Common Sense Canadian

Clark’s big loss to teachers is an opening for NDP’s Horgan…at last

Posted November 20, 2016 by Rafe Mair in Politics
BCNDP Leader John Horgan (Flickr/BCNDP) 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.


About the Author

Rafe Mair

Rafe Mair, LL.B, LL.D (Hon) a B.C. MLA 1975 to 1981, was Minister of Environment from late 1978 through 1979. In 1981 he left politics for Talk Radio becoming recognized as one of B.C.'s pre-eminent journalists. An avid fly fisherman, he took a special interest in Atlantic salmon farms and private power projects as environmental calamities and became a powerful voice in opposition to them. Rafe is the co-founder of The Common Sense Canadian and writes a regular blog at



    And she has the audacity to say how “excited” she is to see special needs students getting more help. Evil gets no greater than that.

    Mr. Horgan can use the SOC 20 minute ruling, not to bolster support from teachers but to illustrate to all British Columbians, just how mean and nasty the May Queen is.

    Attach the same theme to her treatment of children and their advocate; to the fired health workers; to the First Nation peoples; to the eviction of Site C residents at Christmas; to the piling on of hidden taxes called fees; to the…

    I won’t hold my breath though.

    anne cameron

    Rafe, darlin’… anti-intellectualism is not some old WAC Bennett museum artifact, it’s alive and well. Look south. Bobo the clown is POTUS-elect and some of the guys he’s choosing to head up powerful interests like the CIA and Homeland Security belong on padded wards, heavily medicated and wearing restraint jackets. Our own head Twerp has our service members in Ukraine supporting neo-Nazis who wear a swastika like symbol openly on their uniforms… man, it’s hard to stay sane in a world gone mad!
    But at least Horgan was seen on TV news. I was beginning to think he was the Invisible Man.
    Recent reports indicate our First Responders are being hit shockingly hard with PTSD and thoughts of suicide. This indicates a lack of support for them. They deal with some of the worst situations, some of them so bad we can’t even imagine the scene. What has been done to provide “de-briefing” for them, how much free counselling is provided to help them shed the horrors? They’re the ones who run toward disaster when the rest of us are running away to safety and they deserve much more than they’re getting. Horgan and the NDP would do well to investigate this situation and start planning to remediate it when and if they ever manage to not lose an election.

    Susan Quipp

    In regards to the last line of your article, does Horgan (and the NDP) also need some luck in governing too if they should win in May? Wouldn’t a strong, clear progressive platform work better? I think the main problem with the NDP not winning in the past is the one the US Democratic party had in the latest huge fiasco in the US. Both those parties abandoned poor and working class people quite some time ago, by embracing Neoliberal ideology, hoping it would get them a win. They’ve also gotten stuck, it seems to me, in the 80s thinking that any job is to be pushed for, including fossil fuel jobs, completely ignoring the climate crisis. Duhhhh. If they got back to their roots and started supporting sustainable energy generation like solar, wind, geothermal etc and talking about transferring to them the subsidies and favours currently poured into fossil fuel corporations, (part of that pesky Neoliberal agenda) that might be better. If they came out clearly and strongly against pipelines, LNG plants and fracking, fish farming that’s destroying wild salmon stocks and all of which trample Indigenous rights,, then maybe it might give progressives a party to vote for! As it stands now, with all the waffling and sliding around and no really clear platform, except possibly being “nicer” than the slightly more right wing party, then they will very likely lose again in the spring. And we don’t have time for that. The situation now is really desperate. In any case, even if they lose, which I don’t think they would, they’d have made it clear what they stand for and what they oppose. Otherwise, we will probably be stuck with “Harper in a bra” again and then maybe in the next election it’ll be Canada’s more fascist and Canadian version of a Trump winner.


    I suppose that if everyone somehow turns this situation into a chance to refight the teaher’s strike and let’s it turn into an asssessmemt of their love or otherwise of them you are right. I made the rash assumption that voters were brighter than that and not, like you, so partisan as to reject any thinking that might get them on the real subject and have to consider the actual issue.

    Your shallow uncritical loyalty, if common to other voters, will indeed put this airhead and her merry band of, generally, half-wits back in power.

    How foolish of me to think that no matter how much we hate people, we don’t legislate their rights away then waste millions of tax dollars trying to justify our childish petulance.


