The Supreme Court of Canada has sided with the B.C Teachers’ Federation in a court battle that began in 2002over the right to negotiate classroom conditions.
The decision stems from legislation enacted in 2002—when Premier Christy Clark was education minister—that stripped teachers’ bargaining rights related to class size and composition. On Thursday November 10th, theSupreme Court of Canada confirmed two earlier Supreme Court of B.C decisions that deemed the legislation unconstitutional and ordered the deleted language be restored. The ruling came only hours after a hearing into the case started earlier that morning.
Doug Murray, president of the BCTF Local 4, said he was surprised to have heard a ruling so fast given that their lawyers had expected a decision to take months. He said he was extremely happy with the outcome.
“I actually, as a Canadian born and raised, would have been shocked if it wasn’t the way it was,” he said. “I would’ve been absolutely shocked, probably about as much as Trump getting in.”
Working as a teacher in 2002, Murray said he was disgusted by the way the Liberal Government disrespected workers and gutted the educational system throughout the province. Since that time, about 3,500 full-time jobs have been eliminated since 2002 as a result of contract changes and insufficient funding.
“Everyone thinks your cutting edge or that you’re this that or the other thing but when you’re not properly funding something, it shows no matter how much you try to hide it,” Murray said.
According to the BCTF’s press release, the underfunding of education in B.C has caused the province to fall behind the rest of Canada with an entire generation of B.C student losing out. Based on the latest StatisticsCanada data, B.C is last on seven key measures of education funding and is currently spending $1,000 less per student than the national average. Only PEI is considered worse than BC in terms of per-student funding.
Thursday’s ruling wasn’t the first time that the BCTF had brought the legislation before the courts however. In2011, B.C Supreme Court Justice Susan Griffin found the legislation had violated the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and gave the government a year to fix the law. The province passed new changes the following year, which included sections that were previously declared unconstitutional.
The BCTF challenged the legislation once again with the same judge finding the new legislation identical to the previous one in 2014. The BCTF finally claimed a victory for students, teachers and parents of British Columbia last week, said Murray.
“It’s a victory for teachers and students because the working conditions of teachers and the working conditions of kids, they try to pretend that maybe those are different things and it’s hard for me to understand how that could be,” he said. “For parents as well, sending them to school knowing that you’re fully funded.”
The BCTF estimates that it could cost the government as much as $250-million to $300 million a year to returnto class limits and other provisions shared under prior contracts.
In its annual budget last year, the provincial government labeled the case as a “major risk” to its balanced-budget plans but forecasted a $1.9 billion surplus for 2016-17.
The government will have to figure out a way to reinstate as many as 1,400 clauses in their master contract for the province, deliberating on issues such as hiring more teachers, building more classrooms modernizing terminology such as the definition of a student with special needs, which have changed since 2002.
The teachers’ current contract, which includes provisions to renegotiate depending on future court rulings, runs until June 30, 2019. Murray said he’s uncertain of the route from here but hopes that the government will act according to the law and reintroduce the language. For now, he’s said he’s happy justice was finally restored.
“I’m really happy because if it was the opposite way, I don’t know what that would have said about our country,”he said. “It’s just like ‘what do you mean you can just rip things up and pretend that they don’t exist?’ It would just be a dictatorship and no one does well under that kind of conditions so my faith has been restored.”