Explaining the court ruling on BCTF vs the Government of BC

In order for non-teaching public to understand what all the handwringing is about in public schools right now, I’ve outlined the history of the BCTF vs. Government of BC dispute in plain language. There is no editorializing here, just the historic facts that can be corroborated by reading the actual court document.

In 2002, BC Education Minister Christy Clark drafted legislation that made class size and composition* non-negotiable in contract talks with teachers. Teachers disagreed and went to court to settle the issue. Almost ten years later, in 2011, the same BC Liberal government (with Christy Clark now the premier) was told by the BC Supreme Court that class size and composition is indeed a workplace issue for teachers, and to deny them the right to bargain this issue was an infringement of Charter rights.  The Court struck down the legislation.

The Court recognized, however, that in the 10 years since 2002, a lot had happened. The teacher-to-student ratio had contracted; schools had been shut down; class sizes had increased, learning support ratios had decreased. There were no empty classrooms in BC schools, and students were just beginning a new school year, for which budgets had been set. A creative solution would take time. In order to give the government time to address the repercussions of the legislation, the Court suspended the ruling for 12 months.

A year later, the government had done nothing. Worse, it suspended contract negotiations with teachers and re-created the same legislation that had been struck down. The government was again taken to court, and after yet another 14 months, the Court ruled again.

The Court found evidence that the BC government had had many opportunities to negotiate with teachers to create a solution. The Court also reported evidence from Liberal emails that the government’s strategy had been a campaign to discredit and harm the teachers union. Government was attempting to attack the solidarity within the union, and create public anger towards the union by provoking it into a strike situation. Meanwhile, the government had no intention of addressing the repercussions of the impugned legislation.

It was clear to the Court that the Liberals did not take the rule of law seriously, and as the government had failed after 26 months to even attempt a solution, the Court ordered one. Class composition rules were to be set back to the levels they were in 2002, effective immediately.

The dollar cost of restoring staffing levels to 2002 is huge – well over $100 million, and the levels are retro-active over 12 years. No one is anxious to break up class compositions now, in the middle of the year, and yet, the teachers, having endured more than 12 years of waiting, are owed compensation for the government’s inaction, and violation of their contract. School districts simply can not afford to put staffing levels back to what they were. Even as the ruling was announced, school districts were looking at how to further cut services to meet budgets.

In the meantime, further government inaction will be viewed by the court as contempt.

It’s a quagmire.

“*Class size and composition limits” determine the maximum size a class can be, and how many students with special needs can be in one class.

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