VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – The Supreme Court of Canada will hear an appeal from the BC Teachers’ Federation over provincial legislation that blocked it from negotiating class size and composition.
The BCTF is appealing a decision by the province’s court of appeal, which said the legislation did not violate their rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The appeal court overturned a lower court finding in favour of the teachers.
The legislation has resulted in bitter labour strife between the teachers and the provincial government.
The struggle included a long legal battle and school strikes.
As is usual in leave-to-appeal rulings, the Supreme Court gave no reasons for its decision to hear the case.
BC Education Minister Mike Bernier has released the following statement:
“We’ve always said that the BCTF’s application to have their case heard in the Supreme Court of Canada is part of the democratic process. We are confident in our legal position and appreciate any further guidance the court may provide.
“Regardless of the court challenge, we are working collaboratively with the BCTF to implement the new curriculum and ensure teachers are trained to deliver its benefits to students. It’s worth noting that since the last round of bargaining government’s relationship with the BCTF has never been better.
“BC students rank first amongst all English speaking countries in reading, science and math in international testing. We will keep working with the BCTF so students benefit from making our great education system even better. As for the details of the case, as it is before the courts, it would be inappropriate to comment further.”
Bernier says he respects the BCTF’s right to an appeal, and hopes regardless of the decision, the outcome brings certainty for parents, government and educators going forward.
“I think everybody, parents, everyone in the province wants to make sure that we have certainty, that’s why we have a legal process. I’m going to respect that legal process, but as I said, while we’re going through that, that doesn’t stop what we’re doing, which is the great work here in BC.”
Bernier also emphasizing the relationship with teachers has improved greatly since the labour dispute.
BCTF President Jim Iker agrees with Bernier’s statement that the province and union have a good relationship.
“Currently, we have a good relationship with our government… in terms of the curriculum revisions that we’re working on, working on a replacement provincial FSA that we’re working on,” says Iker.
“While the relationship is good, we still have a responsibility to continue advocating for our students in our classrooms and for more funding. That’s still the disagreement that we have with this government — the amount of funding that we need to properly address the needs of our students.”
“It’s always positive to be able to have a good working relationship with whichever government is in power. The fact that we do have a good relationship in some areas… is positive. But in the meanwhile, we can’t lose sight of our responsibility to advocate on behalf of our students, on behalf of public education, and behalf of our memebers,” says Iker.
“[The Supreme Court of Canada has] accepted our leave to hear this case. It has nothing to do [with] the relationship between us and government. What this has to do with is legal arguments [regarding] whether governments — not only in British Columbia, but across this country — have the right to unilaterally strip collective bargaining provisions by just saying all they have to do is talk with you. Especially when it comes to our case [which] rests on the issue of class size and composition. This is about legal arguments. It’s about constitutional rights. It’s about full, free collective bargaining.”
Should teachers have the right to negotiate how big their classes are and what type of students they teach? Reporter Martin MacMahon discusses the topic at length: