Today, B.C. Teachers' Federation president Jim Iker said his union is "very pleased" that the Supreme Court of Canada will hear an appeal of a decision in B.C.'s highest court.
"It's another important step in this long journey through the court system for us," Iker told reporters. "We're looking forward to the opportunity to present our arguments to the court and hopefully win back important working conditions for our teachers, which we believe were unconstitutionally stripped from our collective agreements."
Last April, the B.C. Court of Appeal overturned an earlier B.C. Supreme Court ruling that Bill 22 (Education Improvement Act) was unconstitutional.
Four of the five B.C. Court of Appeal justices, including Chief Justice Robert Bauman, ruled that the legislation did not infringe on teachers' charter right to freedom of association by deleting parts of a contract.
“We accept that these subjects affect teachers’ working conditions, but they engage more than just working conditions; they directly engage education policy,” the court ruling noted. “We consider this to be a centrally important fact.”
The Education Improvement Act replaced a 2002 law that had been ruled unconstitutional.
The four B.C. Court of Appeal justices also ruled that the trial judge, Susan Griffin, erred in her conclusion that the province had failed to consult in good faith. The majority declared that this finding "was based on errors of law and palpable and overriding errors of fact".
The only dissenting justice, Ian Donald, disagreed with them on this point. Donald also agreed with Griffin that the "unilateral nullification" of working conditions interfered with teachers' charter right to freedom of association.
Iker noted in his comments to reporters that the province did not appeal the original court ruling on class size and composition, which was at the root of the 2014 teachers' strike.
But he claimed that a "generation of students" has suffered from underfunding of the system since the Gordon Campbell government's decision to rip up a contract with teachers in 2002.
"Class sizes are larger," Iker said. "Class composition has deteriorated year after year, and thousands of teaching positions were lost—teaching positions that worked directly with our students in our classrooms or in small groups of specialist teachers. This happened because the government wanted to cut education funding."
In 2012, then BCTF president Susan Lambert told the Straight that the "constitutional-rights injury" to teachers amounted to $336 million per year after factoring in for inflation.
If her assertion is valid, then the B.C. Court of Appeal ruling would have saved the province more than $4 billion.
Bauman, as chief justice, cowrote the majority opinion. He also must deal with the provincial government in securing resources to operate B.C.'s superior courts.
Iker did not say whether the BCTF appeal will make an issue over whether a court of appeal chief justice should have to recuse himself or herself in cases that could cost a provincial treasury billions of dollars.