Next steps regarding Supreme Court win

November 23, 2016

Next steps regarding Supreme Court win

Dear colleagues,

I know the last two weeks have been exciting and emotional for all of us. The significance of our victory at the Supreme Court of Canada cannot be overstated. For many of us, there is a real sense of vindication and relief. For others, it’s a moment to look back and maybe even grieve for the work we could have done had the government never pursued this fight in the first place. And for all of us, it’s an opportunity to look ahead to better working and learning conditions.

So what are the next steps? The Federation is prepared to work collaboratively with the employer and government to ensure the timely and efficient implementation of that restored language. However, this cannot be a long, drawn-out process. Teachers and students have waited long enough!

The Public Sector Employers’ Council has now been in touch with the Federation and we will be meeting soon to discuss next steps.

The Federation’s focus will be on ensuring implementation of the restored language as soon as possible. With a $1.9 billion budget surplus this year, the provincial government has the means to start making improvements as early as January. For example, secondary schools on a semester system could see the class size and composition improvements for the second semester. And in both elementary and secondary schools, we can bring back teacher-librarians to open up closed libraries. Other examples of what timely implementation means for all schools:

  • Restored special education teachers to help create more meaningful inclusion.
  • Reduced wait lists for psycho-educational assessments.
  • Increased numbers of school counsellors to help children facing mental health challenges.
  • More English-language teachers to welcome and support refugee and immigrant children into our schools and communities.

Locals will be sharing copies of the language we have won back. Please meet as a school staff to discuss what these changes will mean for your school. Please also share this information with your networks and parents, letting them know what these changes will mean for BC kids.

The Supreme Court of Canada’s ruling proves that BC teachers were right all along. The government was bargaining in bad faith and wrongly tipping the balance of power to their side, at the expense of our rights and our students. As Justice Ian Donald wrote in his BC Court of Appeal dissent: “This case is the culmination of at least 13 years of systemic and institutionalized negation of the BCTF’s… right to associate collectively to achieve important workplace goals.”

By reverting to Justice Donald’s dissent (available online, starting at paragraph 275), the Supreme Court of Canada has, as of November 10, restored the unconstitutionally stripped working and learning conditions into our collective agreements. Justice Donald wrote: “… allowing the Working Conditions to remain deleted would force teachers to continue to suffer from unconstitutional government action and legislation. Therefore, I would order, pursuant to s. 24(1), that the Minister of Education direct the public administrator for the BCPSEA appointed under s. 9.1 of the Public Sector Employers Act to reinstate the Working Conditions into the collective agreement immediately.”

However, Justice Donald did not agree with the trial judge, Madam Justice Susan Griffin, that the language is restored retroactively to 2002. That means our collective efforts to secure the $105 million grievance settlement was the correct course of action to achieve some remedy for past violations of our rights. Had we waited until this moment in time, we would not have been able to secure those funds which were distributed to members following the 2014 strike.

In addition, this win vindicates your commitment and determination during the 2014 round to resist government attempts to have us bargain away our rights. One of the biggest reasons we were on the picket line as long as we were was to get rid of Clause E80, the government’s proposal that would have required us to give up the right to implement any future court win. If you did not stand as strong as you did, we would never have succeeded in getting that clause pulled from the table.

With an election coming in May 2017, now is the time to advocate as energetically as we possibly can to achieve these long-sought remedies. We are less than 170 days until the provincial election. No one wants to see a long, protracted fight or any more political games from the BC Liberal goverment. Now, it’s time for them to act in deference to the highest court in the land. Now, with this decisive ruling and a large budget surplus, is the time to get the job done.
In solidarity,

Glen Hansman

BCTF President