Last Friday, Christy Clark, Minister of Education Mike Bernier, and other political mucky-mucks went to Panorama Park Elementary School in Surrey (cynical me points out the school is in a Liberal riding) to announce a $100 million dollar investment into six Surrey schools to add 2,700 student spaces for fast-growing Surrey. From the news section on the Ministry’s website: “Families are making a choice to call Surrey home – and that’s driving incredible growth along with our strong economy,” said the Premier. “We’ve worked together with the Surrey school district to identify key projects and move them ahead quickly to make sure as many classrooms as possible are built for Surrey families and students.” Apparently this work also “builds on the 1,870 seats already under construction in Surrey.”
Truthfully, I have friends with children in the Surrey school system or who work there and I’m glad for them. I’ve heard of their overcrowding with portables taking up sports fields. Surrey’s population growth *is* incredible. In preparing for this post, I was reading a report that the United Way of the Lower Mainland prepared indicating Surrey’s population had nearly doubled in the last two decades, and that was 5 years ago. That’s bonkers.
By comparison, New Westminster’s population was 43,585 in 1991 and in 2011 had risen to 65,976, a difference of 22,391 (source: Stats Canada). So we’ve grown too, but not necessarily as large a percentage as Surrey. But Surrey is also much bigger – 300 square kilometres bigger – (316.4 compared to 15.63 square kilometres), and isn’t as developed as New Westminster. People can choose what neighbourhood they opt to move into in Surrey – sometimes into neighbourhoods that didn’t exist 5 years ago. The Surrey School Board lists 25 different secondary schools on their website. TWENTY FIVE.
New Westminster has a single high school.
I have heard over and over from New Westminster trustees how “we need to be patient”, and “an announcement is imminent”, and assurances that Minister Mike Bernier is “a very nice guy working hard for us”. From the Minister himself, I have heard him say that New Westminster’s high school is a priority.
But I noticed this weekend that there has also been a subtle but important language change: the project went from being “the number one priority” to “a top priority”. Further, Minister Bernier is now commenting that concerns from First Nations and Chinese communities about possible burial sites need to be addressed. For more than a decade – yes, that’s right, a DECADE – the District and the Ministry have been well aware of what’s going on under the ground.
Seriously, you guys. We’ve dealt with this. Local Barb Adamski said it best for me on Twitter the other day:
— Barb Adamski (@BarbAdamski) May 21, 2016
I am losing faith, New West. I feel this community’s kids are at risk because of a bunch of adults are acting like children. I truly do believe the New Westminster school district trustees are working hard, and are as frustrated as I am, but they don’t control the purse strings. What I think is happening here is that New Westminster is being punished because we didn’t vote for a Liberal MLA.
As an aside, I have met Christy Clark, once, in her first few years in office. Despite my public political opinions, I was invited to a “Women in Business” event at her office. There were some modest catered snacks and beverages, and she was quite nice and easy-going with the crowd of women, who were mostly elbowing each other to get closer and have some one-on-one time with her. She made a few light hearted jokes about parenting and being a business woman that I laughed at, but I could tell this wasn’t really an event for me and I didn’t feel the need to work my way through the crowd to speak to her personally. I was too suburban, too politically left, too… skeptical. So I decided to reduce the number of warm bodies in that crowded room and excuse myself. As I was saying my goodbyes and thanks to the staff that had extended the invitation to me, Christy Clark happened to walk by. She shook my hand warmly, asked me about my kids, and wanted to know about my business. The exchange took less than two minutes, but I walked out of there feeling like I had perhaps misjudged her.
There are no such rosy feelings now. Since that day, I have become completely angered over let down after let down, like a stack of blocks one by one by one. I have never been so furious with “the government” ever before in my life.
Maybe our community didn’t donate enough to her topped up salary? Or perhaps our NDP MLA – who I voted for, support, and think is doing a bang up job representing New West – is far too orange for us to get the school we’ve been waiting for for over a decade. Besides, Clark’s privileged son is safe in his $20,000 a year private school, so does the condition that suburban public school children are learning in really matter?
Every day, children in this community and the incredible district staff are subjected to very real risks: hantavirus, asbestos-related diseases, lead poisoning, black mould, and others. And it’s not just the high school, either. Other schools in our community are depending upon this announcement. Two elementary schools are seismically at risk. FW Howay and Richard McBride Elementary (check out the entry for McBride – it notes that the mitigation should start in 2014 – ha ha) are sitting around waiting for the announcement of the new high school so that our other capital projects can get going. To be clear, I have heard different stories on this: our former Superintendent made it clear that the announcements on the elementary schools were absolutely waiting on the high school, other district staff say they are “unrelated”. I maintain that a funding announcement of a New Westminster elementary school before the high school would likely cause a riot.
Last night, a few of the New West twitter folks had a chat about this. Brad Cavanagh said something that really stuck with me.
@KailieACrosby it’s a shame we have to pit district vs district.
— Brad Cavanagh (@CanSpice) May 25, 2016
It *is* such a shame! Why am I managing feelings of anger about this and having to remind myself that Surrey needs schools, too? Why am I so angry and cynical with a government and talking about home schooling my child? Our children have a right to a safe, heathy learning environment, and it is clear that this government disagrees.
So, Surrey, I get it that you needed schools. I get it that you are suffering from horrific overcrowding in your schools and that you really needed this announcement. Good on you, and congrats. Enjoy those schools. I hope they are filled with learning, community, and social connections.
But here in New West, enough is enough. Things have got to change. I urge you to join the Rebuild NWSS Now Facebook page and get involved. Surrey families took their plight to Victoria, and I think we have to start putting the pressure on. The BC Legislature doesn’t sit again till October. But we need to get organized now.