Greater Vancouver Teachers Association – Interview with Andrew Weaver

Below is a report from the GVTA on their meeting with the Green Party leader:

On March 10, 2017, Katherine O’Connor and Robin Tosczak, both members of the Greater Victoria Teachers’ Association, met with Green Party leader Andrew Weaver in his office at the Legislature. They had requested the meeting as part of their advocacy work for the GVTA in the run-up to the May 9 election. Weaver, the Green Party’s only MLA, represents the riding of Oak Bay-Gordon Head, which is located within the GVTA’s school district. They also met with NDP Education Critic Rob Fleming, MLA for Victoria-Swan Lake. The purpose of both meetings was to discuss current issues in public education, to raise concerns shared by teachers, and to learn more about the NDP and Green Party platforms.

The meeting got off to an awkward start when Weaver asked the teachers which schools they worked at. Weaver said that a good friend, with whom he is writing a book, teaches at the same school as Tosczak. He couldn’t remember his friend’s name, or what grade she teaches, so made Tosczak recite the staff list until she arrived at the name of Weaver’s co-author.

With the introductory pleasantries out of the way, Weaver and the teachers sat down. He opened by saying: “So do you have questions for me, or should I just start?” In the moment that it took Tosczak and O’Connor to glance at one another, he abruptly began with a series of platitudes about the importance of education, how children are the future, etc.

O’Connor then took the opportunity to ask about cuts to adult education and reduced opportunities for adults to upgrade skills and improve their employment prospects. Weaver replied that he would not reveal details of the party’s platform because “the people in this building [the Legislature] steal ideas.” (The teachers were reminded of Christy Clark’s assertions that “Victoria is a toxic place.”) He alluded to the idea that pre-school, K-12, adult education, and post-secondary should be integrated into a single system, and suggested that the teachers read his recent blog post.

Seeking to move to a new topic, O’Connor suggested that “private schools have become quite a hot topic …” Before she could ask her question, Weaver launched into his version of the history of public and private schooling in BC and Northern Ireland, emphasizing the need for separate school systems to avoid sectarian strife. He summarized the need for a publicly funded private school system by saying “the important thing is choice.”

Weaver asserted some families need to choose private school because they have been failed by the public system. He gave the example of his own son, now in university, who the family enrolled in private school following a negative experience in Grade 4. Weaver angrily expressed his personal frustrations with his son’s former teacher, the GVTA, and the BCTF. “This teacher failed my kid, real bad.”

There was little opportunity for the teachers to respond. They tried to de-escalate the atmosphere in the meeting and turn it onto a more productive footing. However, it was not possible to steer Weaver off of his personal narrative about bad teachers and the local and provincial unions. His tone of voice and body language made it clear that he was angry that the GVTA had filed a grievance to try to support their member.

“The GVTA grieves everything. That’s all you do is grieve, grieve, grieve. It’s the wrong approach.” He said that “the BCTF has some responsibility for this because you protect these bad teachers.”

Weaver’s view that the union is overly zealous in its support for members led him to his only comments on the BCTF’s recent win at the Supreme Court, and the subsequent restoration of contract language.  “The really bad thing about this Supreme Court situation is hiring all these new teachers all at once. It’s a big mistake. It’s no way to run a school system.”

After approximately 20 minutes, this section of the meeting seemed to have run its course, and O’Connor was able to ask a question about sanctuary school policies to ensure students with precarious immigration status are able to access school without fear of deportation. Weaver was not familiar with this issue, but committed to learning more and agreed that a provincial approach would be appropriate.

The teachers left the meeting feeling shocked and surprised by the disrespectful treatment they experienced. Weaver had dominated the meeting with angry assertions and personal feelings about teachers, the GVTA, and the BCTF, and allowed very little space for them to respond or ask questions. He paid only slight attention to policy and showed very little interest in hearing from O’Connor and Tosczak about teachers’ experience in public education.

Following the meeting, Tosczak and O’Connor reported to the GVTA executive and the BCTF AGM. They felt that it was important to inform colleagues about Weaver’s negative attitudes towards teachers and public education. Many British Columbians perceive the Greens as a progressive party but many of their policies are libertarian and not aligned with the values people think they represent.