      Sorry Rafe but Im playing devils advocate here.
      I cant stand the Clark govt and wish a pox on her and her destructive policies.
      But don’t expect that Horgans dated, out of touch pandering to a powerful union that donates generous amounts of money to the NDP will resonate with the average voter out there in Election Land..
      You know.
      The non union, unpensioned, no benefit, McJobs that the average private sector employee suffers through.
      The unions had their heyday in the 1960’s when they made up almost 50% of the labour force.
      15% of the labour force are unionized and the majority of them are govt workers of one sort or another.
      Nope. The average voter looks at the salaries and benefits and GARANTEED pensions of endlessly striking teachers, nurses, ICBC staff, GVRD staff , Skytrain staff , WCB staff, Postal workers , and say, ” You’ve GOT to be kidding me”

      Horgan is beating a dead horse and will lose horribly on May 9th unless he gets new advisors and a campaign strategy that appeals to someone other than his union supporters..


    I’m sorry Rafe but I dont think the BC Teachers Federation victorious Supreme Court of Canada is a bell ringer for the average voting public who see most teachers as well paid, spoiled, whiners who are either constantly ,threatening a strike or on strike….when they’re not abusing sick leave(stress? Bwahahahahaha) or off on another MONTHLY “pro D” day, not to mention the weeks of holidays at Christmas, Spring Break and …oh yes ……the 2 months of Summer…… cry me a river. Teachers do not represent 90% of the population and the Liberals learned that many many elections ago.
    The teachers strike several summers ago was a real stroke of genius. Go on strike at the beginning of the Summer break….yawn. Who cares. But when that strike dragged into the new school year….bingo bango boingo…….any support they had was gone when angry parents(insert voters here) were scrambling to shuttle little Jane or Johnny from home to daycare and vice versa.

    Nah. Horgan is wasting his time using the Teachers Court “victory” as a stump speech. No one cares except teachers.
    And after seeing Horgans tired, uninspiring, hackneyed, rhetoric ladened dull appearance at a rally on the 6pm News Sunday night. I just shook my head.
    As someone tweeted on Laila’s blog.” The NDP were saying the same message in 2005, 2009, 20013….”
    No one is listening.
    The Liberals will win this election blindfolded and gagged, while sitting on their hands because the opposition is stuck in a time warp.


      So many assumptions in your line(s) of reasoning. Look around more often and take notice of the times. Not a pretty picture out there right now and more and more people are asking for changes. Whenever human nature is involved history always repeats.

      The story will resonate with people, hence the way you are trying to discount it. It will resonate with parents, grandparents, former students now voters. This was wrong from the start and money was deliberately funneled to keep the fight alive. This does not show good governance. This was not good for the economy, aside from the legal industry. This was an assault against democracy and our children’s safety & well being by our government. A Premier who under funds public schools and has been increasing funding to private schools. See the way I can spin it.


        So, currently over 80% of EVERY tax dollar taken in by the BC govt goes to …..Health and Education…….and the majority of THAT money goes towards salaries, benefits and pensions for nurses and teachers.
        Their earnings ( on average) are higher than the private sector.
        Their benefits and pensions are more generous.
        Yet we, the voting public are supposed to blindly accept yet another salary increase for nurses or teachers when most in the private sector haven’t had an increase in years…..if at all.

        When will the unions demanding these increases ( while holding the govt to ransom with the threat of yet another strike) be satisfied?

        When they get 100% of every tax dollar?
        Leaving our Courts, our Parks , our police, our firemen, our highways, bridges, Hydro infrastructure , etc etc etc to rot?
        Expecting voters who receive lower salaries, less benefits and no pensions to blindly back an NDP govt that taxes , taxes, taxes…….is the height of hubris .

        As much as I loathe the Liberals and that smirking bimbo that leads them……..

        Time for the NDP to join the 21st century, get out of the back pocket of the unions and represent the MAJORITY of voters out there.
        IF they want to lead after the next election…….


          Do you need to be reminded which government gave them the right to strike?. It wasn’t the NDP. Do you need to be reminded who negotiated a deal that included money to reduce class sizes and provide help for students with difficulties? Do you need to be reminded who decided that she had he right to strip away a mutually agreed upon provision? Do you need to be reminded how many millions have been peed away to satisfy her ego? Do you need to be reminded that all these employees also pay into their pension funds at a ration greater than out MLA’s? Do you need to be reminded that nurses and teachers make the health and education actually work? Do you need to be reminded that their work is hard enough without the green-eyed monster showing up every time some person regrets not getting an education so they could have done better as well?


      Agreed. So far I’ve seen $10/day child care and a ban on grizzly trophy hunting. The first not even believable and hard to sell anyway in a campaign context, the second mostly irrelevant to the vast majority of British Columbians, given the other issues we face. I’m convinced the current NDP are eternally satisfied as opposition MLAs and, far from providing a real alternative for British Columbians, wish simply not to upset the apple cart.

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