BRITISH COLUMBIA

B.C. Teachers' Dispute: Did Christy Clark Try To Provoke A Strike?

02/03/2014 01:32 EST | Updated 04/05/2014 05:59 EDT
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VANCOUVER - British Columbia's Opposition New Democrats want the Liberal government to release cabinet documents at the centre of $2-million court loss to the province's teachers, so members of the public can see for themselves whether Premier Christy Clark played a role.

A B.C. Supreme Court judge issued a scathing ruling last week that found the provincial government deliberately attempted to provoke a strike by the teachers' union.

"Christy Clark has to answer to all of the students and all of the parents over the last decade of her government in office, as a result of what the court found last week," Rob Fleming, the Opposition's education critic, said Monday.

"It was a staggering ruling by the B.C. Supreme Court by any measure."

Clark was education minister in 2002, when her government introduced legislation removing classroom conditions such as class size from the collective agreement with the teachers' federation.

In 2011, a B.C. Supreme Court judge ruled the legislation violated teachers' charter rights, and sent the Liberal government back to address the issue.

The Liberals, now with Clark at the helm, responded by introducing new legislation, which Judge Susan Griffin found was essentially the same as the legislation previously struck down by the court.

The government then entered into collective bargaining with the B.C. Teachers' Federation — negotiations the judge found were not conducted in good faith. Instead, Griffin concluded the government was attempting to provoke a teachers strike to bolster support for imposing the legislation.

While teacher negotiations in B.C. are always contentious, that round of talks was particularly heated. The teachers implemented a series of measures designed to pressure the government, including withdrawing administrative tasks, and staged a three-day walkout in March 2012.

Griffin ordered the province to pay the federation $2 million for the unconstitutional legislation, which Fleming said was one of the largest awards for a charter violation in the court's history.

Cabinet documents are confidential under the law, but the judge in the case ordered government lawyers to hand over the documents to the federation and they were reviewed by the judge.

Fleming and NDP Leader Adrian Dix, who spoke to reporters Monday morning outside a Vancouver school, said those documents should now be released to the public.

"These are documents that have been examined and cross-examined in court," Fleming said. "There's a public interest in citizens being able to read what happened and how their government conducted itself on their behalf."

Officials at Clark's office and the office of Education Minister Peter Fassbender said neither was available for comment Monday.

Fassbender's office sent a statement saying his office is still reviewing the decision from last week.

Negotiations are to begin this month with the B.C. Teachers' Federation for a new collective agreement and the statement repeated the government's position that it would like a long-term agreement.

"Long-term stability is good for B.C. students, parents, teachers and communities — and that remains our goal," it said.

Clark said last week her government will likely appeal the ruling.

Fleming said the response from Fassbender and Clark only underscores the need to release the cabinet documents to the public.

"He basically said that the judge got it wrong, that she didn't read the evidence correctly in assessing the fact of this case," he said.

"If he's prepared to make those kinds of comments in his own political defence, then I think it's all the more important that the public get to judge the conduct of the government again in this matter by seeing the evidence that he says she misread."

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