A rally in Nanaimo Monday drew nearly 1,000 striking teachers and supporters who marched through downtown streets, then gathered at Maffeo Sutton Park to hear speeches from labour leaders and government opposition members Monday.
About 500 marchers formed up at Bowen Park at 4 p.m., but the crowd nearly doubled in size as late arrivals from across the Island joined the procession, lead by bagpipers, that wound its way through town and arrived at Maffeo Sutton Park shortly before 5 p.m.
The rally is one of a series being staged in major communities across the province this week.
Speakers reiterated teachers’ long-standing grievances with government and slammed government budget decision-making.
Jim Iker, B.C. Teachers Federation president, said since 2002, students have had larger classes and less access to specialist teachers, such as counsellors, learning assistance teachers, teacher librarians, resource teachers and special education teachers, which he said are critical to supporting students and the education system.
“It’s because of the unconstitutional actions, lead by the education minister back then, 12 years ago, that a generation of our B.C. students have been short changed,” Iker said. “Children who were five-years-old back in 2002 and were in kindergarten are now 17 and 18 and are graduating.”
Iker said B.C. spends $1,000 per student less than the national average and that it is time the B.C. government recognizes funding education as an investment toward a strong future economy.
Jim Sinclair, president of the B.C. Federation of Labour, criticized government for giving tax breaks to corporations and to properly fund education and other services.
“As soon they talk about the what human needs are out there, with children and with seniors and others, we hear there’s no money. It’s all gone,” Sinclair said. “And, you know, they always say, ‘Well, the cupboard’s bare,’ and no one asks the next question, ‘Who took all the stuff out of the cupboards?'”
As for the continuing strike, Sinclair blamed the inability to come to a new labour agreement on what he said was the government’s unwillingness to properly fund the education system.
“What’s wrong is that the B.C. government just needs to come to the table with the resources needed to fix the problem,” Sinclair said.
Sinclair went on to say the majority of British Columbians are on the side of educators and that teachers have to stick together and make sure the public comes along with them.
Rob Fleming, NDP education critic and MLA for Victoria and Swan Lake, also weighed in against B.C. premier Christy Clark and the government.
“You can’t say you want a real job plan when you have no plan to make new investments in education to create the labour market opportunities for the future of the province,” Fleming said.