B.C. teachers celebrate top court ruling on class size

Supreme Court backs union on class size, special needs, overturning 2002 legislation introduced by Christy Clark as education minister

The Supreme Court of Canada issued a rare verbal decision Thursday on the union rights case that involved federal and provincial governments.

The B.C. Teachers’ Federation and other provincial unions are celebrating victory in their long-running legal battle with the B.C. government over control of class size and special needs support in public schools.

BCTF president Glen Hansman was at the Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa for the decision Thursday, which was delivered verbally in an unusually short time.

“We are jubilant to say the least,” Hansman told Global TV.

Hansman said the decision upholds a 2012 B.C. Supreme Court ruling that the legislation violated the union’s constitutional right to collective bargaining, and will compel the B.C. government to add as much as $300 million to the education budget to hire more teachers.

Education Minister Mike Bernier was not immediately available to comment on the ruling.

When the Supreme Court of Canada agreed in January to hear the appeal, Bernier said it wouldn’t disrupt the school system because of a five-year settlement negotiated with the BCTF in 2014.

Finance Minister Mike de Jong said Thursday the court’s seven-to-two decision came more quickly than anyone expected, leaving the government more time to negotiate a settlement based on the contract language removed by legislation in 2002.

It also leaves time for the cost of a settlement to be included in the 2017 budget, to be tabled in February. De Jong would not comment on the BCTF’s estimate of the cost of adding more staff to classrooms across the province.

The 2014 contract settlement came after a long, bitter strike that saw the government send out $40-a-day child care payments to 230,000 families for 13 school days lost due to strike action in the fall.

NDP leader John Horgan said the decision puts public education back into the spotlight for the May 2017 provincial election, since it ends a bitter dispute that began in 2002 when Premier Christy Clark was the education minister who removed class size and special needs support provisions from the BCTF contract.

“After 14 years of disrespect for classrooms, the end of the road has finally arrived for Christy Clark and her war on public education,” Horgan said. “This is a great day for public education  in British Columbia, and it is a day for some accountability from the B.C. Liberals.”

B.C. Federation of Labour president Irene Lanzinger, a former BCTF president, posted a picture celebrating the decision, which came less than a half an hour after the nine judges of the Supreme Court of Canada heard from an array of union and government lawyers in Ottawa Thursday.

 

 

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