Court rul­ing could force hir­ing of hun­dreds of teach­ers in B.C.

Vancouver Sun - - FRONT PAGE - TRACY SHER­LOCK AND PETER O’NEIL

The B.C. gov­ern­ment will likely have to hire hun­dreds of teach­ers and spend be­tween $250 mil­lion and $300 mil­lion more each year on ed­u­ca­tion af­ter the dra­matic win by B.C. teach­ers in the Supreme Court of Canada on Thurs­day.

The es­ti­mate comes from B.C. Teach­ers’ Fed­er­a­tion pres­i­dent Glen Hans­man at the end of a union le­gal bat­tle that be­gan in 2002.

“We’re elated, this has been a long jour­ney,” Hans­man said.

Canada’s high­est court, which of­ten takes sev­eral months to de­liver a de­ci­sion, took only a 20-minute re­cess af­ter hear­ing le­gal ar­gu­ments be­fore de­liv­er­ing a 7-2 de­ci­sion in favour of the union.

The B.C. gov­ern­ment spends about $5.1 bil­lion an­nu­ally on pub­lic schools. The de­ci­sion im­me­di­ately restored clauses deleted from the teach­ers’ con­tract by the Lib­eral gov­ern­ment of Gor­don Campbell in 2002.

Those clauses dealt with class size, the num­ber of spe­cial-needs stu­dents who can be in a class and the num­ber of spe­cial­ist teach­ers re­quired in schools.

The gov­ern­ment touched off the le­gal bat­tle in 2002 by pass­ing leg­is­la­tion that stripped those pro­vi­sions from the teach­ers’ con­tract and passed a law deny­ing teach­ers the right to bar­gain those is­sues.

Thurs­day’s de­ci­sion over­turned the B.C. Court of Ap­peal’s 2015 rul­ing in favour of the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment, and restored the orig­i­nal de­ci­sion in the union’s favour by B.C. Supreme Court Jus­tice Su­san Grif­fin.

Hans­man said it could take some time to re­store class sizes to pre2002 lev­els be­cause the union has lost the equiv­a­lent of 3,500 full-time po­si­tions over the past 15 years.

But he said the clauses should be restored as soon as pos­si­ble.

“The prov­ince has got the money to pay for this,” Hans­man said.

He said the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment has a $1-bil­lion con­tin­gency in its bud­get, which specif­i­cally named the teach­ers’ case as a pos­si­ble use for some of the money.

The case has huge im­pli­ca­tions for B.C.’s ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem, with af­fi­davits sub­mit­ted to the B.C. Court of Ap­peal in 2014 by school su­per­in­ten­dents es­ti­mat­ing thou­sands of teach­ers would need to be hired and more class­room space would need to be found to re­store the class size and com­po­si­tion rules.

In Sur­rey alone, the restora­tion of the clauses would cost an es­ti­mated $40 mil­lion a year. Sur­rey rep­re­sents about 10 per cent of the en­tire pro­vin­cial ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem.

In 2014, the su­per­in­ten­dents’ as­so­ci­a­tion es­ti­mated it would cost more than $1 bil­lion a year to re­turn to 2002 ser­vice lev­els.

Changes may not take ef­fect im­me­di­ately. The teach­ers’ con­tract, which was ar­rived at af­ter a six-week strike in 2014, in­cludes a clause about the court judg­ment. It says if the judg­ment re­stores the 2002 lan­guage, which this one does, the par­ties will re­open the part of the col­lec­tive agree­ment that deals with the Ed­u­ca­tion Fund, which was cre­ated to sup­port class­rooms with many chil­dren or those with spe­cial needs. The two par­ties will bar­gain from the restored lan­guage and the Ed­u­ca­tion Fund will con­tinue in ef­fect un­til there is agree­ment on im­ple­men­ta­tion or changes to the restored lan­guage.

B.C. Fi­nance Min­is­ter Mike de Jong said on Thurs­day that those negotiatio­ns will take place “fairly im­me­di­ately” and that the tim­ing will al­low changes to be ad­dressed in Fe­bru­ary’s bud­get.

“I think we want to roll up our sleeves and get to work,” de Jong said. “We want to get to work im­ple­ment­ing this as quickly as pos­si­ble.”

De Jong said the de­ci­sion is “good news” be­cause now there is a “clearer set of rules” about bar­gain­ing and the cir­cum­stances around when gov­ern­ments can leg­is­late the terms of labour con­tracts.

“The 2014 col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing agree­ment was the long­est agree­ment achieved with the B.C. Teach­ers’ Fed­er­a­tion in B.C. his­tory and it brought labour peace and sta­bil­ity to our class­rooms,” de Jong said. “I would like to as­sure stu­dents, par­ents, teach­ers and em­ploy­ees in the ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem that this sta­bil­ity con­tin­ues, and this rul­ing does not bring dis­rup­tion to class­rooms.”

