The B.C Teachers Federation says it’s won its long-running battle in the Supreme Court of Canada with the province over class size and composition, after justices made a rare decision from the bench.
“Legally this is the end of the road, the Supreme Court of Canada is it, they’re the Supremes,” says BC Teachers Federation president Glen Hansman.
It is the final showdown between the union and the provincial government, who have been battling over the issue since the province tore up teachers contracts in 2002.
Teachers have since maintained they have the right to bargain over class size and composition.
That position was backed in 2014 by a B.C. Supreme Court Judge, who restored the rules to teachers contracts – but the ruling was overturned last year by the B.C. Court of Appeal.
Today’s decision restores that 2014 ruling.
Hansman says now the process to integrate the changes for next school year will begin, a possibility he says the province was prepared for.
“[It’s] not going to cost them billions and billions of dollars, we already settle in the last round of bargaining, the retroactive piece, so from 2002 to the present day,” he says. “This is about what happens from today and into the future.”
But it will be expensive; Hansman says the ruling means class size and composition will now have to return to 2002 levels.
“Going from none of that language to all of the language back is going to take quite a bit of conversation,” Hansman said. “But the provincial government has put aside money in its budget to deal with this eventuality.”
Hansman says they expected the court to ask for more information or at the very best a written decision, today’s rare oral decision was a pleasant shocker.
“War on education”
NDP Leader John Horgan says today’s court ruling marks an end to the Liberal government’s war on education.
And, trying out what is sure to be a line of attack in the coming spring election, he laid blame for the bitter battle at Premier Chisty Clark’s feet.
“She was the Minister of Education in 2002. And in 2012, when the Justices found that they had violated the constitution and were trying to provoke labour action, they were found at fault,” he said.
“I don’t believe that she can get her way out of this by just saying ‘Oh well, I made a mistake, and I do the best I can.’ An entire generation of students have been short changed because of her actions. I am not going to let people forget that.”
Horgan says he’s heard estimates that the cost of returning staffing levels to 2002 levels will be in the ballpark of $250-300-million.
But, he says, the good news is: the money is going into education, not a court battle.
As Gov discusses today's ruling with BCTF work is ongoing with them to continue great outcomes and curriculum implementation 4students #bced— Mike Bernier (@Mike_A_Bernier) November 10, 2016
Thanks to present long negotiated contract we have stability and peace in classrooms. That stability and focus on students remains #bced— Mike Bernier (@Mike_A_Bernier) November 10, 2016
Finance Minister responds positively to surprise news
B.C.’s Finance Minister is taking an optimistic stance.
Mike de Jong says the decision to return class size and composition to 2002 level ends a 15-year-old court case and removes uncertainty.
“It eliminates that lingering uncertainty that can impact the relationship and the ability the parties have to do other things and engage for other reasons, so that’s a good thing.”
Despite the decision coming sooner than expected, de Jong says they are prepared, with any changes it might bring to the province’s bottom line.
“We’re at that stage of the budgeting process where we can still deal with that and accommodate that, so I believe the conversations will begin fairly immediately because I believe both parties are interested in resolving them as quickly as possible.”
But there are still there are a lot of unknowns.
How much it will cost, how many teachers this would involve and when the implementation might happen are all up in the air right now.
As far as the cost of taking the case to the Supreme Court, de Jong says it would likely be in excess of $1-million.
The BC Federation of Labour is also applauding the decision.
President Irene Lanzinger says it’s clear the provisions that were stripped in 2002 are now in effect.
“Because it was the second ruling that gave teachers back their class size and composition language, that’s the court ruling that now stands, so that means resources will flow and have to flow to B.C. classrooms in terms of teachers, class size limits things like that,” she says.
Lanzinger says the way the B.C. government has treated teachers and public education will define the way people vote in the election.
With files from Liza Yuzda and Janet Brown
A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the minister pegged the cost of litigation as $100-million; he said it could cost more than $1-million.