B.C. Education Minister Peter Fassbender says he wants to relaunch talks with teachers so that both sides can figure out how to negotiate a controversial 10-year contact that has become a centrepiece of B.C. policy.
Mr. Fassbender told reporters Thursday, following meetings with teachers and organizations working with government in the talks, that he wants negotiations wrapped up this week on lesser issues as a prelude to resuming talks with a new mandate to include work on the decade-long agreement. The last teachers' contract was for two years.
"There's a lot of good work that has been accomplished at the table so far. That needs to conclude this week," Mr. Fassbender said following meetings with the British Columbia Teachers' Federation, the B.C. School Trustees Association and the B.C Public School Employers' Association. "Next week, we'll sit down and start to define what a new road map, what a new relationship will look like. Based on that, we will then resume negotiations."
The new round of talks would start later this year.
The BCTF swiftly slammed the idea, saying the rookie minister, appointed to cabinet after being elected a first-time MLA last month, should stick to the current bargaining, which has making some progress since it began earlier this year.
"We don't need a new bargaining structure since all the relevant parties, including government, are now at the table," Susan Lambert, the BCTF president, said in a statement issued after Mr. Fassbender's afternoon news conference.
Teachers have been skeptical about the proposal, which was strongly endorsed by Premier Christy Clark ahead of last month's election as a means of bringing stability to the province's system.
Mr. Fassbender made it clear to reporters the government won't back down.
In her mandate letter to Mr. Fassbender, Ms. Clark wrote that one of 11 initiatives she expects the rookie minister to complete is to "successfully achieve 10 years of educational stability by overseeing negotiations on a long-term collective agreement with the B.C. Teachers' Federation."
On Thursday, the Minister acknowledged various questions about the proposal, such as protections for teachers if there are changes in the economy, but said they would be worked out in a new round of talks. He also declined to talk about whether he would accept less than 10 years for a deal.
In her statement, Ms. Lambert said the province's per-student funding is $1,000 below the national average, according to Statistics Canada.
Mr. Fassbender, asked about ministry finances, said it is operating under "fiscal restraint."
He continues to be bullishly optimistic about reaching a deal. "I think we can get rid of the acrimony we've had and work together in a positive way. It's about building bridges of communication and collaboration."