04/30/2015 01:04 EDT | Updated 08/08/2015 01:59 EDT

B.C. teachers lose right to bargain class size, composition

The B.C. Court of Appeal has sided with the B.C. government, overturning two previous decisions that had given teachers the right to bargain on class size and composition.

In a 4-1 decision the court sided with the provincial government and declared its move to strip out clauses related to class size and composition in 2002 was constitutional.

The decision is a major blow to the B.C. Teachers' Federation, which won two lower court rulings upholding its bargaining rights.

The majority decision written by Chief Justice Robert Bauman and Justice Robert Harris finds the government acted in good faith when it consulted with teachers leading up to the introduction of Bill 22 — which took away the B.C. Teachers Federation's ability to bargain limits on class size, teacher librarian numbers, special needs student ratios, and other elements.

"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 judgement said.  "Their freedom of association was respected."

The ruling overturns a decision by B.C. Supreme Court Justice Susan Griffin on Jan 27, 2014. Griffin found the province did not consult in good faith.

"In our opinion, the judge should not have assessed the substantive merit or objective reasonableness of the parties' negotiating positions," Bauman and Harris wrote in today's ruling. "Courts are poorly equipped to make such assessments."

Dissenting opinion

The dissenting opinion was written by Justice Ian Donald, who agreed with the majority that the province's consultations with the teachers were relevant to the constitutionality argument.

But Donald disagreed with the decision to overturn Griffin's ruling that the province acted in bad faith.

"An appropriately deferential approach to the trial judge's findings of fact … leads to the conclusion that the trial judge's finding that the passage of Bill 22 was unconstitutional must be upheld," Donald wrote.

 A second win

The B.C. government also won its appeal of a decision to release information it says is subject to cabinet confidentiality.

The information in question was read out in open court during the B.C. Supreme Court case.

But the appeal court ruled the information was released by the provincial government for litigation purposes only, and should never have been made public.

Case heading to Supreme Court of Canada?

The teachers' union has 60 days to decide whether to seek leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.

It's unclear whether Canada's high court would hear the case, as it agreed to hear only eight of 80 applications from the B.C. Court of Appeal level last year.

The case was unusual, as it had five justices hearing the appeal, instead of the traditional three. Only three cases out of 453 at the B.C. Court of Appeal were heard by five judges last year.

No reason was given for the decision to sit five judges.