The B.C. government will appeal a court ruling that restored provisions stripped from teachers’ contracts in 2002.
Education Minister Peter Fassbender said Justice Susan Griffin’s decision centred on the interests of the B.C. Teachers’ Federation and “not student’s needs.”
The government, he said, has to balance the union’s interests against the best interests of students, families and taxpayers. “That is what our government has always done and will continue to do – and that is why we will appeal Justice Griffin’s decision,” he said.
Despite that, Fassbender insisted that government still hopes to negotiate a 10-year deal with teachers.
“I’m not declaring war, our government is not,” he said. “The premier is clear: We want to find a solution.”
But BCTF president Jim Iker said the decision to appeal reveals a government that thinks it’s above the law.
“It’s sad, disappointing, but entirely predictable from a government that cannot be trusted to put education before politics,” he said. “This is the same government that deliberately tried to shut down B.C. schools with a strike.”
Iker said that instead of appealing the court decision, Premier Christy Clark should be chastened by the court’s finding that her government tried to provoke a stike in 2012 in a calculated move to gain political support.
“It was outrageous, cynical and British Columbians should be angry,” Iker said. “Christy Clark owes all of us – teachers, students and parents – an apology. “And by appealing Justice Griffin’s ruling, it’s clear they haven’t changed. Clark’s government doesn’t want stability.”
In legal terms, Fassbender said the government disagrees with Griffin’s interpretation of previous Supreme Court of Canada decisions dealing with freedom of association.
He said the government does not believe the Charter right gives the BCTF the ability to override government’s duty to make fiscal and policy decisions.
“We are looking for clarity,” he said. “Governments have to be able to govern. We have to be able to put regulations and policies in place that ensure the best interests of not only the union and their members, but also the taxpayers.”
Fassbender also said Griffin’s decision as it stands would cost the government “upwards of $1 billion,” is “completely unaffordable for taxpayers” and would create huge distruptions in schools. But he stressed that the government’s appeal is not motivated by costs.
“It’s not about the money,” he said. “We want to be at the bargaining table. We recognize that dollars are involved, but that is not why we’re appealing.”
The B.C. Teachers’ Federation won a $2-million judgment against the government for interfering in teachers’ rights to negotiate smaller class sizes and additional supports for special needs students. Griffin found that the Liberal government twice used unconstitutional legislation to prevent teachers’ from negotiating working conditions.
She also concluded that the Liberal government tried to provoke a teachers’ strike two years ago so that it could impose legislation and try to win political support.
The decision restored contract language that specifies smaller classes and a higher number of librarians, counsellors and learning assistance teachers.
Griffin noted, however, that the language is not carved in stone will be the subject of ongoing negotiations.