NDP Leader Adrian Dix wants confidential cabinet documents released so the public can decide whether Premier Christy Clark played a role in what a judge says was a cynical attempt by her Liberal government to provoke a teachers’ strike.
B.C. Supreme Court Justice Susan Griffin relied on cabinet documents that were entered as part of the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation’s fight against government rules around negotiating class sizes and composition.
The judge threw out the legislation and concluded in a ruling last week that the government acted in bad faith. She levied a $2-million penalty to be paid to the union.
“What we’re asking for today is what the judge got to see,” Mr. Dix said Monday.
“At this point, with the credibility of the Premier, the credibility of the government, and education at stake, the only path forward is for the government to come clean.”
In her ruling, Justice Griffin found that Bill 22 was unconstitutional, striking down the legislation.
The bill was intended to address the gap left after 2011 when Justice Griffin struck down a similar law, Bill 28, giving the government 12 months to remedy the issue.
The government’s next attempt, Bill 22, was found to be “virtually identical legislation,” according to the ruling, which found bargaining between the government and teachers’ federation to be in bad faith.
“The government thought that a teachers strike would give the government a political advantage in imposing legislation that the public might otherwise not support,” she wrote in her ruling.
She noted the government’s negotiator in the talks with the teachers’ union was also helping the government on broader strategy.
The judge found Paul Straszak had a firm hand on tactics to press the teachers to provoke a strike.
“Governments by their nature are political. There is nothing wrong with a government and its servant playing politics: That is what they do.
“Nevertheless, I find that Mr. Straszak’s key role in developing and pursuing this broader political agenda undermined the sincerity of Mr. Straszak’s search to reach a solution in his discussions with the union.”
But the cabinet document information heard by Justice Griffin was entered in court on the agreement that the documents themselves would not be released publicy. Cabinet documents have traditionally been closely guarded and protected from public view by law.
The teachers’ union has asked the court to be allowed to send its members a copy of the union’s court submission, which makes reference to the documents. Justice Griffin has agreed, but has given the government a month to mount an argument against the release.
Mr. Dix said Premier Clark should make those documents available immmediately.
“I think the public has a right to know what she was doing, what the government was doing,” he said. “The Premier of B.C., she’s been found out. Her government has been found out to be involved in a conspiracy to provoke a strike.
“In terms of these documents, they’ve already been aired in court.”
Jim Iker, president of the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation, declined to comment on Mr. Dix’s statement, instead stating the critical issue was Justice Griffin’s ruling.
“The information that’s there shows that the government acted in bad faith,” said Mr. Iker, who called on Ms. Clark to apologize for the government’s actions.
“We were at the bargaining table acting in good faith, and to find that they acted in bad faith, trying to provoke a strike, that’s just wrong. Justice Griffin stated as fact that the government was looking to provoke a strike.”
Education Minister Peter Fassbender issued a statement stating that the government was still in the process of reviewing the court decision and remained committed to bargaining a long-term agreement with the teachers’ federation. However, he declined to address whether the government was considering releasing the documents introduced at trial to the public.
Ms. Clark has stated that her government will likely appeal the court’s ruling.