Can We Really Be So Far Apart?

Our relationships with businesses, small and big, are complex. We need them and they need us. Because of this interdependency, we tend to want to see their brands as in sync with our fundamental values. And the truth is, that often times we are in sync. It’s when we are not, when we discover that their values are in direct opposition, and in fact detrimental to those that we hold dear, that we become confused and angry. We lose trust in them, and trust, as you probably know, once broken, is nearly irreparable.

I believe in small businesses because I believe in community. I have friends who run their own businesses (including my partner.) I prefer to spend my money supporting small businesses in my neighborhood even if it costs me a bit more, rather than ordering online, or going to a larger center. I want to believe that we are on the same page with regards to supporting our communities and a strong public education system in British Columbia. I believe that while we may have some conflict around what that looks like, we are essentially on the same side. This is how it is for many teachers and parents like myself.

I prefer to think that we are all citizens in the way Daphne Bramham outlines in her Vancouver Sun article, We need citizens, not just taxpayers and bookkeepers. I thought we all were all citizens who believed that:

“To be a citizen means to belong, to have responsibilities, rights and shared values. It means having a stake in the future and, in democracies, a voice in determining what that future might look like.
In Canada, it means having the guarantee that laws will be applied fairly to every person and every institution (including governments), as well as the right to an education and health care.”

With the Coalition of BC Businesses asking for and receiving intervenor status in the longstanding legal battle between the BCTF and the government, I have had that belief about our common values extinguished. It appears that coalition members value corporate tax cuts over support for children, and a strong education system in British Columbia. It’s been a shock to discover that this voice for businesses in BC, not only don’t see themselves as citizens, they seem to be in direct opposition to the values many of us who see ourselves as citizens hold dear.

I hope businesses within this group will come to understand that teachers like myself are not primarily on the picket line for higher wages. We are there because we have seen support for children in the form of school libraries and teacher librarians; special education, English language, and learning assistance teachers; school counselors and speech and language therapists, diminish excessively. Did you know, for example, that as of this school year, more than 32% of the teacher librarians in the province have vanished since 2002. There are districts with none left, and schools without school libraries. There are teachers and students working and learning together in maximum sized classrooms with seven or more special needs children. Have businesses really decided that tax cuts are more important than support to all children, and especially ones with special needs? Where do these businesses expect to get their workers in the future?

As a teacher librarian, I set off to discover just who all these members of the coalition were. Along with others, I spent time this summer sending out emails to coalition members. While it was dismaying to see how many businesses I trusted on that list, what has been even more distressing is that upon contacting many of the groups and individuals, it appeared that they had no idea what the coalition was up to in their name.

A more thorough description of what this group uncovered can be read here.

It seems that the Coalition has been acting in the name of its partner groups, many of whose members have no idea what is going on. I would have presumed that before making such an important move, the Coalition might have asked its members to vote first. Yet as I mentioned earlier, many of them had no idea what was going on in their name. Imagine if you will that the BCTF executive had called for a strike without first calling for a vote. All hell would break out in the media. Yet this group has essentially done just that, but there has been barely a whisper across the airwaves.

Many teachers and parents like myself are deeply conflicted. We are faced with individual businesses that have gone out of their way to support teachers during this attack on public education. We know businesses that provide funding to support some of the most vulnerable children in the province. How can we get our heads around the fact that they are connected to a group that don't want to fund public education adequately? We are tasked with figuring out how we can possibly support, through our spending power, businesses that are part of a group that advocates for tax cuts in exchange for support for children, no matter their other actions.

Ultimately, this is what it boils down to. We want to support businesses that we know share our values, but we need to know who they are. It would be helpful if these businesses posted their letter to the Coalition showing their opposition to intervener status, and or stating that they believe public education in British Columbia should be funded to at least the Canadian average. But there are many ways to show us. The facebook post of Poco Building Supplies for example, claims that they, “do not support the position of the BC Coalition of Businesses as seeking intervener status on this dispute.” and are trying to get themselves removed from this list.

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