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Globe editorial

Bad faith, bad form, in B.C. school politics Add to ...

Maybe, just maybe the long-drawn-out conflict that started back in 2001, between the B.C. Liberal Party and the B.C. Teachers Federation, has been brought to an end by the Supreme Court of Canada – or at least to a normal series of skirmishes in collective bargaining.

In 2013, the provincial government’s negotiator admitted, under cross-examination, that its strategy was to put the teachers under pressure to call a full-scale strike – probably hoping to make the teachers look like the villains.

The government’s upper civil servants pointed out to the cabinet that there is a legal obligation to negotiate in good faith. But the politicians appeared to want a complete, one-sided victory, as if they were in some bitter class struggle.

The two sides largely fought about classroom size and “composition,” and “diversity of student needs”; in other words, working conditions for teachers and euphemisms for troubled children.

By now, of course, all these factors have shifted since the last major outbreak of educational conflict in B.C. In these circumstances, Finance Minister Mike de Jong has found it necessary to express some contrition about the government’s aggressive tactics – the legacies of former premier Gordon Campbell and Premier Christy Clark, both as former education minister and as Premier.

The upshot of the government’s too-clever-by-half strategy has resulted in obliging it to spend from $200-million to $300-million more per year on teachers, and hiring hundreds more new teachers. And no doubt the government’s new-found humility will have dissipated by the time of the provincial election in the spring of 2017.

Much, or even most, of this could have been avoided by a lot of talking back and forth between the B.C. government and the union, and seeing who got worn down first. That is the real-world description of negotiating in good faith, as the courts pointed out.

Ms. Clark now speaks almost as if everybody had agreed all the time, for example, saying, “We all want to put more special-needs teachers in classrooms ... and make sure that the classes are the right size for kids.”

It has been a long and expensive road to end in platitudes.

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