Appeal court to hear class size/composition case this weekOctober 13, 2014
The B.C. Court of Appeal will hear arguments this week over the contentious issue of class size and composition in B.C. public schools. But don’t expect a quick fix to this long-standing feud.
Five justices will sit Oct. 14-16 to hear the government’s appeal of a B.C. Supreme Court ruling that favoured the B.C. Teachers’ Federation (BCTF). A decision isn’t expected before next year and, regardless of who wins, the case appears headed for the Supreme Court of Canada.
The lower court found that government violated teachers’ rights in 2002 when it passed legislation stripping the BCTF of the right to bargain class size, composition and specialist teacher ratios. Justice Susan Griffin restored those provisions and ordered the province to pay the union $2 million in damages.
It was the second time Griffin had sided with the BCTF on this issue.
Although it’s a complicated issue, the government says it comes down to one key question: What are the constitutional limits on government’s ability to legislate collective agreement terms that a union views as unfavourable?
“The simple statement of the issue should not mask its fundamental importance. Collective agreement terms may have broad impact on the cost and delivery of public services. In the present case, for example, the contractual terms restored by the trial judge direct public school organization and the annual allocation of several hundred million dollars of the provincial budget,” it says in a statement to the court.
But the BCTF, in its factum, insists the issue is not about the government’s ability to legislate collective agreement terms that a union considers unfavourable. “This appeal is about fundamental freedoms and teachers’ rights protected by s. 2(d) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”
The Coalition of BC Businesses, which backs the government’s appeal, has been granted limited intervener status in the case. It has stated that it feels compelled to stand up for the 50,000 employers and 500,000 employees it represents.
“If the ruling is allowed to stand, our government will be required to either raise taxes, return to deficit spending or cut vital social services,” chairman Mark von Schellwitz said in a statement. “This will reduce British Columbia’s competitiveness and will have a negative impact on our economy and on the employers and employees we represent.”
The B.C. Court of Appeal said hearing the position of small- and medium-sized businesses might be helpful and granted the coalition status.
The BCTF had opposed the coalition’s application and some members responded to the appeal court’s decision by calling for a boycott of those businesses. That prompted a few businesses to issue statements denying any involvement with the application.
Karin Litzcke of Vancouver also applied for intervener status, saying she wanted to represent the rights of parents and children. But the appeal court rejected her application, saying she was well-intentioned but would not make a useful contribution and did not represent a broad group.
I am a guest blogger for BCCPAC and do not speak for the organization.