Court transcript feeds government-teacher tensionFebruary 13, 2014
As bargaining between the government and B.C. teachers was about to resume Wednesday, the NDP dropped a bombshell that could make it even more difficult for the two side to strike a deal.
The party released a transcript of testimony by the government’s chief negotiator Paul Straszak during a court hearing last year into the constitutionality of the Liberals’ move in 2002 to strip the union of the right to bargain class size, composition and specialty-teacher ratios.
They show that Straszak, on the stand in September, was asked by the BCTF’s lawyer if it was a government objective during negotiations in 2011 to provoke a strike by the union.
“Yes, I’ll say that’s correct,” he replied. (The idea being that if teachers struck, the public would support the imposition of a settlement. Instead, the teachers and the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association – working with negotiator Charles Jago – surprised everyone by reaching a deal at the eleventh hour in June 2012.)
Government also hoped that a budget squeeze would encourage boards of education to support its side, according to other testimony by Straszak that was cited by the NDP in the legislature and reported by the Vancouver Sun.
Justice Susan Griffin of the B.C. Supreme Court, in a January ruling that favoured the BCTF in the dispute over contract stripping, said the province had bargained in bad faith* and tried to provoke a strike. But Premier Christy Clark and Education Minister Peter Fassbender flatly denied it.
Now, with the release of partial transcripts Wednesday, many are wondering what hope there is for peaceful and respectful negotiations this time round.
Globe columnist Gary Mason said the documents have created Clark’s first post-election crisis. “This allegation (of provocation) no longer resides in the realm of hearsay or in the mind of a Supreme Court judge. This is the government’s chief negotiator with the BCTF talking about a plan to put tens of thousands of kids out of school to fulfill the government’s political agenda. And that’s about as damaging, optically, as it gets for a governing party.”
Furthermore, it threatens to do irreparable harm to the relationship between the government and teachers, he said, adding that it’s unlikely Straszak was acting on his own, without government backing. Straszak is no longer with government.
This story is far from over. The government is appealing Griffin’s decision and has argued that cabinet documents presented during the court case must remain confidential.
The two sides, meanwhile, were back to bargaining Thursday.
*Bad-faith bargaining is described by the B.C. Labour Relations Board as a deliberate strategy by either party to prevent reaching an agreement.
I am a guest blogger for BCCPAC and the information presented here does not represent in any way the views of the organization.