Opinion Column

BC Liberals ignore Vancouver school safety

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

Lord Strathcona Elementary in Vancouver is one of the province's oldest schools. (FILE PHOTO, 24 HOURS)

Lord Strathcona Elementary in Vancouver is one of the province's oldest schools. (FILE PHOTO, 24 HOURS)

"We learn geology the day after the earthquake." - Ralph Waldo Emerson, American poet, 1803-1882

If a major earthquake hits British Columbia in the next 10 years, killing children in schools that collapsed because the provincial government didn’t make seismic upgrades a priority – there will be hell to pay.

But for now, it’s the BC Liberal government that doesn’t want to pay.

Last week, it once again delayed completion of $2.2 billion in necessary work required to ensure our schools are safe, saying the previous deadline of 2020 will be extended to 2025 for B.C.

And for 69 Vancouver schools judged to be a high risk to collapse in an earthquake and their thousands of students, the delay for urgently needed seismic upgrades is an extra five years – until 2030.

That’s unacceptable, except to Premier Christy Clark’s government.

Amazingly, Education Minister Peter Fassbender delivered this devastating news by blaming the Vancouver School Board for the delays, while denying the B.C. government was responsible – even though they supply all the funding.

"What has been an issue is the inability of the Vancouver School Board to bring forward good initiatives that are bathed in good science and good engineering," Fassbender said Friday.

Vancouver School Board trustee Patti Bacchus told 24 Hours during an interview on Sunday that Fassbender’s excuses don’t hold up.

“It’s a lack of a sense of urgency by the government – if we all work together, it can be done,” Bacchus said. “There’s no motivation for us to hold this up – kids and parents deserve safe buildings.”

Clark previously claimed fixing schools was her top priority.

“Absolutely, nothing is more important than keeping our kids safe,” Clark said in April 2013, announcing new seismic upgrade funding.

But since then things changed. And when the inevitable big shaker happens, parents will ask why a new half-billion-dollar roof on BC Place came first instead of their children’s lives.

Should it be a surprise that B.C., with Canada’s worst record on child poverty for most of the past decade, is equally negligent on making sure students don’t get killed in an earthquake?

Perhaps not. But it’s a question that is worth asking.

Regardless, there’s a special place in hell for politicians who don’t protect our children – let’s not find out exactly where that is the hard way.

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



Who do you believe is most responsible for delays in seismically upgrading B.C. schools for earthquakes?

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