When British Columbia Premier Christy Clark proposed a 10-year deal for the province's 41,000 public-school teachers early this year, skeptics raised their eyebrows. But new Education Minister Peter Fassbender insists it is too early to write it off as an impossibility.
"There is no framework yet to make a decision that 10 years or eight years or whatever is too long or too short until we sit down and work out that road map," Mr. Fassbender told reporters during a press conference Wednesday at the Vancouver Public Library, where he had come to reaffirm the provincial government's support for a previously announced education grant.
"I helped to negotiate a 20-year RCMP contract. And a lot of my colleagues said to me at that time, '20 years is way too long.' But when we actually finished and we had all the details in the agreement, that showed how all the checks and balances were there – I think people saw how a 20-year deal is not unrealistic.
"And I don't think a 10-year deal is unrealistic, either. As long as we have those elements negotiated into a contract."
Last Friday, the British Columbia Teachers' Federation announced that 96 per cent of teachers who voted in a provincewide poll supported the BCTF bargaining team and opposed government "interference" in the bargaining process.
The BCTF was responding to steps the government took in June, including rescinding the previous bargaining direction provided to the B.C. Public School Employers' Association – the bargaining agent for the province's 60 school boards.
That worried the BCTF, which said the preceding few months of talks between the teachers' union and the association had been the most productive in years.
Negotiations are on hold for the summer and are expected to resume in September.
"The vote was a reaffirmation by our membership that what they want to happen is a negotiated collective agreement at the bargaining table that represents a fair deal for our members," BCTF president Jim Iker said on Wednesday, "and also would provide the necessary resources for more supports for our students."
The government and the BCTF have been at loggerheads over education funding for the past decade and both sides are scheduled to be in court this fall in a case related to that dispute.
Mr. Fassbender, who won his seat as MLA for Surrey-Fleetwod in May, was, as the mayor of Langley, the municipal representative in negotiations between B.C. and Ottawa for a new, 20-year RCMP contract that replaced one that expired last year.
Now, as Education Minister, he is heading a ministry known for frequent labour disputes and charged with turning Ms. Clark's vision of a 10-year deal into reality.
A two-year contract for teachers expired in June.
Also on Wednesday, Mr. Fassbender reaffirmed B.C.'s previously stated support for a one-time $1,200 provincial education grant for children born in 2007 or later. The province is working with Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, which runs a federal education savings plan, to implement the program.
Saskatchewan introduced the Saskatchewan Advantage Grant for Education Savings program last year. It provides a provincial government grant of 10 per cent of a client's contributions up to a maximum of $250 per year per beneficiary and is designed to work with the federal education savings program. In B.C., no matching contributions are required to receive the grants.
In Alberta, the Alberta Centennial Education Savings program put $500 into savings plans for children who were born to Alberta residents in 2005 or later. That program is currently being phased out.