The British Columbia Teachers' Federation said Thursday it would ask the Labour Relations Board to quash the recent appointment of Dr. Charles Jago as mediator in the teachers' labour dispute.
The BCTF cited a "clear apprehension of bias and a flawed process" as reasons for its application.
At a press conference, BCTF president Susan Lambert said Dr. Jago told the union that he was approached to serve as mediator, and tentatively accepted, in early February - before a controversial new education bill that includes provisions for a mediator was tabled in the legislature.
That was also before the BCTF was asked to put forward its own suggestions for mediators, she said.
Ms. Lambert also said that Dr. Jago told her he was involved in drafting the legislation. At the press conference, Ms. Lambert said Dr. Jago told her he "wordsmithed" the bill, which was passed March 15, but could not provide any other details.
On Wednesday, when the BCTF's concerns relating to Dr. Jago's involvement began to circulate, education minister George Abbott said Dr. Jago had not been involved.
"Apparently there is some suggestion that Dr. Jago had a hand in the construction of Bill 22. That is absolutely incorrect and if the BCTF are operating on that premise it is a faulty premise," Mr. Abbott said on Wednesday, while visiting a Surrey elementary school.
In a statement Thursday, Mr. Abbott said he had "full confidence" in Dr. Jago's qualifications.
"He is the right person for the job," he said in the statement, adding, "Unfortunately, while they initially asked for a mediator to be appointed, the BCTF now seems intent on sidelining the mediation process by asking the Labour Relations Board to have Dr. Jago's appointment rescinded.
"I haven't seen the BCTF's application to the LRB – but I am sure the board will deal with it in due course as it is now a matter before the LRB."
Dr. Jago was not immediately available for comment. But in an April 3 letter to the BCTF, released by the union, he said he had no intention of withdrawing from the process.
"I assure you that I am impartial," his letter states. "From the outset, I have been clear that I will be fair and balanced in mediating this dispute."
Dr. Jago, an academic and a former president of the University of Northern B.C., was appointed March 28 to broker a deal between teachers and the B.C. Public School Employers' Association, the bargaining agent for the province.
Under the terms of his appointment, Dr. Jago is bound by the government's net-zero mandate – which requires new contracts to cost no more than the agreements they replace – and has until the end of June to make non-binding recommendations.
When Dr. Jago's appointment was announced, Ms. Lambert questioned his qualifications and his relatively limited experience in labour relations and education.
Dr. Jago's background – he wrote a government-commission 2006 report on B.C.'s education system that called for greater accountability – has also been a sore point for the BCTF.
That report included a recommendation that government ensure education funds are being "efficiently spent" and that "new administrative processes, enabled by the advent of information technologies and software-enabled management systems, are not being avoided simply for the sake of maintaining traditional ways of managing the public school system."
Mr. Abbott has defended Dr. Jago's qualifications, citing Dr. Jago's lengthy track record with universities and public issues including a stint as chair of the Fraser Basin Council, and his independence.
The BCTF, which represents B.C.'s 41,000 teachers, and the government have been at loggerheads for months over issues including wages and classroom conditions.
Bill 22, new education legislation passed in March, imposed a cooling-off period and paved the way for a mediator's appointment. The BCTF – which is scheduled to vote in April on ways to fight Bill 22 – has objected to the mediation process, saying the government's net-zero mandate means Dr. Jago has no room to negotiate.
In the wake of his appointment, Dr. Jago referred to it as a "mission impossible" but said he hoped to make some headway.