British Columbia

B.C. NDP celebrates at convention despite education, forestry and transit unrest

More than 800 party members attended the convention in Victoria, while unhappy teachers rallied outside.

More than 800 party members attended the convention in Victoria, while unhappy teachers rallied outside

B.C. Premier John Horgan, right, stands with T'Sou-ke Nation elder Shirley Alphonse at the B.C. NDP's fall convention in Victoria on Saturday, Nov. 23, 2019. (B.C. NDP/Twitter)

At the B.C. NDP's fall convention in Victoria on Saturday B.C. Premier John Horgan celebrated people, progress and what he calls his party's many achievements over the last two years.

"We have to stand together, fight for the progress we've made, and the good work we have yet to do," Horgan said to more than 800 delegates who came from around the province to vote on policy initiatives the party could adopt.

He talked about his government's achievements, including investments in affordable housing, cracking down on money laundering, raising minimum wage, introducing a climate action plan and becoming the first provincial government to introduce the B.C. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act.

Federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh spoke at the convention. B.C. Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver sent a welcome letter to delegates, which reiterated a commitment to collaboration and good faith between the two parties in the minority government.

"For more than two years this minority government has stood as an example of what is possible when two political parties put aside partisanship, focus on shared values and put the people who elected them front and centre in decision-making," it read.

Delegates at the B.C. NDP convention in Victoria on Saturday Nov. 23, 2019 vote on party resolutions. (B.C. NDP/Twitter)

Worker unrest

Despite the celebratory mood at the convention, outside teachers rallied to draw attention to stalled contract talks.

The B.C. Teachers' Federation said more teachers must be hired, but Education Minister Rob Fleming says the province made efforts to recruit over 900 out-of-province teachers last year and increased funding for all 60 school districts.

Teachers have been without a contract since last June, but no settlement has been reached despite the involvement of a mediator. Talks are expected to resume next month.

The B.C. Public School Employers Association has offered wage hikes of two per cent annually for a three-year term, which keeps with what other public-sector employees have accepted but the teachers' union has rejected the increase.

B.C. Teachers' Federation president Teri Mooring  said that as the Opposition, the New Democrats criticized the former Liberal government's gutting of class size and student- composition provisions from the contract, but now the party is not standing up for public education.

'Labour negotiation'

Horgan said on Saturday that his government is aligned with teachers.

"It's not a dispute about values, it's not a dispute about our passion, our equal passion for education, it's a labour negotiation," he said.

The NDP is also facing a crisis in the province's forestry sector as 25 mills have ceased operating this year, which has left more than 6,000 people out of work.

David Elstone, spokesperson for the B.C. Truck Loggers Association, said Friday that the situation is grim for many families who rely on a healthy sector for their livelihoods.

"It's devastating," he said "People are going to food banks, people's trucks are being repossessed, there's fundraisers. This is for an industry that's been here for over a century. It's been a breadbasket for us. And it's crumbling."

What about the looming bus strike?

    Bus operators in Metro Vancouver are threatening a full scale walk out beginning on Wednesday if a deal is not reached between for a new collective agreement.

    So far B.C. Labour Minister Harry Bains has said that the provincial government will not step into the dispute, advocating instead that the two sides sort out their differences through negotiations.

    Horgan echoed those sentiments on Saturday, saying he is hopeful the two sides will find an agreement before Wednesday.

    "We're working to make sure that we're sending the right signals to people, which is get in the room and negotiate," he said. "That's where the best deals come from. They don't come from any other place. It's the two parties sitting down working out the best way forward and I continue to encourage the union and employer to do just that."

    With files from Canadian Press