Activists and allies: Falcon woos student protesters

No appointment necessary if you're LTS students who want to see the MLA about more funding to build new Surrey schools.

You’ve got to hand it to Kevin Falcon.

Just days after narrowly losing his bid for B.C.’s top political job, the three-time Surrey-Cloverdale MLA was back in the trenches doing constituency work.

Last Friday found him tossing out his schedule so he could swing by the office to meet with a bunch of teens armed with protest signs (and at least one acoustic guitar) who’d been holding court outside his Cloverdale office.

The students had been part of a much larger protest earlier in the day, when several hundred students at Lord Tweedsmuir Secondary staged a morning walkout at the sound of the first bell.

Hangers-on had been kicked off school grounds at lunch time because they refused to go back to class.

So about 60 of them decided to walk to their MLA’s office in search of a sympathetic ear.

This being Cloverdale, they didn’t have far to go. But kudos that many of them not only knew who their MLA is, but also the location of his constituency office.

Where others in his position might have hid out or blown them off, Falcon and his staff invited the students in. Nearly all of them crowded into his boardroom, where he took their questions – and suggestions – for about 45 minutes.

Mostly, he listened.

If he was disappointed or disillusioned by the loss to Christy Clark, it didn’t show, even when they grilled him about the HST or why the government can pay for a new roof for B.C. Place but not build new Surrey high schools so obviously needed.

Ever the seasoned politician, Falcon got in a few talking points of his own – including the $240 million Surrey Outpatient Hospital.

He kept the dialogue moving, offering constructive advice on how best to lobby, suggesting the students come up with three or four (brief) short-term solutions, email them to the board of education chair, and cc a copy to him.

Their alternatives to split timetables included reactivating old portables, and teachers sharing classrooms during spares.

After committing to a follow-up meeting when one of the students buttoned him down, Falcon offered his congratulations for taking a stand, even if it meant cutting classes.

“What you’ve done today, I really commend you for it,” he told the students.

Then he offered an observation: “I want you all to know that as you go forward in life, that your voice and your individual determination to change something makes a big difference. History is full of people that made a difference because they took the action.”

It would be a shame if the students were severely punished for speaking out because they skipped class.

It’s clear they learned a valuable lesson outside the classroom last week: namely, students have a voice and they have a right, even a duty, to use it.

No one can disagree that the financial situation facing B.C.’s largest, fastest-growing school district is a serious matter that requires tough decisions, and quickly, please.

One of the Lord Tweedsmuir students told Falcon there needs to be a way for those affected most by education – students themselves – to have that voice formally included in the decision-making process.

A students’ caucus or youth commission reporting to the education ministry – heck, how about the legislature as a whole – would be a great way to include B.C.’s youth in the political process.

Meantime, as cramped as their learning environment may be, we needn’t worry about the quality of education being served up in – and outside – of Cloverdale’s schools. Read today’s letters pages if you need more proof.

And Mr. Falcon, if this whole politics thing doesn’t work out, you could always consider going into teaching.

Just a thought.