BC government's disrespectful treatment of teachers takes a heavy toll

Photo from BCTF Facebook page

On Tuesday, the British Columbia government decided it will appeal a damning BC Supreme Court ruling on January 27 that said the province has grossly violated the bargaining rights of teachers and Canada's constitution since 2002.

In an action suit brought by the BC Teachers Federation in 2012, court voided the 2002 legislation that stripped teachers of the right to bargain class sizes and special education services, and which interfered in other ways with the right to collective bargaining.

This is the second such victory by the union. A similar favourable ruling was won by the union in April 2011, but the Liberal government of Premier Christy Clark responded to that rebuke by simply writing a new law (Bill 22, in February 2012) that was identical in its essentials to the unconstitutional laws from 2002.

The ruling by Justice Susan Griffin means that the actions of education authorities since 2002 are now subject to review and appeal. The judge also awarded $2 million in damages to the BCTF.

Education Minister Peter Fassbender explained the government’s decision to appeal the ruling by saying, “In practical terms, the judgement is completely unaffordable for taxpayers.” But UBC Professor of Law Joel Bakan writes in a Feb. 11 commentary in the Vancouver Sun:

As a ground for appeal, this is a non-starter. The Supreme Court of Canada has consistently held that, as one of its early decisions states, “budgetary considerations cannot be used to justify a violation (of the Charter of Rights).” The point was reiterated by the Court in its 2007 case concerning health workers’ bargaining rights (in British Columbia). “Courts will continue to look with strong skepticism at attempts to justify infringements of Charter rights on the basis of budgetary constraints,” the Court said.

The ruling is not only a political embarrassment for the government, it  also deals a blow to its budgetary planning, which is heavily skewed to freezing or reducing spending on social services while boosting subsidies to the fossil fuel and other industries.

An early example of the bind in which the government finds itself is a Feb. 12 open letter to Premier Clark and Minister Fassbender by Patty Bacchus, chairperson of the Vancouver School Board. Bacchus writes, “As you know, the decision of the BC Supreme Court against government has put most, if not all, BC school districts in some level of violation of their collective agreements with teaching staff. This is causing an extreme level of uncertainty in our district as we work through the process of getting into compliance with our agreements as quickly as possible.”

The letter sets out a series of measures she says the government should now implement:

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