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Court rejects B.C. class size law again; Province to pay teachers $2 million

A protester dressed as a grim reaper takes part in a rally in support of striking teachers at the B.C. legislature, March 2012. - Black Press files
A protester dressed as a grim reaper takes part in a rally in support of striking teachers at the B.C. legislature, March 2012.
— image credit: Black Press files

The B.C. Supreme Court has rejected the provincial government's effort to keep class size and special needs support off the bargaining table with teachers, and ordered the government to pay $2 million in damages to the B.C. Teachers' Federation.

In a ruling released Monday, Justice Susan Griffin said the B.C. government's replacement legislation, passed in 2011, is as unconstitutional as the 2002 law called Bill 28 that removed class size and special needs support from the BCTF contract.

"The court concluded that the government did not negotiate in good faith with the union after the Bill 28 decision," Griffin wrote. "One of the problems was that the government representatives were preoccupied with another strategy. Their strategy was to put such pressure on the union that it would provoke a strike by the union. The government representatives thought this would give government the opportunity to gain political support for imposing legislation on the union."

The ruling strikes down the portions of the new legislation that have not already expired.

BCTF president Jim Iker said the ruling returns contract language that was in place in 2002, and he expects that the province's 60 school districts will have to rehire teachers and special need assistants to reduce class size.

He said there were 1,200 education specialists affected by the 2002 legislation, including teacher-librarians and counsellors.

"It's good for us, it's good for public education, it's good for British Columbia and for our students," Iker said of Monday's ruling.

Education Minister Peter Fassbender said he is "disappointed" by the ruling, and ministry staff will study it before deciding on a possible appeal.

Fassbender said he disagrees with the judge's conclusion that the government tried to provoke a strike, and his focus is on reaching a new agreement.

"What we need to do is to review the judge's ruling in detail to see what the implications are, but clearly my message to school districts, to parents, is it's business as usual in our schools," Fassbender said.

NDP education critic Rob Fleming called the ruling "real blow to the B.C. Liberals' credibility," adding it traces back to Premier Christy Clark's time as education minister in 2002.

 

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