Opinion Column

Blackout violation threatens BCTF deal

By Bill Tieleman, News, Views, and Attitude – 24 hours

Education Minister Peter Fassbender. (FILE PHOTO/24 HOURS)

Education Minister Peter Fassbender. (FILE PHOTO/24 HOURS)

“It’s good to shut up sometimes.” — French mime Marcel Marceau

Education Minister Peter Fassbender knows his reading, writing and arithmetic. And Fassbender knows that last week he flagrantly broke an agreement by both sides in the teachers’ strike to observe a media blackout so bargaining would take place at the negotiating table — not via press release.

What Fassbender may not know or care about is that he has seriously hurt the chances of B.C. students getting back to classes on Sept. 2 by jeopardizing negotiations at a critical juncture, with veteran mediator Vince Ready finally considering joining the talks.

Fassbender is not only education minister, he is also a trained professional communicator — an ex-senior executive at DDB Canada, a big marketing and communications firms.

And then there is this clear joint statement issued Aug. 14 by the BC Teachers’ Federation and the BC Public School Employers’ Association: “The parties agreed that they will not engage in public discussion pending further discussions with Mr. Ready.”

But last Thursday, Fassbender was talking to media about not only bargaining issues, but actually provoking the BCTF and launching a new $350,000 website that furthers the government’s bargaining position.

So let’s completely rule out the possibility that Fassbender made an inadvertent mistake in violating the media blackout.

Furthermore – and I say this as a former B.C. Federation of Labour communications director – nobody in labour relations misunderstands the meaning of the words “media blackout.”

The BC Liberal government approach also immediately damaged the fragile relationship between BCTF president Jim Iker and Fassbender-appointed BCPSEA negotiator Peter Cameron, just when establishing some trust is most needed.

If Cameron’s bosses don’t honour his word, why would the BCTF believe him, no matter how sincere?

And only a professional communicator like Fassbender could keep a straight face while delivering lines like this to CKNW’s Michael Smyth on Thursday: “I am absolutely respecting the media blackout on details of negotiations.”

This dubious tactic will likely backfire – because now whatever happens in negotiations, parents will rightly see the government as having played chicken with their kids’ education.

Risking the strike continuing into mid-October is more evidence that the government’s real target is teachers and their union, not reaching a negotiated agreement so school starts on time.

It’s a no-class approach.

Bill Tieleman is a former NDP strategist. Read more at http://billtieleman.blogspot.com Email: weststar@telus.net Twitter: @BillTieleman



Do you agree or disagree that Education Minister Peter Fassbender breaking the media blackout on negotiations with teachers will hurt chances of a deal?

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