Premier Christy Clark and Education Minister Peter Fassbender address reporters at a press conference in Vancouver

Premier Christy Clark and Education Minister Peter Fassbender address reporters at a press conference in Vancouver

B.C. says teachers’ ruling was wrong

B.C. says court ruling at heart of teachers' dispute wrong, denies bad faith

  • Sep. 7, 2014 5:00 p.m.

By James Keller, The Canadian Press

VANCOUVER – A court ruling at the centre of British Columbia’s protracted teachers’ strike, which has delayed the school year for half a million students, robs the government of its ability to set education policy, the province argues in documents related to an upcoming appeal.

The provincial government also denies a judge’s conclusion that it provoked a strike during the previous round of bargaining — a finding that has only worsened the already caustic relationship between teachers and the province.

A B.C. Supreme Court judge has twice ruled the province violated teachers’ charter rights when it passed legislation in 2002 that removed hundreds of clauses related to class size and class composition from their collective agreement and prohibited those issues from being bargained in the future. The rulings retroactively restored the deleted clauses.

The most recent court decision was issued this past January, and the province immediately announced an appeal. A hearing is set to begin Oct. 14.

The province says in its written arguments that it should be free to pass legislation on issues of public policy, such as how classes are structured.

“Government considers class-size limits, formulas and staffing ratios to be an inefficient means of allocating funding, unresponsive to actual school need, and restrictive in terms of the ability of school districts to offer a range of school programming,” the government says in a factum filed with the B.C. Court of Appeal.

“The issue with the deleted clauses, accordingly, is not simply how much money should be spent on K-12 education but how it is to be spent and who should make such decisions.”

The court case has emerged as one of the main sticking points in the current strike, which closed schools two weeks before the end of the previous school year and has now delayed the start of classes.

The court first ruled the government had violated teachers’ rights in a 2011 decision, which restored the contact provisions that were deleted nine years earlier.

The B.C. government passed legislation designed to respond to the court decision the following year, once again removing the contract clauses. The teachers’ union responded with another legal challenge, which resulted in a second decision in favour of the union in January.

Practically, the court case factors into the current dispute in two ways.

First, if the court ruling is upheld, teachers could file labour grievances alleging their contract was breached, which the government has said could cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

Second, the union argues the provisions that were deleted in 2002 should be considered the starting point for negotiating the next contract.

But the case also carries significant symbolic weight for teachers, who have had a troubled relationship with successive B.C. governments, both under the governing Liberals and, in the 1990s, the New Democrats.

The judge in the case examined hundreds of pages of confidential cabinet documents and concluded the government devised a strategy during negotiations in 2012 to provoke a strike. The judge said the goal was to give the government political cover to pass legislation ordering teachers back to work while also maintaining the contract changes imposed in 2002.

Teachers did, in fact, walk out for three days in 2012 and the government subsequently used legislation to end the dispute, but the province insists it bargained in good faith.

“The trial judge’s reference to (government negotiator Paul) Straszak’s ‘strategy of increasing the pressure on the union so as to provoke a strike’ is a mischaracterization of the evidence,” say the government’s written arguments, parts of which have been redacted to protect cabinet confidentiality.

The B.C. Teachers’ Federation’s written arguments, filed in late August, say the judge was correct to conclude the government bargained in bad faith in 2012.

The document says the trial judge was also correct in finding the province violated teachers’ collective bargaining rights by using legislation to remove contract provisions.

“There was no bargaining in 2006 or 2012 concerning the working conditions reflected in the deleted clauses,” says the union’s appeal factum.

“That was because the unconstitutional legislation of the government prohibited such bargaining.”

The union says the typical approach in negotiations has been to leave most of the previous contract intact when shaping the next collective agreement.

The federation argues the teachers’ current contract would be much different had the government not stripped provisions related to class size and class composition in 2002.

After the Appeal Court hears the case, a decision could be months away. Regardless of the outcome, the case will likely be appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Follow @ByJamesKeller on Twitter

Just Posted

The BC Ferries’ website is down for the second time in one week from what they say is likely an overwhelming increase in web traffic. (Black Press Media file photo)
Surging web traffic crashes BC Ferries’ site again

Website down for second time this week

BC Housing has brought in sanitation trailers to the former Mount Tolmie Hospital site so its current residents can access clean water, showers, sinks and toilets after a collapsed sewer pipe impacted water service to the building. (Google Streetview)
Mount Tolmie Hospital homelessness shelter using sanitation trailers after pipe collapse

Travelodge shelter residents faced intermittent hot water supply in late May, early June

Numerous Esquimalt residents can now build a detached accessory suite of up to 65 square metres in their backyard. (Township of Esquimalt)
Backyard suites now legal for some Esquimalt properties

One unit of up to 65 square metres now permitted for eligible residents

COVID-19 exposures have been reported at Colquitz Middle School and Tillicum Elementary School, both on June 14. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh, File)
Two Saanich schools report COVID-19 exposures

Exposures reported at Colquitz Middle School and Tillicum Elementary School

Staff will be reviewing public feedback from second-stage designs for cycling infrastructure in James Bay, part of the City of Victoria’s 32-kilometre network. (Black Press Media file photo)
Victoria sends James Bay bike lanes choice to next phase

Design modifications based on community input to be delivered to council this summer

People line up to get their COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre, Thursday, June 10, 2021 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Vaccines, low COVID case counts increase Father’s Day hope, but risk is still there

Expert says people will have to do their own risk calculus before popping in on Papa

(Black Press Media file photo)
POLL: When was the last time you visited the mainland?

The films are again lighting the screens at local theatres, the wine… Continue reading

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of June 15

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

John Furlong told the Vancouver Board of Trade on Feb. 20, 2020 that he thinks the city could and should bid for the 2030 Winter Games. (CP photo)
PODCAST: John Furlong lays out a ‘provincial’ plan to host the 2030 Winter Olympics

Podcast: Chat includes potential role for Vancouver Island communities

The Co-op gas station at Whiskey Creek is burning after a camper van exploded while refueling just before 4 p.m. on Thursday, June 17, 2021. (FACEBOOK PHOTO)
Exploding camper van torches Highway 4 gas station between Qualicum Beach and Port Alberni

Highway traffic blocked after Whiskey Creek gas station erupts into flames

Photos displayed at a vigil for former Nanaimo outreach worker Amy Watts, whose body was found June 3 and whose death RCMP are investigating as a homicide. (News Bulletin photo)
‘We need to do better,’ says mother of woman killed in Nanaimo

Vigil held for former outreach worker Amy Watts, whose body was found downtown June 3

The pilot of this single-engine propeller plane was unhurt after crash-landing in a Como Road orchard Friday, June 18. Photo: Laurie Tritschler
Plane crash lands into Grand Forks orchard, pilot injured

RCMP have secured the crash site, pending investigation by Transport Canada

Wild rabbits are all over Chilliwack, but people often think they’re someone’s lost pet and try to ‘save’ them. But the owner of Chilliwack’s Reptile Room says good intentions can have bad consequences for wild animals. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Owner of Chilliwack’s Reptile Room asks people to leave wild animals in the wild

Amber Quiring says people who think they’re helping are actually doing more harm than good

A tenant walks in front of her home on Boundary Road on Friday, June 18, 2021 after it was destroyed by fire the night before in Chilliwack. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
Family homeless after fire rips through Chilliwack house

Turtle rescued, no one seriously hurt following Boundary Road fire in Chilliwack

Most Read