After a bitter battle between the BC Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) and the provincial government that has lasted almost 15 years, the highest court in the nation has ruled in favour of the teachers.
The Supreme Court – which regularly takes months to reach a decision after hearing cases – decided after only 20 minutes of deliberation to restore clauses that were stripped from the teachers’ collective bargaining agreement by the provincial government in 2002.
Specifically, the court said the teachers’ union does have the right to at least some of the language surrounding its ability to negotiate class size and composition that was stripped from its Collective Bargaining Agreement with the province in 2002, as well as in-class supports for students with special needs.
That ruling overturns the B.C. Court of Appeals’ decision in favour of the provincial government last year.
But what does that ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada mean for the Campbell River School District, specifically?
According to Dave Harper, president of the Campbell River and District Teachers’ Association (CRDTA), we can’t know that just yet.
“We know who won,” Harper says, “we just don’t know what we won, yet, in terms of specifics.”
That’s because while the Supreme Court provided a verbal ruling in favour of “full or partial restoring of the 2002 language [of the two parties’ collective bargaining Agreement],” Harper says, which parts – and how much – of that language will be restored won’t be clarified until the court’s written ruling, expected tomorrow (Wednesday).
“We’ll have to wait for the actual ruling on Wednesday,” Harper says, “but for now, of course, we’re pleased. It’s been a long process, and I think what’s important right now for people to digest and remember is just how much parents, students and teachers have given up over the past 15 years to achieve this victory.
“It’s been devastating on an entire generation of kids,” Harper continues. “You have kids who entered kindergarten in 2002 who are now graduated, and who knows how many of them fell through the cracks who shouldn’t have. That’s really sad.”
The government, for its part, responded to the Supreme Court’s decision with a statement from Finance Minister Mike de Jong saying, in part, “The Court has confirmed that governments have the ability to legislate amendments to collective agreements. However,” he admitted, “the process to legislate specific amendments in Bill 22, the Education Improvement Act (2012), was flawed.”
He also said that government is committed to working with the BCTF “to keep making our classrooms better,” and that this decision “does not bring disruptions to classrooms.”
Harper, however, says how the government feels about this whole dispute is revealed by who made their statement on the ruling.The fact the government response to the ruling came from de Jong and not Education Minister Mike Bernier or Premier Christy Clark shows that this whole fight wasn’t really even about education.
“This is an issue of finance,” Harper says. “This has never been about education. If they were concerned about doing the right thing for education, why didn’t they do it 15 years ago? It’s wrong. It’s been wrong for 14 years, and now we’ve got a Supreme Court judgment that agrees with us. What that will look like on the ground, well, we’ll have a better idea on Wednesday.
“We could be popping the champagne corks for nothing.”
He hopes what will come out of the decision is a full restoration of the language that was in the CBA in 2002, when there were proper staffing levels in our schools, he says, but he’s not holding out much hope for that.
“My hopes would see that we’d return to solid base language surrounding how many teacher librarians there will be in schools – and speech language pathologists and learning assistants and so on – so that the students who have needs outside what the system is currently able to handle can get them addressed.”
And he hopes teachers will find they have more economic stability because they can go back to having full-time jobs instead of part-time ones.
“This generation of young teachers, they’re all struggling because they’ve got all these .4 and .6 bits and pieces of jobs. And the kids are not getting full-time supports. Try to find an elementary school in this district that has a full-time learning assistance teacher. Go to Carihi or Timberline – they have one teacher librarian split between them. Their libraries are open half the time. How can you have a high school where the library is only open half the time?” he asks rhetorically.
This story isn’t anywhere near over yet. After the ruling comes down on what language is being restored to the contract, those facets will still have to be negotiated between the two parties to see what they end up looking like.
After all, just because the Supreme Court says the teachers have the right to negotiate class size and composition, doesn’t mean it’s going to be an easy negotiation with the province to get to something they’re happy with in the classroom where it matters.
So, for right now, Harper and the teachers of School District 72 aren’t celebrating just yet.
“We’ll see,” Harper says.