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

A coroner’s inquest will be taking place at the Capitol Theatre in Port Alberni for the next week. (ELENA RARDON / ALBERNI VALLEY NEWS)
B.C. teen who died following police custody recalled as ‘friend to many’

Police sent Jocelyn George to hospital after intoxication had gone ‘beyond the realm’ of normal detox

Emergency vehicles are parked outside of the Wintergreen Apartments on Fourth Avenue. (SUSAN QUINN / Alberni Valley News)
Port Alberni RCMP investigate stabbing on Fourth Avenue

Two men were found with ‘significant’ injuries near Wintergreen Apartments

By protesting uninvited in First Nations’ territories, conservationists are acting in a neocolonial or paternalistic manner, says Huu-ay-aht Chief Robert Dennis. Photo by Heather Thomson
A closer look: do Vancouver Island First Nations support the war in the woods?

First Nations/environmentalist old growth alliance uneasy, if it exists at all

FILE – Perry Bellegarde, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, takes part in an event on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, July 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Indigenous Peoples Day must be a ‘call to action’, says Assembly of First Nations chief

Discovery of children at Kamloops residential school site must lead to change, Perry Bellegarde says

Dry Creek Park will be closed all week as city parks crews remove hazardous trees and prepare the site for a new disc golf course. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)
Port Alberni’s second disc golf course on the way at Dry Creek Park

Dry Creek Park will be closed for development for a week beginning June 21

The border crossing into the United States is seen during the COVID-19 pandemic in Lacolle, Que. on February 12, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
VIDEO: Border quarantine to soon lift for fully vaccinated Canadians

Eligible travellers must still take multiple COVID-19 tests

Skeena MLA Ellis Ross. (Photo by Peter Versteege)
BC Liberal leadership candidate condemns ‘senseless violence’ of Okanagan church fires

Skeena MLA Ellis Ross says reconciliation isn’t about revenge for past tragedies

FILE - In this Nov. 29, 2020, file photo, Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Carl Nassib leaves the field after an NFL football game against the Atlanta Falcons in Atlanta. Nassib on Monday, June 21, 2021, became the first active NFL player to come out as gay. Nassib announced the news on Instagram, saying he was not doing it for the attention but because “I just think that representation and visibility are so important.” (AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)
Nassib becomes first active NFL player to come out as gay

More than a dozen NFL players have come out as gay after their careers were over

Penticton Indian Band Chief Greg Gabriel speaks to the Sacred Hearts Catholic Church burning down early Monday morning, June 21, 2021. (Monique Tamminga Western News)
Penticton band chief condemns suspicious burning of 2 Catholic churches

Both Catholic church fires are deemed suspicious, says RCMP

COVID-19 daily cases reported to B.C. public health, seven-day moving average to June 17, 2021. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infections drop to 90 on Sunday, 45 Monday

Pandemic spread dwindles as 77% of adults receive vaccine

Bernadette Jordan addresses the media following a swearing in ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa on January 14, 2019. Jordan says the government will provide $2 million to allow First Nations to continue to strengthen the marine safety system across Canada. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
First Nations receive federal funds to purchase marine rescue boats

Quatsino, Heiltsuk, and Kitasoo First Nation’s among eight across Canada to receive funding

A blood drive in support of 1-year-old Rielynn Gormley of Agassiz is scheduled for Monday, June 28 at Tzeachten First Nation Community Hall in Chilliwack. Rielynn lives with type 3 von Willebrand disease, which makes it difficult for her to stop bleeding. (Screenshot/Canadian Blood Services)
Upcoming blood drive in honour of Fraser Valley toddler with rare blood condition

The Gormley family has organized a blood drive in Chilliwack on June 28

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

One Reconciliation Pole and two Welcome Figures were unveiled during a ceremony in honour of truth and reconciliation on National Peoples Indigenous Day at the Vancouver School District in Vancouver, B.C., on Friday, June 21, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Horgan marks Indigenous Peoples Day by urging recognition of systemic racism

National Indigenous Peoples Day has been marked in Canada since 1996

Most Read