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British Columbia Teaching job cuts in Ontario could offer fix for B.C.’s teacher shortage woes, B.C. education minister says

Plans to cut thousands of teaching jobs in Ontario could offer the solution to British Columbia’s teacher shortage.

B.C. Education Minister Rob Fleming said Sunday he is optimistic about a hiring fair to be held later this month in Toronto, where 10 school districts from across British Columbia are hoping to recruit educators to a province that pays less, but is on a hiring spree.

The Ontario Ministry of Education has told its directors of education that an estimated 3,475 teaching positions will be lost in the province over the next four years through attrition as a result of changes to the average class sizes in some elementary grades and in high schools. The move has prompted protests and a student walk-out.

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It is a reversal of the trend in B.C., where a Supreme Court of Canada ruling restored limits on class size and the number of students with special needs in each classroom, forcing the government to fund 3,700 new positions since the fall of 2017.

The fast-paced recruitment drive in B.C. has created a shortage of teachers, particularly in special education and French immersion, and it has added to the recruitment woes already faced in rural communities.

B.C. has added roughly $1-billion in education funding over the past two years, to meet the requirements of the court order. The money was expected to restore specialist teachers such as counsellors and special-needs resource educators. But many classrooms still don’t meet the terms of the restored contract language, and those specialist teachers are frequently being diverted into classroom teaching because of the continued teacher shortage, while the number of unqualified teachers is increasing.

Mr. Fleming said there are currently 300 teaching vacancies in B.C., and with growth in student enrolment in many districts, coupled with retirement trends, there will be many new positions available in the short term.

“There are going to be additional teaching opportunities in B.C. for the foreseeable future,” he said.

The union representing B.C. teachers is currently in contract negotiations, and has argued that its members need wage increases to help address the recruitment and retention issues that have emerged over the past two years.

According to the BC Teachers’ Federation, British Columbia’s average public-school salaries are some of the lowest in the country. Among the provinces, Ontario offers the third-highest salaries, while B.C. ranks seventh. On an annual salary, the gap last year between the two provinces was roughly $13,000.

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Union officials could not be reached for comment on Sunday.

Under the B.C. government’s public-sector bargaining mandate, teachers face a firm cap of 2 per cent a year in wage increases.

However, Mr. Fleming said the wage gap hasn’t proven to be a barrier to recruitment.

B.C. has been recruiting teachers in Europe and across Canada. Last year, the province’s public schools hired 850 teachers from outside B.C., and 500 of them were from Ontario.

“There is no question teachers are paid more in Ontario than in British Columbia. But I think we are seeing teachers are interested in coming to British Columbia for a variety of reasons," Mr. Fleming said. “First and foremost, there is a government that is supportive of public education here now.”

The former B.C. Liberal government stripped teachers of the right to negotiate class size and composition (the number of students with special needs) in 2002. The Liberals increased class sizes and closed more than 260 schools. In 2016, the Supreme Court of Canada restored the old contract language.

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British Columbia’s minority NDP government took power in 2017, with a campaign platform that promised to “fix” the education system, with investments in student success from kindergarten to graduate school.

“Ontario seems to be going down the path that [the Liberals] disastrously took our school system,” Mr. Fleming said. "Will that help recruitment efforts? I think it definitely will.”

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