02/13/2014 06:13 EST | Updated 04/15/2014 05:59 EDT

B.C. Teacher Negotiation Court Documents Out Of Context: Clark


VANCOUVER - Court transcripts that have fuelled claims the British Columbia government attempted to provoke a teachers strike during heated contract negotiations have been taken out of context, Premier Christy Clark said Thursday.

Clark's Liberal government has been under fire since a judge ruled last month that legislation around teacher bargaining was unconstitutional and that the government intentionally attempted to trigger a strike.

The NDP added to the flames on Wednesday, as members of the Opposition caucus read from excerpts of trial transcripts, which appeared to show the government's lead negotiator acknowledge such a plan.

The transcripts read in the legislature were from the cross-examination of Paul Straszak, the former negotiator for the employer.

Straszak was asked whether the government's objective two years ago was to "increase the pressure on teachers to have them go out on a full-scale strike," NDP Leader Adrian Dix told the legislature.

Straszak replied, "Yes. I'll say that's correct," Dix said.

But Clark suggested the transcripts released by the NDP don't tell the whole story.

"The NDP have released snippets — out of context — of information from the court," Clark said at an unrelated announcement in Vancouver on Thursday.

"They see it as politically advantageous to ask you to judge government based on the snippets of information they've released from the court documents, but I would ask instead that people judge us, judge me, based on our record."

The New Democrats released four pages of transcripts from a trial that spanned several weeks last fall, and the pages that were released were not consecutive.

Clark noted the government is appealing the court decision at the heart of the controversy, and she urged the public not to jump to conclusions before that process is finished.

A day earlier, when the documents were raised in question period, Clark deferred to her attorney general, Suzanne Anton, who repeatedly said she could not comment about an issue that was before the courts.

That was despite the fact that Clark and Education Minister Peter Fassbender had repeatedly commented on the court ruling, saying they disagreed with the judge. Fassbender has argued the court judgment is too expensive and removed the government's ability to govern.

B.C. Supreme Court Judge Susan Griffin concluded in her decision that removing class size and composition from contract negotiations as part of legislation tabled in 2012 was unconstitutional. She ordered the government to pay the British Columbia Teachers' Federation $2 million.

Griffin also said the government developed a strategy to provoke a teachers strike, in part because it would give the government "political advantage" and allow it to pass legislation to deal with a strike and legislation related to bargaining at the same time.

The judge reached that conclusion based, in part, on cabinet documents, which were examined in court but never released to the public.

The Opposition New Democrats have called on the premier to release those cabinet documents, but Clark said that wasn't possible.

"I take an oath of confidentiality, and that's an oath I take seriously," she said.

"I have a requirement to meet that oath and not to break it."

Clark has categorically denied there was a government policy to provoke a strike.

While teachers withdrew administrative duties, Clark noted there was no full-scale, and instead the labour dispute was resolved with a collective agreement.

The latest round of bargaining resumed this week, but both sides have agreed not to publicly discuss the progress of negotiations.


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