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Striking British Columbia teachers and other supporters hold a rally on the final day of a three-day province wide walkout in Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday March 7, 2012. British Columbia's 40,000 public school teachers were voting on a new contract Friday that could end a year-long labour dispute that had teachers refusing to do some work and staging a three-day walkout.DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

The B.C. government plans to sell assets and trim costs to reach its balanced-budget goals, Finance Minister Michael de Jong said Thursday in Victoria.

And that penny-pinching attitude can be expected to shape contract talks for B.C.'s 40,000 public-school teachers.

Many public-sector workers have already settled contracts on the basis of a co-operative gains mandate, Mr. de Jong said.

"For a lot of those public-sector workers, it has been pretty slim pickings in the raise department. Those same principles apply with respect to the negotiations that we are having with teachers," he said.

Mr. de Jong was responding to a reporter's question about repeated calls by the British Columbia Teachers' Federation that more money be made available for teachers and education.

Mr. de Jong added that he has spoken to parents who welcome the idea of a 10-year contract – suggested by Premier Christy Clark during the recent election campaign – as a way of avoiding the "treadmill" of regular labour disputes.

"Can it happen? I hope so. But it will have to happen within the confines of what is affordable to the taxpayers of British Columbia," he said. "That has been true of every other public-sector negotiation that has taken place and will be true of the negotiations that take place with the teachers."

The current two-year contract, reached after a labour dispute that included a three-day walkout, expires at the end of June.

Under the co-operative gains approach, any wage increases in a new contract have to be offset by savings somewhere else in the agreement.

Mr. de Jong was also asked why his own government, knowing that a no-frills budget was in the works, brought in wage increases for some of its own employees shortly after the election – a move that drew considerable public scorn and resulted in Ms. Clark rolling back nearly all of the increases.

The reconfigured salary grid would have seen fewer dollars spent this year than last year, Mr. de Jong said, but added that "that point seemed to be lost on everyone and as a result the Premier took the steps she did and I think people respect her for it."

On the health-care front, spending is projected to reach $19.3-billion and account for more than 42 per cent of government expenses by the fiscal year that ends in March 2016.

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