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BCNDP Leader John Horgan (Flickr/BC NDP) and Premier Christy Clark (Flickr/Province of BC)

BCNDP Leader John Horgan (Flickr/BC NDP) and Premier Christy Clark (Flickr/Province of BC)

You have to feel sorry for John Horgan, the BC NDP leader. He has had a hell of a time getting traction and seems unable to find an issue he’s comfortable with. Even when a decent one has come along, he’s found a way to screw it up.

But the tide seems to have changed and landing on his lap is an issue a politician can only dream of in his wildest reveries. Here is the premier of the province taking on a huge, organized body of society, by deliberately taunting them, illegally stealing their hard-won rights, forcing the issue into the Supreme Court of BC (twice) and Canada, losing badly three times, and managing from a standing start to keep it going for some 15 years. What more could you ask for that?

This issue can’t be explained away in a one-liner, which is one of the reasons Mr. Horgan is quite inadvertently in trouble. I am speaking of course of the BC Teachers Federation’s smashing victory against Christy Clark, not once, but twice – I mean, when has that ever happened before? And there was no need for it to have started but for the Premier’s airheaded picking a fight and refusing to let go.

Teachers’ never-ending battle for rights

The issue goes back into the mists of time in terms of disputes between teachers as employees and one form or another of government, usually the department of education, as an employer.

This was not a BC issue alone, by any means. Teachers struggled right across North America to get what one might call union rights – the right to organize and the right to withhold their services. This one was hugely controversial, even back when I was a child and that’s a while ago.

The technical difference was whether or not teachers were professionals or “workers” and for activists in the profession that was a most unfair red herring, but holy writ to traditionalists. It was not unlike the long internal struggle the nurses had in getting bargaining rights.

Throughout this long struggle, there was scarcely unanimity amongst teachers and, in fact, there were bitter, deep divisions. Their long history of the struggle which is worth the google and the read, carefully ignores this inconvenient, internecine struggle.

I think a reasonable look back would say that the unionists had the better numbers but they by no means had all of their colleagues onside. That took considerable internal debate and resulted in lasting bitterness.

In those days, they scarcely had the entire public on side either and I have no doubt that governments took advantage of this nasty debate, with the NDP being the least guilty but by no means totally innocent, since they also had teacher members who were firm on remaining professionals.

Now, looking back in 2016 terms, it’s hard to understand why one can’t be a professional with full bargaining rights, but that was then and now is now.

Blaming Bennett

In order that it now be seen that the saints won and sinners lost, oldtime BCTF warriors find it convenient to find one bête noir, and there he is, the ever-useful target, WAC Bennett. Crawford Killian, an oldtime warhorse and propagandist for the BCTF, recently said this in the Tyee:

If the old patriarch W.A.C. Bennett had had a vision beyond highways and dams, he would have seen the need for a highly educated population. Instead he mistrusted almost anyone who’d spent time on a campus, and his political descendants haven’t learned any better.

So, the battle is to return to the ancient trenches and all of the old rusty weapons cleaned up for use.

OK, let’s suppose that it was all WAC’s anti-intellectualism and we overlook the fact that he started the massive community college program and founded, amongst others, Simon Fraser University. This means that this government’s ghastly dealings with the teachers can be spread out and blame shared.

For a politician to have no colleague or bad luck to share a calamity with is very bad news and hard to deal with at election time. The best thing is for someone else to take the blame.

The very next best thing is a diversion. Premier Clark, who deserves no pity or help on this one, just had a neat diversion provided by long term NDP supporter Killian, who forgot that it’s not WAC that the NDP is fighting.

Horgan needs all the help he can get

I’ve had many a sip in days gone by with NDP protagonists on political stuff and not long into the grape we’d be into stories of famous NDP times where they snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Leaders as recent as Adrian Dix in 2013 can tell you how quickly it can happen. So can Carole James before Dix. As has been so  wisely observed, in politics it’s not your enemies you must watch, but your friends.

John Horgan needs some luck not another knife to pull out of his back.

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