Student demonstrations have accompanied the long teacher strike that started last spring.

Student demonstrations have accompanied the long teacher strike that started last spring.

Off to school, and back to court for BCTF

Court of appeal to hear arguments on who should control class size and teacher staff levels in B.C. schools

VICTORIA – Now that a cease-fire has emerged from the latest round in the war for control of B.C.’s public school system, the next court battle is ready to proceed.

Lawyers for the provincial government and the B.C. Teachers’ Federation have filed their written submissions to the B.C. Court of Appeal. At issue is whether legislation removing union contract terms that dictated class size and teacher staff levels was a violation of members’ constitutional rights to freedom of association.

When B.C. Supreme Court justice Susan Griffin found that it was, the government changed legislation again. The same judge ordered that struck down and the 2002 contract language reinstated retroactively for every contract since then, imposed or negotiated.

The government says that would create chaos as well as billions in expenses, pushing out full-day kindergarten and other allocations of space and money that have proceeded since union control was removed.

Griffin’s order is stayed pending this appeal. If you think the latest strike has been disruptive, you don’t want to see what this judge’s vision would look like.

Government lawyers argue that the BCTF’s constitutional right claim is “wrong in law” and amounts to a veto that blocks the province’s ability to legislate in response to changing conditions.

“According to the BCTF, legislation may improve on collective agreement entitlements but cannot remove them over the objections of the union without violating [the Charter of Rights and Freedoms],” the government’s submission says. “On the BCTF’s theory, collective agreement entitlements become constitutionally protected in perpetuity.”

What that would mean to voters is when they throw out an NDP government that handed the keys to the treasury to public sector unions, the unions can veto that too. And when mandated minimum teacher-librarians sitting in rooms full of paper books become the equivalent of buggy whip weavers, they must remain as long as the union wants.

BCTF’s lawyers submit that the government is wrong in fact as well as law. Its arguments are technical, dwelling particularly on the fact that the government didn’t appeal Griffin’s first ruling.

For instance, there have actually been two negotiated deals since 2002. The one in 2006 provided five years of raises and a bonus to get the government past the 2010 Olympics, and in 2012 there was a pre-election truce negotiated with the help of mediator Charles Jago.

The government argues that re-imposing 2002 conditions would overturn other contracts that were agreed to by the BCTF. BCTF’s lawyers say, in effect, the deleted terms covering working conditions weren’t there to negotiate.

The Coalition of B.C. Businesses has entered the case as an intervener, arguing for the supremacy of elected governments when providing public services.

Its submission notes that unlike private disputes, the right to strike is often curtailed in the public sector, and sometimes eliminated as in the case of police and health care.

“When critical aspects of public policy are jeopardized by employee demands, those aspects could be legislated; where a fiscal downturn or inflationary pressures required austerity measures, they could be implemented through legislation; where strikes jeopardize important public services, the legislature could pass back-to-work legislation, and so on.”

It’s been obvious for many years that the BCTF doesn’t function like a normal union, and isn’t much interested in starting to do so.

Its leadership sees itself as an agent of “social justice,” a belief demonstrated by its promotion of flawed poverty statistics and pronouncements on everything from U.S. labour law to conflict in the Middle East.

Its decades-old instruction to government is blunt: raise taxes and give us the money.

Tom Fletcher is legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Twitter: @tomfletcherbc

 

Just Posted

Black Press file photo
RCMP seek suspect in Vancouver Island-wide crime spree

Crimes stretched from Deep Bay to Qualicum, Ladysmith, Chemainus and Youbou

Things are looking up for Vancouver Island as zero COVID-19 cases have been reported for the first time since October. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Island records zero new COVID-19 cases for the first time since October

For the first time since October, the province is reporting zero new… Continue reading

Black Press Media file
Port Hardy RCMP on the hunt for porta-pottie arsonist

The porta-potties were lit on fire early in the morning on June 13

Eke Me-Xi students enjoy a field trip to Malcolm Island. (Submitted photos)
Eke Me-Xi Learning Centre takes field trip to Malcolm Island

Once at Bere Point, students made themselves at home in the day-use area

Mount Waddington Regional Fall Fair logo
Mount Waddington Regional Fall Fair cancelled again due to COVID-19 restrictions

The 2022 fall fair is still scheduled to take place in Port Hardy

Marco Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship during a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, May 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada to welcome 45,000 refugees this year, says immigration minister

Canada plans to increase persons admitted from 23,500 to 45,000 and expedite permanent residency applications

Emily Steele holds up a collage of her son, 16-year-old Elijah-Iain Beauregard who was stabbed and killed in June 2019, outside of Kelowna Law Courts on June 18. (Aaron Hemens/Capital News)
Kelowna woman who fatally stabbed teen facing up to 1.5 years of jail time

Her jail sentence would be followed by an additional one to 1.5 years of supervision

Cpl. Scott MacLeod and Police Service Dog Jago. Jago was killed in the line of duty on Thursday, June 17. (RCMP)
Abbotsford police, RCMP grieve 4-year-old service dog killed in line of duty

Jago killed by armed suspect during ‘high-risk’ incident in Alberta

The George Road wildfire near Lytton, B.C., has grown to 250 hectares. (BC Wildfire Service)
B.C. drone sighting halts helicopters fighting 250 hectares of wildfire

‘If a drone collides with firefighting aircraft the consequences could be deadly,’ says BC Wildfire Service

A dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is pictured at a vaccination site in Vancouver Thursday, March 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
NACI advice to mix vaccines gets varied reaction from AstraZeneca double-dosers

NACI recommends an mRNA vaccine for all Canadians receiving a second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine

A aerial view shows the debris going into Quesnel Lake caused by a tailings pond breach near the town of Likely, B.C., Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Updated tailings code after Mount Polley an improvement: B.C. mines auditor

British Columbia’s chief auditor of mines has found changes to the province’s requirements for tailings storage facilities

A North Vancouver man was arrested Friday and three police officers were injured after a 10-person broke out at English Bay on June 19, 2021. (Youtube/Screen grab)
Man arrested, 3 police injured during 10-person brawl at Vancouver beach

The arrest was captured on video by bystanders, many of whom heckled the officers as they struggled with the handcuffed man

Bruce Springsteen performs at the 13th annual Stand Up For Heroes benefit concert in support of the Bob Woodruff Foundation in New York on Nov. 4, 2019. (Greg Allen/Invision/AP)
Canadians who got AstraZeneca shot can now see ‘Springsteen on Broadway’

B.C. mayor David Screech who received his second AstraZeneca dose last week can now attend the show

Most Read