Boundary educators join teachers around the province in rejoicing after learning that the Supreme Court of Canada will hear the BC Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) case regarding issues such as class size and composition.
The ongoing case dates back to 2002 when the B.C. government took away teachers’ collective agreements by legislation. The Supreme Court of Canada granted the teachers the chance to appeal the 2015 Court of Appeal decision that found the provincial government legislation imposing contract terms on members of the BCTF in 2012 was constitutional.
“The decision of the Supreme Court of Canada to hear the BCTF’s appeal of the 2015 BC Court of Appeal ruling is a very important step in the ongoing legal process and we are pleased to have the opportunity to present our arguments to the nation’s highest court,” said BCTF president Jim Iker is a recent press release. “It’s been 14 years since the original unconstitutional legislation that stripped our collective agreements, but BC teachers are still very committed to our efforts to win back those important working conditions for teachers, which are also our students’ learning conditions.”
Education Minister Mike Bernier responded to the Supreme Court announcement by saying that the government is confident in their legal position and appreciate any further guidance the court may provide. “Regardless of the court challenge, we are working collaboratively with the BCTF to implement the new curriculum and ensure teachers are trained to deliver its benefits to students,” he said in a press release. “It’s worth noting that since the last round of bargaining government’s relationship with the BCTF has never been better.”
Bernier added that the government will continue working with the teachers’ union to ensure students benefit from “making our great education system even better.”
Norm Sabourin, president of the Boundary District Teacher’s Association, said they are very pleased with the decision. He said the case is extremely important not only for B.C. teachers, but teachers and other union members across Canada.
“It would have quite an effect on bargaining rights for all unions,” said Sabourin. “If you think about it, if the government is able to go in a strip collective bargaining language (by changing it as they see fit) any time they want it really weakens what a collective agreement can do. The collective agreement is a legally agreed upon contract and the government is simply allowed to go in and rip it up any time they want. It doesn’t make sense to us.”
Sabourin said he expects the Supreme Court of Canada will hear the case in the fall of this year. He said a positive ruling in the teachers’ favour would mean a return to smaller class sizes and better class composition. “It would mean the (stripped collective agreement language) would be reinstated,” he said. “That would mean the class sizes would get smaller and more specialist teachers would be hired according to the ratios. It would mean the hiring of thousands of teachers. it would mean much more support for students. That’s what we’re shooting for. We don’t know what the Supreme Court will decide or what damages they will award. We’re just crossing our fingers and hoping justice will be served.”
Teresa Rezansoff, SD51 (Boundary)board of trustees chair, said that there will be no change in the foreseeable future in daily school operations. “All it means for us is that down the road when the Supreme Court hears the case, which won’t likely be until fall, it could be potentially two years before we know the decision.”
Rezansoff added that when the decision does come, it will be final. “So that’s positive to know there will be a final decision whichever ways it goes,” she said. “For planning purposes, for our parents and students, there’s no need to be concerned that this decision by the Supreme Court to hear the appeal from the B.C. teachers will affect classrooms in the immediate future.”