This is the Life: B.C. government’s promise of $40/day/student is clever, but not wise

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“Always keep your foes confused. If they are never certain who you are or what you want, they cannot know what you are like to do next.”

It’s almost as though George R.R. (Game of Thrones) Martin was writing not in The Storm of Swords, but about the Christy Clark B.C. government. What better way to explain the recent announcement that parents of children 13 and under will get $40 a day per kid if the teachers’ strike extends into the new school year?

If you like your government clever, and not wise, you might just find something to like about the finance minister’s announcement. Personally, I fall on the side of Oscar Wilde, who wrote in The Importance of Being Earnest, “I am sick to death of cleverness. Everybody is clever nowadays.” If Wilde thought cleverness was a problem in his day, he’d gone nuts trying to understand how exactly we put up with the nonsense that comes disguised as government today.

There are any number of ways to spin the rebate, supposedly intended for day care or tutoring (or, better yet, to encourage parents to enroll their kids in private schools in the hope the cheques will keep rolling in), but none of them remotely resembles anything that might pass for wisdom. Sure, the announcement pokes striking/holidaying teachers with a sharp stick. And it removes any temptation the government itself might have to pour the strike-fed savings back into the education system. Because they would rather use sacrifice the welfare of students than do anything that might look like teachers are benefiting.

I generally assume that modern governments don’t take any step without testing ideas with public opinion polls, but I can’t help but feel that Clark woke up in the middle of night having given birth to this brain twister, and that finance minister Mike de Jong (not typically the dumbest guy in the room) responded with an uncharacteristic “Thy will be done” and called for a press conference.

Christy Clark is a private school supporter. She’s made that clear in countless ways, including being one of the few Liberals who will actually admit that their kids are too good for public education. So maybe this clever scheme is meant to nothing more than divert another few percentage points of students into the private sector. A few per cent shifts millions of dollars in funding out of the public system and solidifies the support of those who think the purpose of education is to prepare children to become producers and consumers. It’s hard to know whether that line of thought is actually growing in numbers — known as votes in political speak — but it is apparent that they are financially powerful, and donations buy votes, don’t they?

The wisdom of a system that allows workers to withhold services in the absence of a contract is that it forces the public to express its opinions. Teaching might not be the best loved profession in the province, but it almost certainly is held in higher esteem than political life, so Clark’s scheme is assuredly intended to appease parents. Here’s your money back. The big bad teachers aren’t doing their jobs so your nice government is returning what we ding you in taxes.

Unfortunately, parents of kids 13 and under aren’t the only taxpayers in the province. People like me pay taxes, happily, to fund public education because we know that we were beneficiaries and we believe that it makes for a better society. But people like me might be much less enthusiastic about seeing the education portion of our taxes going not into schools, but into the pockets of a select few, who can use that money as they choose. For the economy, the result will be a wash — the money will circulate much like it would if it was going to pay teachers. So the basic premise is clever.

But the act of handing cash back to parents does nothing whatsoever to address the need for kids to be in school (and not sitting alone in front of a computer doing on-line courses), learning how to socialize and function in society. To bridge the huge gap between this provincial government and our public school teachers, for the benefit of our children, will take wisdom, not cleverness.

Lorne Eckersley is the publisher of the Creston Valley Advance.