De Jong would not spec­u­late on what it will cost to im­ple­ment the changes or how many teach­ers would have to be hired.

Op­po­si­tion NDP Leader John Hor­gan put the blame squarely on Pre­mier Christy Clark, who was ed­u­ca­tion min­is­ter when the first un­con­sti­tu­tional teacher-bar­gain­ing law came into force in 2002, and was pre­mier when her gov­ern­ment “put gas on the flames” with a sec­ond un­con­sti­tu­tional law in 2012.

“Think of it, from 2002 to now, kids have started in kindergart­en and grad­u­ated only know­ing un­der­funded class­rooms,” said Hor­gan. “That gen­er­a­tion has lost the op­por­tu­nity that they richly de­served be­cause of de­ci­sions and choices that Christy Clark made. The courts have fi­nally shut the door on more con­fronta­tion.”

Hor­gan said pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion is now “the num­ber 1 is­sue for me” in the May pro­vin­cial election.

“This is a gov­ern­ment that has ridiculed, con­demned, mocked and crit­i­cized the peo­ple on the other side of the bar­gain­ing. They ripped up a duly ne­go­ti­ated col­lec­tive agree­ment and then, ac­cord­ing to (the B.C. Supreme Court), used the power of the state to pro­voke labour ac­tion. ... That is a sting­ing in­dict­ment of a gov­ern­ment that is ma­li­cious and bent on mak­ing the re­la­tion­ship worse, not bet­ter.”

Pit­ted against the BCTF in Canada’s high­est court were lawyers from the B.C., fed­eral, On­tario, Que­bec, Man­i­toba and Saskatchew­an gov­ern­ments. Gath­ered be-

Think of it, from 2002 to now, kids have started in kindergart­en and grad­u­ated only know­ing un­der­funded class­rooms.

hind a court­room jammed with black-robed lawyers — in ad­di­tion to the two main ad­ver­saries there were 11 other in­ter­ven­ers — were 15 Bri­tish Columbians who flew here to lis­ten to ar­gu­ments.

When the rul­ing was made, there were sev­eral whis­pered “ohs” and then a “we won?” that was fol­lowed by a “we won!” They hugged and sev­eral qui­etly wept un­til the last of the nine judges left the cham­ber, then burst into eu­phoric cheers and ap­plause.

One of the most emo­tional was Pa­tri­cia Gud­laug­son, a re­tired teacher from Rich­mond, who said her joy was mixed with bit­ter­ness over the gov­ern­ment’s orig­i­nal 2002 de­ci­sion to strip hard-won con­tract con­ces­sions on class sizes.

“Ev­ery kid in 2002 who had spe­cial needs got no damn help for 14 years be­cause of that gov­ern­ment, that’s what it means,” she said.

“All those lit­tle kids in kindergart­en (then) have fin­ished high school and never got the sup­port they needed.”

The two dis­sent­ing Supreme of Canada judges were Suzanne Cote and Rus­sell Brown, the last two ap­pointees of for­mer prime min­is­ter Stephen Harper.

The 2014 judg­ment called for the gov­ern­ment to pay the teach­ers’ fed­er­a­tion $2 mil­lion in dam­ages for ex­tend­ing the un­con­sti­tu­tional leg­is­la­tion to June 2013. Thurs­day’s judg­ment said the prov­ince needn’t pay the dam­ages.

No retroac­tive griev­ances can be filed be­cause the 2014 teach­ers’ con­tract con­tained a $105-mil­lion fund to ad­dress any griev­ances aris­ing from the dele­tion of the con­tract clauses.

Nei­ther the teach­ers nor the gov­ern­ment knew on Thurs­day if the gov­ern­ment has to pay any of BCTF’s costs.

In 2014, B.C. Supreme Court Jus­tice Su­san Grif­fin ruled that “the leg­isla­tively deleted terms in the teach­ers’ col­lec­tive agree­ment have been restored retroac­tively and can also be the sub­ject of fu­ture bar­gain­ing.”

In April 2015, the B.C. Court of Ap­peal over­turned Grif­fin’s de­ci­sion to re­store class­room com­po­si­tion rules, class size rules and spe­cial­ist teacher ra­tios to the teach­ers’ con­tract. One judge, Ian Don­ald, dis­sented.

The Supreme Court Thurs­day agreed with Don­ald’s dis­sent and the high court’s writ­ten rea­sons are ex­pected within 24 hours.

RORY BROWN/VAN­COU­VER SEC­ONDARY TEACH­ERS AS­SO­CI­A­TION

Van­cou­ver Tech­ni­cal tech­nol­ogy ed­u­ca­tion teach­ers cel­e­brate their union’s Supreme Court of Canada vic­tory on Thurs­day morn­ing.

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