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B.C. appoints mediator in talks with teachers

British Columbia teachers demonstrate for better student learning conditions outside the cabinet offices of the provincial government in Vancouver, March 18, 2013.


B.C's Education Minister has appointed a sole negotiator to hold talks with the province's teachers as the Liberal government steps up its bid to secure a 10-year contract with the teachers union.

On Tuesday, Peter Fassbender announced that mediator Peter Cameron will be the government's negotiator instead of the B.C. Public School Employers' Association.

"We want to answer [the teachers'] request to bargain directly with the provincial government on the provincial cost drivers that are always at the table," he told reporters during a hastily called news conference.

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The rookie MLA and minister, new to provincial politics after a career in municipal politics that saw him help negotiate B.C.'s policing deal with the RCMP, also confirmed he is suspending talks after five months work to allow both sides to figure out how to negotiate the 10-year contract. The government hopes to restart talks in the fall.

Any work so far done in talks will be, in future, rolled into new negotiations, he said. "We're doing a pause so we can develop the new road map," Mr. Fassbender said.

"I say to [teachers] now: Let's sit down and develop the road map to deal with the specific issues. I am still as optimistic as I always have been."

The teachers have been wary about the idea, which was proposed by Premier Christy Clark earlier this year as a means of guaranteeing long-term labour stability.

Incoming BCTF president Jim Iker has said that a decade-long deal is not acceptable.

The current president of the BCTF said she wasn't sure what the union would do now. "We're not sure how the process is going to unfold," said Susan Lambert, though she added teachers would initially remain at the table because they want to know what's going on.

B.C. NDP education critic Rob Fleming said the government should bargain in good faith, but seems to be imposing political gimmick ahead of being flexible.

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The minister would not speculate on whether he would accept a deal that was short of a decade.

"I have said the government ran on a platform. We were elected on a platform," he said. "I am not putting any gauntlets in front of [teachers]. I am saying, 'Let's roll up our sleeves together and work on solutions.'"

Mr. Fassbender acknowledged the government may not have much money to invest in sweetening the proposal.

"We are in a fiscal-restraint period. We very clearly have a balanced budget that we'll be introducing this week and so everything we do has to be bathed in that fiscal reality. That's what we're going to do."

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