Education has remained a background issue in this election campaign with the NDP maintaining more of a stay-the-course platform in the issue.
School safety and improving online education options in light of the COVID-19 are common themes across the platforms of all three main parties, with varying commitments to build new schools in growing districts.
NDP: The party promises to fast-track improvements in online and remote learning, things parents have been critical of in government’s pandemic response. The NDP’s pandemic-related commitments include the installation of new ventilation systems in schools, Plexiglas barriers and increased hours of cleaning. The party also promises to continue building new schools in the “largest modernization of schools in B.C.’s history,” after years of neglect under the B.C. Liberals.
B.C. Liberals: The party’s key pandemic-related promise is to include hybrid online and in-person education options for public and independent schools or independent learning to “ensure consistent options for full-time regular school in a safe setting during the pandemic.” And in a similar vein to its NDP rivals, the Liberals promise upgrades to K-12 facilities to keep them properly equipped and build new schools with an emphasis of expansion in areas of rapid population growth.
B.C. Greens: The Greens unveiled a more ambitious platform to begin a “redesign (of) our education system,” but starts with a COVID-related commitment to fund schools at 100 per cent of their 2019-20 operating grants, regardless of lower enrolments, maintain extra PPE spending and ensure schools have the resources to develop “credible and robust remote learning,” including hybrid options. Its big-ticket spending options include $300 million a year, rising to $550 million, to begin phasing in up to 25 hours a week of early childhood education for three and four year olds and $100 million a year to build early childhood education spaces in schools.
Sanjay Jeram, a senior lecturer in political science at Simon Fraser University, said education was a bigger issue in the 2017 election, following 16 years of Liberals governments, and might not be seen as a big driver of votes this time around.
“The last election, that was an area that the NDP was able to successfully win an argument,” Jeram, said, so the party is maintaining a “stay the course platform,” comfortable running on its record of the past three years, banking on voters having nothing to be unhappy about.
“The NDP is almost, in some ways, on education and child care, attacking the Liberal legacy of those years in power. They’re not attacking (the Liberals’) platform now.”
This time, while B.C. Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson is willing to attack the NDP’s John Horgan for his government’s failure to reduce the number of portable classrooms in high-growth school district such as Surrey, he likely doesn’t want to delve too deeply in his party’s past, Jeram said before the Green party’s release of its platform.
Building classrooms to eliminate portables is a key issue for a lot of parents, “that’s why they’re actually responding to education in that infrastructure piece,” said Shinder Purewal, a professor in political science at Kwantlen Polytechnic University.
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