An angry mob of about 120 placard-waving teachers crashed Maple Ridge’s 140th birthday party.
Premier Christy Clark arrived at the downtown arts theatre for the occasion of the historic anniversary and Maple Ridge officially becoming the province’s 50th city – setting aside its longtime “district designation.”
The crowd was outside the glass-front building, but their jeers filled the room as the premier took the podium, with chants like “arb-i-tra-tion,” many boos and “Shame! Shame! Shame!”
“What better way to mark 140 years of progress than having this become a city,” said Clark.
She got a laugh when she referred to Maple Ridge as “a thriving – and very vocal – urban centre.”
After her speech and extending congratulations, Clark took questions, and they were all about the teachers strike.
Asked about today’s B.C. Teachers Federation vote to enter binding arbitration, she reconfirmed that the government is not interested.
“My answer to that is this: binding arbitration, because it takes the decisions out of the hands of the people who are elected to make those decisions, is ultimately going to lead to higher taxes.”
She speculated that binding arbitration could lead to a five cents per litre gas tax.
Clark said she still believes that the government can get a negotiated deal with teachers.
Government has a “good raise on the table,” and $375 million to improve class size and composition, she said.
“So I believe we can get there, and I know emotions run high in labour disputes,” she said.
Clark added that negotiating an agreement is a way to fix a system that has been broken for a long time.
“I truly believe we can get there.”
She believes the dispute will be resolved before Oct. 6, when the Legislature sits again.
Teachers outside expressed their frustration that Clark would not speak to them directly, and said she left out the back of the ACT.
Maple Ridge Teachers’ Association president George Serra said the mood of the crowd sent a message.
“I think it’s important for people to know how important and how passionate teachers are. These folks [government] think it’s just the BCTF ‘the radical union.’ These are all teachers in classrooms. All I did this morning is let them know it was happening, and if they wanted to leave their picket lines and come and support in anyway they could. And look how many came to vocalize their anger.
“They’re very angry.”
Those on hand for the 140th anniversary were not critical of the teachers for using the occasion to send the premier a message.
“They’re entitled to protest, I respect democracy,” said Education Minister Peter Fassbender. “They have a strong opinion, and I respect that.”
He also clarified that the government will not be contemplating a five-cent gas tax.
“We’re celebrating 140 years of a great community, and everybody is part of building that community, including those folks that are teaching our kids,” said Mayor Ernie Daykin. “We’re going to have a good party, starting on Friday, and on Saturday.
After Clark’s speech and the protest, a rally for public education was held at the Memorial Peace Park bandstand, and about 200 people stayed to hear the speakers.
“The only time Indian summer applies is for the weather, not our education,” said Katzie First Nations member Colleen Pierre. “Christy Clark, open your ears. Open your eyes.”
Pitt Meadows secondary student Nicole Cusick said back-to-school – getting new courses and teachers, and seeing friends after the summer – is one of her favourite times of year.
“Let’s bring back school, and keep it here once and for all,” she said.
MRTA first vice president Todd Patrick said the conversation about a general strike is important for the union movement.
“If governments can unilaterally rip up contracts, we are all doomed.”
He spoke about the potential for teachers to be criticized for crashing the 140 birthday party celebrations with the premier.
“Maple Ridge has been here for 140 years already, it will be here 140 years from now, and this is worth fighting for.”