The B.C. Education Minister appears to be softening his stand after weeks of insisting the government will not legislate striking teachers back to work.
In an interview on CBC Vancouver's Early Edition Thursday, host Rick Cluff asked Peter Fassbender how long his government was willing to go before further action is taken.
"We know we have to get kids in the classroom," Mr. Fassbender replied. "We're going to take whatever action we have. The House is going to be sitting in October.
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"My hope, and the Premier's hope, and our government's hope is that we have a negotiated settlement long before we go back to Victoria." Asked later that day whether he would open the door to that option, Mr. Fassbender replied: "The reality is, government has the ultimate ability to legislate in any situation."
He would not say whether he's had discussions with the Premier about recalling the legislature early or how government would respond if the strike continued into the fall sitting of the House, set for the first week of October.
"As government, we talk about a lot of things. But I'm not going to get into speculating on any of that."
The comments are a departure from those from recent weeks in which the Education Minister was categorical in his insistence the government would not legislate.
"I believe the [B.C. Teachers' Federation] executive and their negotiating team feels that if they can hold back, not negotiate a settlement, not take my proposals to have schools start and give us more time to negotiate some difficult issues, that we will legislate a settlement as has happened in the past," Mr. Fassbender said at a news conference on Aug. 31.
"We are not going to legislate. It puts us back into the same position we have been in for far too long."
And on Aug. 19: "We want a negotiated settlement at the table. We have said that we are not prepared to continue the cycle of legislated solutions with the BCTF."
Premier Christy Clark, who was asked about the apparent softening of the government's stand on Thursday, deflected questions about legislation.
"My position on that hasn't changed: I want to get a negotated agreement; I intend to get one," she said at an unrelated event in Vancouver. "I think as long as we keep our eyes focused on that goal, it will remain within our reach. The minute we take our eyes off that goal, I think it will begin to elude us."
Half-a-million B.C. students have now lost two weeks of the new school year as the bitter labour dispute between the government and the province's 41,000 public school teachers drags on.
On Wednesday, the BCTF's membership voted 99.4 per cent in favour of ending the strike if the government drops the contentious E80 clause, which deals with classroom conditions, and agrees to binding arbitration.
The government has repeatedly rejected binding arbitration, with Mr. Fassbender insisting it would lead to "unacceptable tax increases."
Said Ms. Clark: "I, as a leader, and the BCTF as leaders of their union – [we] were elected, among other things, to negotiate agreements. I am not prepared to step away and shirk that responsibility by giving it to somebody else. I feel a duty to do this."
- With a report from the Canadian Press