Teachers will seek another appeal

‘Confident’ of victory in Supreme Court as dispute goes to next round

Teachers weren’t anticipating a loss in the B.C. Court of Appeal, but they considered it the most conservative one they would face, said Maple Ridge Teachers’ Association president George Serra.

“We knew if we were going to lose somewhere, this is the court where we would have lost,” said Serra, explaining why last week’s ruling was not a shock. “It is disappointing.”

The B.C. Court of Appeal ruled in favour of the B.C. government in the long-running dispute with the B.C. Teachers’ Federation over the removal of class size and special needs support formulas for classrooms.

In a judgment released Thursday, four of five appeal court judges found that the province did not infringe on the constitutional rights of teachers to bargain working conditions. The appeal court pointed out numerous errors in the 2011 judgment of B.C. Supreme Court Justice Susan Griffin, and overturned her order that the government pay $2 million in damages, which has been paid to the union.

BCTF president Jim Iker said the union will seek to appeal the issue to the Supreme Court of Canada, to restore classroom rules the government removed from the contract in 2002.

Serra said two earlier court victories have teachers confident that the Supreme Court of Canada could give teachers a final victory.

“I think this issue goes beyond our particular teacher situation. This is about a government being able to tear up contracts that were bargained,” said Serra.

“That’s got to be worrisome for all unions, and anyone with a collective agreement.”

The B.C. education ministry has argued that caps on class size and number of students in each class with personalized learning plans were unduly restrictive. The NDP government of the late 1990s negotiated a settlement where the BCTF gave up salary increases in exchange for class size caps, specialist teacher levels and limits on the number of designated special needs students in each class.

Serra said teachers are disappointed with the ruling, and that the government has used contract revisions to underfund education.

“The situation this year and next year and getting worse and worse and worse,” said Serra.

It will likely be years before the matter can be heard and settled by the highest court. Serra said the irony is that an NDP government, if the party can win the next provincial election, could inherit an expensive problem created by the present government.

“The NDP could get stuck with the Liberals’ mess.”

– with files by Tom Fletcher.