Public school teachers have suffered a major blow in their long-running dispute with the province.
It’s a row that’s far from over, one that has Premier Christy Clark at its very centre and is likely to wind up before the Supreme Court of Canada.
The B.C. Court of Appeal ruled today (April 30) that the government did not violate the teachers’ right of association.
The 4-1 ruling overturned a decision earlier this year by a B.C. Supreme Court judge who established that the province did not consult in good faith before enacting legislation that stripped teachers of certain bargaining rights.
Specifically, these contract terms concerned class size and composition, and specialist teacher ratios.
“Between the consultations and the collective bargaining leading up to the legislation, teachers were afforded a meaningful process in which to advance their collective aspirations,” according to the appeal court’s decision. “Their freedom of association was respected.”
It began in 2002 when the province passed Bill 28, legislation that voided certain terms of the collective bargaining agreement between the B.C. Teachers’ Federation and the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association.
Enacted during Clark’s time as education minister, the legislation took away teachers’ rights to bargain about the size and composition of classes, staffing levels, teacher ratios, and work loads.
In 2011, B.C. Supreme Court judge Susan Griffin declared certain sections of Bill 28 to be unconstitutional and invalid.
Griffin suspended her declaration of invalidity for one year to allow the province to remedy the situation.
In 2011, Clark returned to politics and was elected new leader of the B.C. Liberal Party.
Clark was B.C. premier in 2012 when the province passed Bill 22, which is similar to Bill 28.
The BCTF went to court again, and the case went back to Griffin. In early 2014, Griffin found the new legislation unconstitutional like its predecessor.
According to the majority ruling of the B.C. Court of Appeal, the trial judge’s finding that the province did not consult in good faith was “based on errors of law and palpable and overriding errors of fact”.
“Between the consultations and the collective bargaining leading up to the legislation, teachers were afforded a meaningful process in which to advance their collective aspirations,” the decision stated.
The ruling noted that Griffin referred to the deleted terms of the bargaining agreement as “working conditions”.
The appeal court has another view. “We accept that these subjects affect teachers’ working conditions, but they engage more than just working conditions; they directly engage education policy,” the court noted. “We consider this to be a centrally important fact.”
The court held: “The Province was acting in its capacity as the maker of education policy and custodian of public finance.”
Moreover, “It was acting as government, exercising its responsibility as education policymaker.”
According to the court, the provisions stripped from the teachers’ contract “involve not only working conditions, but matters of education policy”.
“The Province is charged with the democratic responsibility to develop education policy in the public interest and is held politically accountable for the policy choices it makes,” the decision stated. “Indeed, the provision of public education is one of the longest standing obligations of the provincial government, dating back even before British Columbia joined Canada in 1871.”