Given how important education is to the public, it has always surprised me how unpopular the BCTF has been. For the first time it this seems this is changing. The one person that will carry the responsibility for this government PR loss will be the minister of education Peter Fassbender
In the last week, as the school year was supposed to be starting, it has been the government that has been very much on the media defensive. The call by the BCTF for arbitration was a smart move because in refusing to take that option the government looks like they are not interested in settling.
I am seeing more and more people who are not long term BCTF supporters or allies speaking out on behalf of the teachers side of the strike. For the first time I am seeing real grass roots support for the BCTF.
What will a public relations loss mean for the government? It is hard to say because it is 32 months till the next election which is a very long time in politics. What is not a very far away is the ability to recall MLAs. I think Peter Fassbender may by in trouble and could be recalled.
Recall in BC is not easy but it can be done. You need to get 40% of the eligible voters sign a petition to recall the MLA. We have had one successful recall in BC and two more that came reasonably close out of a total of about 12 serious attempts. The two close attempts failed primarily because of bad organization.
The last time recall was used in BC was in relation to the HST, I thought the whole approach that time made little or no sense because the MLAs targeted were not the core people behind the HST. The decision to go after Ida Chong was not a smart one. People argued that because the 2009 election result was close she would be easier to recall, I did not think that would matter. The recalls failed because the targets were not the culpable ring leaders of the HST. They also failed because there was going to be a referendum on the HST, they had achieved what they wanted so the recalls looked petty.
In 2014/15 I do think a recall against Peter Fassbender could succeed. The way the government has handled the strike with the BCTF has been less than stellar and much of that will fall on Christy Clark as premier and Peter Fassbender as minister of education. The obvious recall target is the minister of education.
Surrey Fleetwood, Peter Fassbender's riding, was a close race in 2013, he won by 200 votes over Jagrup Brar. This means it is not a hardcore right wing anti-union area. Peter Fassbender starts any recall campaign as a less popular Liberal MLA than most. If he were the target of a purely partisan anti-Liberal recall I do not think he would be in trouble, but in the wake of the strike this would not be the case.
Surrey Fleetwood had 35,692 registered voters in the last election. If we assume some growth since then there are likely around 36,500 registered voters now. To recall Peter Fassbender there would have to be 14,600 valid signatures, about 165 per day during a recall campaign. This is achievable given a legitimate reason to target him and the demographics of the riding.
One factor that will have an impact on any recall against Fassbender is that a lot of youth will be motivated to be active and sign any recall petition. In Surrey Fleetwood the youth that were in Grade 12 last year and are in Grade 12 this year are enough to be more than 10% of the signatures required to recall the MLA. As the year goes along more and youth in Grade 12 this year will be eligible to sign the petition.
It is not just the youth that would now be old enough sign the petition that would make the recall of the minister education easier in Surrey Fleetwood. Overall the riding has a significantly higher percentage of children at home than the provincial average. 36.7% of the riding population are kids living with their parents, province wide this figure is 29.6% This means more people are directly affected by the strike. Finding people willing to sign the petition should be easier than elsewhere in this specific case..
The only thing that works in Fassbender's favour is a mythology in this province that recall is impossible. As long as a lot of people believe that he should be safe, but if people look at the real stats and understand the unique situation of Surrey Fleetwod, the recall of the minister of education becomes probable.
What Peter Fassbender and the government need to protect him from any serious recall attempt is to settle with the BCTF soon and have the union happy. This does not seem likely to me.