND signfiicant fire hazard) were twice the acceptable levels. It seems as though WorkSafeBC will have some ‘splain to do as investigations are carried out.
I would suggest there is one other signficant factor at play here that nobody really wants to talk about … the deregulation of Safety Standards in this province!
The BC Safety Authority has responsibility for ensuring safe operation of a whole bunch of things, including gas boilers, electrical systems, and elevators …
A little history lesson here, the BC Safety Authority is arms-length from government. Back in 2003, the Campbell government decided inspections and permitting in these areas was non-critical, and effectively outsourced these functions to an industry-led organization. Not only did they remove inspection functions from within government BUT they also introduced a number of Alternative Safety Approaches which gave companies that provided justification the option of internal company control over safety standards — often with little or no government oversight!
At the time, any concerns raised about the implications of giving companies the option to self-inspect and self-regulate in this area were painted as anti-business, and anti-job creation, and very anti-british columbia!
To be clear, at this point, it is too early to say whether there is any link to safety inspections in either location and the 2012 Burns Lake fire OR yesterday’s Lakeland Mill fire in Prince George. BUT we do know that the 2011 fire in Burns Lake was due to an electrical malfunction, and the powers-that-be have been surprisingly quiet on divulging the exact cause of the 2012 Burns Lake fire. Coincidentally, paperwork there had been filed with the WorkSafeBC 3 weeks prior, raising alarms about airborne sawdust particulate at twice the acceptable level (not only a health hazard but a significant fire hazard, and a concern where electrical sparking had cause a fire less than a year prior!)
I hope the investigations in the wake of the Lakeland Mill fire include a rigorous examination of the implications deregulation has had in this whole area. Personally, I think its high time we start valuing the services government provides and stop justifying ditching them in the name of job creation. (fwiw, sitting in on hiring fairs with young people around the province — they care a lot about working in a safe place!).
Here at YoUnlimited conference today — updating my tumblr and sitting in on a session on Blogging with Beth Couglar Blom ;)
Today is just another day, except that its four years since we had to let go.
We’re counting time backwards now … just as we counted your arrival in days, months and then years, we’re now counting your absence in days, months, and years.
grief is a funny thing. And its the saddest thing ever.
I haven’t had a good rant about things politic here for a while, so I guess its high time! I’ve been standing by with a partial lean-in of the ear while the lastest public sector bargaining debacle unfolds … or that epic battle the Teachers vs. the Government.
Albeit, the media has dubbed it the Teachers vs the Liberal Party (yes, the whole darn party seems tarnished on this round, not just Christy Clark), perhaps because Minister George Abbot has been deemed the most effective spokesmodel for government on this one.
A bit of backstory here … labour relations in BC have always hit a nerve, particularly public sector labour relations. Things have at various times escalated to such a fevered pitch, that more times than not, negotiated settlements are completely out of the question, and the whole lot ends up going to arbitration.
That is one of my pet peeves about the current mainstream media coverage, is little has been said about the fact that the teachers have NEVER had a negotiated settlement in the history of public sector bargaining in this province. I am NOT, by any stretch of the imagination a rabid liberal stormtrooper, BUT it does not help temper the hotheads to single out one administration, when no political party of any persuasion has been able to crack this nut! It would suggest to me, that the process is more flawed than the positions of the parties on either side of this negotiation.
Lets look at the facts facing each side:
- Teachers are working hard: class sizes have not diminished appreciably, and most teachers are facing additional workload as they cope with an increased number of kids deemed special needs.
- Province-wide solutions for the most part, address average situations, and most school districts are NOT facing average situations — many are experiencing declining enrolments, with threats of school closures, and others are experiencing unprecedented growth, and unable to find enough room for their students.
- School districts are cash strapped and having to pare programming down to the bone to balance budgets — those who don’t are threatened with firing by the province! It means that while school board trustees may be sympathetic, they can only afford to be sympathetic up to a point.
- Parents want more for their kids in terms of educational programming, and are getting pissed off because the programs that keep their kids interested and engaged in learning are being slowly phased out, given they are not considered “core” education.
- Teachers are citizens too, and its getting expensive to live!
- Government has one hell of a fiscal challenge in the near-mid term! it has declared that net-zero positioning on all public sector contracts is the only way that costs can be contained.
- There are many more public sector unions standing in line behind the teachers. If a settlement allowing more for the teachers is approved, it sets precedent for all the other unions.
- There is a degree of face-saving on the part of government here that plays out in a PR sense, but with very real fiscal effects. If government is seen to be unable to manage its public sector unions, it makes attracting foreign business investment that much harder (oh, I should bring my $XXX billions to your province, but I might not be able to ship my product offshore because the railroad workers are striking in solidarity with the teachers?!).
- George Abbot has essentially called the teachers spoiled brats (in not so many words) - he indicated the Teachers were the ONLY public sector union they have been unable to have productive discussions with. (Personally, I find it hard to believe they have had some 70 odd meetings without any progress whatsoever - if so, a little switcheroo of whoever is repping the government side might be in order!)
Someone asked me the other day what I thought would play out, and here’s my 2c worth:
- I think the government has folks scrambling around in the Ministry of Labour and the Premier’s Office ready for about 3 or 4 scenarios to unfold.
- I think the teachers may walk off the job for a couple of days (with or without the blessing of the Labour Relations Board), and will be legislated back to work. Government will make a couple of minor adjustments to the deal, and present what will be another version of the net-zero offer.
- Teachers will go back to work (bell to bell), possibly with a short walkout or two. An arbitrator will be selected, who will provide a synopsis of the horrific dynamics between the two sides, and speculate that final offer arbitration might lead to a general strike.
- Ultimately the teachers will take the deal — for no other reason than they are the ones who have to live in the communities they are taking job action in. They are the ones who have to look parents, principles and vice-principles in the eye while at the supermarket! They also all know the history (and repeated history) on this one! And ultimately, I think they care more about the kids than government does …
From the peanut gallery, ‘til next time!