Editorial: Can we dare hope for renewal of trust?

October 1, 2019

Ask any of my colleagues around the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation building, and I’m going to suggest they will say I am the antitheses of a hoarder. While others have countless binders and such, my minimalist corner of the building has three (two of which I have probably never opened, if truth be told).

In the windowsill there is, however, old copies of the Saskatchewan Bulletin, so in this case it proved rather poignant that as we start a new publishing season there is a definite sense of déjà vu. Last September’s front-page headline was the fact that an arbitration board had awarded a two-year contract for the province’s teachers. Its expiry date was August 31, 2019. So you all know what that means.

Yes folks, we’re imminently back at the bargaining table again and dare we hope that, unlike the last provincial collective agreement, things are settled before a year after the existing expiry date.

It has already been well-chronicled how the STF and the Teachers’ Bargaining Committee have committed to making this a transparent process in seeking a three-year deal. Moreover, there is a very purposeful effort to make this round much more specific with the notion of class size and composition at the very heart of the asking package.

Now is when things get a bit murky as the dollar dance begins in earnest as part of courting public support.

The STF steadfastly maintains that even with an increase of $26 million towards PreK-12 education in the spring budget, it still falls well short of the $54 million that was yanked in the 2017 budget. Yet this summer, there was Premier Scott Moe telling the good folks of Melfort how the nearly $2 billion that the provincial government was dedicating to the sector was the “largest investment in the history of Saskatchewan.”

Oh yes, he also managed to somehow infuse the issue of the carbon tax into the conversation. Spare me.

Ultimately, we might as well accept that the financial size of any potential agreement is going to be characterized in much different language depending on which side of the table you sit.

As for the issue of class size and composition, that too can be presented in different ways, except for the fact that it is undeniably a major issue that’s not going to go away, especially when funding has been slashed for classroom supports for students with special needs.

Ask any teacher and this is a very real issue. Even the civil servants within the Ministry of Education have cited violence and safety as concerns for classroom teachers. Everyone accepts there will be a give-and-take process as part of the negotiations. This area should not be merely a compromise.

From the sidelines, I can tell you what I would like to see as this scenario unfolds. More truth and less spin. Laudable as it sounds, when Education Minister Gord Wyant insists that teacher voice must be an important component in carving out a potential new blueprint for education, there has been scant evidence of that being welcomed by all his fellow ministers and those who control the purse strings.

It would be refreshing if there was a way public trust could be restored–not just for the education sector, but for governments in general. This would be an ideal place to start.