B.C. will appeal class-size court decision

The government will appeal a recent B.C. Supreme Court ruling that restored certain bargaining rights for teachers, Education Minister Peter Fassbender said Tuesday.

Premier Christy Clark said almost a week ago that the government would likely appeal. Today, the education minister confirmed the move.

Fassbender said he doesn’t agree with the verdict of Justice Susan Griffin, who ruled last week that the Liberal government has twice passed unconstitutional legislation to limit teachers from bargaining on class size and composition.

“Government has a different interpretation of prior Supreme Court of Canada decisions related to the freedom of association than was outlined in the judgment,” said Fassbender, who said the province wants “clarity” on the issue.

Justice Griffin also found the Liberal government was trying to provoke a strike with teachers two years ago in order to impose legislation upon the B.C Teachers’ Federation.

The court awarded $2 million in damages to the BCTF and the ruling could retroactively restore class size and composition language stripped from teachers’ contracts in 2002.

Such a restoration, with its “rigid formulas” for class sizes, would cost the government “upwards of $1 billion,” said Fassbender.

“In practical terms the judgment is completely unaffordable for taxpayers,” he said. “It would create huge disruptions in our schools and most importantly it will prevent districts from providing the right mix of supports that our students actually need.”

Fassbender called upon the BCTF to return to the bargaining table for scheduled talks Feb. 6, though he admitted he didn’t know the legalities of how government can bargain a new contract in the wake of a court decision it is choosing to appeal. The Attorney General’s ministry will provide a more detailed explanation of the government’s legal position in the future, said Fassbender.

The appeal is almost certain to inflame contract talks with teachers, who had urged the government to simply accept the court ruling and move on.

Fassbender, who has not spoken to the BCTF since the ruling, said it’s not his intention to provoke the union.

“I’m not declaring war,” he said of the continued 12-year legal battle with teachers.

Fassbender took particular issue with Justice Griffin’s characterization that the Liberal government was trying to provoke a strike in 2011.

“That is the judge’s interpretation,” Fassbender said.

“I can tell you that this government’s policy is not to provoke disruption, not to provoke strikes. The judge has her interpretation… we disagree with that, and make no hesitation in saying clearly on behalf of this government we disagree with that interpretation.”

However, Fassbender declined to release the internal government documents that Justice Griffen said prove the government negotiated in bad faith. Those documents, obtained by the BCTF, can’t be released during the appeals period. Whether the public can see the documents is a matter for lawyers, said Fassbender.

– Rob Shaw is a Vancouver Sun reporter.

For more from the Vancouver Sun, click HERE.

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