Talks between B.C. teachers and the B.C. government aimed at a long-term contract are under way Wednesday, the first time the two sides have met since a judge ripped the Liberals over their handling of contract issues.
B.C. Premier Christy Clark campaigned last spring on working toward a 10-year deal with teachers, which would put the factious relationship to rest and guarantee labour peace for a generation of students.
But a B.C. Supreme Court judge ruled two weeks ago the government was working behind the scenes in 2012 to provoke a strike at the same time as it negotiated the last contract, inflaming tensions between the two sides once again. The government has rejected that and has filed notice to appeal.
Still, Education Minister Peter Fassbender told reporters in Victoria this morning it's possible for the two sides to continue talks for the 10-year deal.
When asked how the government gets past the ruling, Mr. Fassbender replied: "Simply by saying we have the same objective, that this is all about learning outcomes for students.
"If we agree on that basic point, and we do, every meeting I've had with [B.C. Teachers' Federation president] Jim Iker and the BCTF has focused on that – if we keep our eye on that ball, we'll find a way through it."
But Mr. Fassbender acknowledged it wasn't going to be easy.
The union has said it is not interested in a 10-year deal, though Mr. Fassbender said that remains the goal.
"It isn't the length of the deal, it's the content of the deal that's important. If you have the right content, 10 years is doable."
In 2002, the B.C. Liberal government passed legislation to take away contract language that limited class size and classroom composition (the number of special-needs students in each classroom).
Twice since then, the B.C. Supreme Court has ruled that the government trampled the rights of teachers and last month, the court declared that the law limiting teachers' rights to negotiate their working conditions is no longer in effect.
Among other things, the ruling could unleash a flood of official grievances launched by the tens of thousands of teachers who were affected by the changes imposed by the Liberals in 2002.
Mr. Fassbender has said returning to the contract language before 2002 would cost the province $1-billion.
B.C. school trustees are also seeking legal advice to determine whether they now have to hire scores of teachers to meet the terms of the old contract language. Leaders of boards of education from across the province are meeting via conference call Wednesday to discuss next steps.
"Trustees around the province have serious concerns about the potential implications of the recent ruling," the B.C. School Trustees Association said in a news release.
"Boards of education and the BCSTA expect that all costs related to the ruling, direct and indirect, will be fully funded by government."
In announcing the government's appeal of the Supreme Court ruling in favour of the B.C. Teachers' Federation (BCTF), Education Minister Peter Fassbender said it would cost taxpayers "upwards of $1-billion" to restore classrooms to the contract language that existed in 2002.
However, with 60 school districts, each with different needs, budget issues and contract language, the cost of such a restoration is a complex calculation. The BCTF says the province has lost close to 1,400 specialist positions.
School districts are now calculating the implications of the ruling; here is what some of them are saying: