The Valentine’s Day Speech from the Throne
2017 February 21
A week ago the government gave us an idea what it plans to do this year and next. It came in the Speech from the Throne, the document read by the Queen’s representative in Victoria, Judith Guichon, in full dress in the Legislature.
We have one of these speeches at the beginning of each new full session of the legislature. It’s expected to give a vague and broad idea of government planning. A local commentator (Vaughan Palmer) summarized this year’s speech as he does every year: “It’s a laundry list…”
But there’s more to it than that.
Since 2001, the Speech from the Throne has sent a message to voters. It is that we should get used to a government that puts economic and industrial matters first.
In distant second place, the Speech includes statements about public education, public health, and social assistance. These are the things we talk about every day in the street, the things we live by and wish for in British Columbia. They are simply not the first priority of government.
Now, that is an odd system of priorities. Without schools, hospitals, and social assistance, our society would retreat to the conditions of 1875, or maybe 1775. After all, the primary reasons for having a government at all are to help ensure the rule of law, and to put into practice our collective wish to have good schools for our kids, to have assured access to health care, and to be assured that people in need—the elderly, the poor, the new arrivals in our province, and many more—will have the support of public institutions. It is not the public’s job to manufacture things or to sell them, no matter what the Speech from the Throne may suggest.
The word “public” matters here. For we expect our public services (education included) to be offered because they are in the public interest, an activity carried because it is a common good, available universally and equally, free of charge.
This way of looking at government would put education and the other great public services—common goods—as the first government priority.
The Valentine’s Day 2017 Speech from the Throne runs to 12 pages in the version I have (you can read it at: http://engage.gov.bc.ca/thronespeech/transcript/
In the 12 pages of the printed version, one finds education on page 4. It announces how much it’s spending on schools ($5.1 billion) and re-announces $50 million of the new funding required—now that the province has been forced to pay for the contract it chose to break in 2002.
And that’s it for education. We hear nothing about the steady decline of funding for public schools over the past fifteen years and more—with consequences: over-full classrooms, erratic curriculum reform, disappearance of art and music programmes children need and parents demand, weak commitment to the education of special needs kids, and so on and on.
For the sake of comparison, I looked up the Throne Speech for 2013 and discovered that on p. 9 there’s a brief discussion of apprenticeships. On p. 14, there’s a reference to bullying and a government commitment to do all it can to end bullying. The word “school” occurs in 2013 only where the government says it wants a 10-year agreement with the teachers (as we know, they did end up, after a nasty strike, with a six-year agreement).
But the 2013 Speech is honest and open on one important point: “Revenues help make community investment possible – new and improved schools like Port Edward Elementary Heritage Mountain Middle School and Chilliwack Secondary…” It then returns to the ten pages of praise it gives to the extraction of natural gas.
It’s to be money and business first, if you please.
(You’ll find the text of the 2013 speech at: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/british-columbia/verbatim-full-text-of-the-bc-speech-from-the-throne/article8512922/ )
Justine Hunt’s excellent article on the results of this tergiversation is extremely helpful. She helps to show why it’s time to turn the world right side up. You’ll find her essay in the Feb. 19, 2017 Globe and Mail.
This afternoon and tomorrow, I’ll be reading the budget to see if there are signs the government wants to turn the world right side up. And I’ll report my findings right here in the PENS blog.
Welcome to the PENS Blog on public education! Our bloggers include parents, teachers, education researchers, and other strong supporters of public education in BC and in Canada. Taking the lead is Bill Bruneau, Professor Emeritus UBC, ex-Vancouver School Board trustee, ex-President of his faculty association, and ex-president of the Canadian Association of University Teachers.