The Kelowna-Lake Country candidates at an all-candidates forum earlier this week at the Hollywood Education Centre in Rutland.

Kelowna-Lake Country candidates debate education issues

Second in a series of education issue forums raises questions about teacher labour negotiations and program funding.

An election forum on education issues had the Kelowna-Lake Country candidates all trying to cozy up to teachers on Tuesday at the Hollywood Education Centre.

Liberal Norm Letnick faced the toughest questions from the audience about the Liberal government’s education policies, but he talked about his passion for education and his on-leave status as a business instructor at Okanagan College.

“It’s important to me that we find the right funding formulas to allow teachers to teach” in a positive classroom environment, Letnick said.

In response to questions about the Liberal government’s education funding, Letnick noted that the Liberals have a $5.3 billion education budget this year, a 29 per cent increase since 2001 despite the fact the student enrolment provincially has declined by 66,000 students.

He added the province has also invested $2.4 billion in new school and existing school upgrades since 2001, including a new school in the Lower Mission and commitment to a new school in West Kelowna.

One questioner in the audience, identified by other media reports as Mike Fischer, a teacher at Rutland Senior Secondary, was upset by Premier Christy Clark violating existing teachers’ contracts in the past and ignoring a B.C. Supreme Court ruling that found the province failed to negotiate contracts properly.

Fischer called Clark’s moves a “fascist exercise” and said the first step for the Liberals to restore a positive relationship with teacher was to apologize for its hard-line and illegal negotiating stance in the controversial Bill 22.

Another question touched on a similar vein, this time citing the government’s proposed 10-year contract offer to teachers.

While Letnick said it was an attempt to find long-term stability for rising education costs, Conservative Party candidate Graeme James described the 10-year deal offer as nothing more than a political “publicity stunt.”

James said it was actions like that which soured him on the Liberal Party, and convinced him to join the B.C. Conservatives.

Citing the ability of government to not continually fund rising budget deficits, James said education and health services should be funding priorities, and everything else be on the table.

James said he was listening to the premier on a Vancouver radio station talk show earlier this week and nearly drove off the road, so angry he was at what Clark was saying.

With regards to post-secondary education, James said concerns about the cost for students to earn post-graduate degrees should not be a concern of the government.

“Everyone should have access to an education from K to 12. But the average $27,000 cost for a post-secondary education is a small price to pay for your future,” James said.

In referring to a line from former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, who he described as a political hero of his, James said, “The problem with socialism is you eventually run out of other people’s money.”

James noted B.C.’s budget has not been balanced eight of the past 11 years, saying the Liberals have moved money from Crown corporation revenues and sold public assets.

“That’s like taking a credit card to pay your mortgage,” he said.

NDP candidate Mike Nuyens also cited a personal attachment to the education system.

The third generation Lake Country resident said his uncle and brother-in-law were teachers and administrators, his niece is a teacher at George Elliott Secondary and his mother-in-law was a school trustee.

“One of the reasons I got into politics was my belief that a school system should be fair for everyone,” Nuyens said.

Using the example of his son taking a residential house carpentry program at Okanagan College, he said the apprenticeship program in B.C. is badly broken and needs to be fixed.

“My son took an exam and failed because 30 per cent of the exam was on things that weren’t even taught in the course,” he said.

Nuyens also noted the NDP’s provincial platform commitment announced last week by party leader Adrian Dix, to invest $100 million in the school system which would create 1,000 new jobs.

James, Letnick and Nuyens also talked about running a positive campaign in this election, in response to a question about the negativity campaign tactics turning off young people from voting.

“Our leader has made that clear, we are not out to attack our opponents, we are trying to be positive in our campaign and get people out to vote,” Nuyens said.

Letnick echoed those sentiments, saying you won’t hear a negative word from him about his opponents in this election.

“I have known Graeme a long time going back to our involvement with Kelowna city council and I consider Mike a friend as well,” Letnick said.

For his part, Gary Adams, the Green Party candidate, constantly referred to his party’s policy platform posted on Green website for voters to find out where he and his party stand on the issues.

The forum was co-sponsored by the Central Okanagan Teachers’ Association, the Central Okanagan Retired Teachers’ Association and the Central Okanagan Parent Advisory Council.

Similar forums were also held for Kelowna-Mission (Thursday)  and Westside-Kelowna (Monday) candidates this week.

See the Capital News website for coverage of both meetings, or the April 25 edition of the Capital News for Westside-Kelowna candidate forum coverage.