B.C. Teachers Win Battle For Bargaining Rights In Supreme Court

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SUPREME COURT OF CANADA
The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled in favour of B.C. teachers' bargaining rights. | Richard Lautens via Getty Images
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VICTORIA — The British Columbia government says it wants to start talks with teachers to implement a Supreme Court of Canada decision that requires it to negotiate parts of their collective agreement including the number of students in a classroom.

Finance Minister Mike de Jong would not estimate how much the ruling will cost, but says there is time to include the financial impact in February's budget.

Glen Hansman, president of British Columbia's Teachers' Federation, says the decision means the provincial government will have to start hiring more teachers and classroom specialists.

The high court decision made Thursday overturns a B.C. Court of Appeal ruling that found the province did not violate teachers' rights to negotiate in their collective agreement class sizes and the number of children with special needs in each classroom.

"We want to roll up our sleeves and get to work immediately."

The province first imposed legislation that removed teachers' ability to bargain class size and composition in 2002.

At a background briefing, government officials said the decision does not reopen the entire contract but it does restore the class-size and composition provisions that were deleted in 2002.

De Jong said the government wants to act quickly.

"We want to roll up our sleeves and get to work immediately," said de Jong.

Written judgment expected within 48 hours

The court voted 7-2 in favour of the federation and said it would release a written judgment within 48 hours.

After a B.C. Supreme Court judge deemed the law unconstitutional in 2011, the province imposed the new law the following year.

Similar to the previous legislation, it restricted school boards' power to determine staffing levels and establish the size and composition of classes or how many teacher assistants can be hired per student in a school.

The dispute led to an acrimonious strike in 2014.

A B.C. Supreme Court judge ruled the legislation was unconstitutional but the B.C. Appeal Court overturned that decision a year later. Four of five appeal court justices found the province consulted meaningfully with teachers and that the legislation didn't violate the charter.

"Think about it for a minute, that from 2002 to now, kids have started in kindergarten and graduated only knowing underfunded classrooms."

Hansman said he expects to hear from the government as soon as possible about its plans to bring in more resources as a result of latest decision.

"It's going to mean that there's going to be ... a whole bunch of teachers' positions restored in B.C. schools, a lot more frontline services for kids in B.C. and much better work life for our members in a very tumultuous school year of change," he said in an interview.

Hansman estimates it will cost the government $250 million to $300 million a year to bring in the additional resources.

NDP Leader John Horgan accused the government of underfunding public education for more than a decade.

"Think about it for a minute, that from 2002 to now, kids have started in kindergarten and graduated only knowing underfunded classrooms," he said.

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