Teachers weren’t laughing when they heard the joke Premier Christy Clark made at their expense during a speech here Wednesday.
The premier opened her talk at a Penticton and Wine Country Chamber of Commerce luncheon by thanking those who’d given her and cabinet members a warm welcome during their retreat in the South Okanagan.
“I guess there’s a welcoming committee outside today as well,” she continued, acknowledging the group of teachers demonstrating on the sidewalk at the resort.
“It took them awhile to find us. We were here for three days. So I hope none of them are teaching geography,” Clark said, drawing a round of laughter and applause.
The head of the Okanagan Skaha Teachers’ Union didn’t find the quip quite so funny.
“To make teachers a laughing stock when they’re the ones that are fighting for the kids’ future here in the province, that’s just disgusting,” said Leslea Woodward.
“You don’t win teachers’ respect by insulting them.”
Clark didn’t address the remark when she spoke to reporters afterwards, but said she’s optimistic a deal can be reached to avoid a continuation of the teachers’ strike and ensure schools open as planned on Sept. 2.
“We spent some substantial time the last couple days as a cabinet talking about how we could get there, because we have a lot in common: We all want teachers to get a raise, we all want to address these issues with class composition so kids can learn better, and we all want labour peace.
“That’s a pretty good starting point,” Clark said.
The premier added her government is still “open to mediation,” but not unless teachers moderate their demands first.
“The teachers’ union understands where the settlement zone is. Once we get a little closer and they get into that zone, I think mediation can work,” she said.
Woodward countered that it’s the government that needs to adjust its demands.
“Our wage proposal is well within the settlement zone, so are all our other proposals,” she said.
“We’re still willing to make some moves, but we’ve made some significant moves already.”
Woodward said teachers are also willing to accept an interim deal while the B.C. government appeals a lower court ruling that went in the union’s favour.
In the meantime, she said, parents should research for themselves what teachers’ have proposed and encourage the B.C. government to find compromise.
“We would hope that more of the public are going to realize when we’re getting closer to Sept. 2 — the date school begins — and there’s no deal, that there’s some pressure put on,” she said.