VICTORIA – There are two reasons why the B.C. government must appeal the latest court ruling that damns its conduct, assesses damages of $2 million plus lawyer bills and appears to hand the B.C. Teachers’ Federation the keys to the treasury.
The first is practical politics. The legislature reopens Feb. 11, ironically right after Family Day. An appeal will give rookie Education Minister Peter Fassbender the cover he will need during the daily 30 minutes of sniper fire that is Question Period.
Rise. “It’s before the courts, Madam Speaker.” Sit.
Even the trigger-happy Premier Christy Clark will be staying in her trench, after the bleeding wound she received from Justice Susan Griffin last week.
The second reason is practical economics. The 2014 budget has gone to press. Government lawyers told the court that retroactively returning to 2001 classroom rules could cost $500 million, an estimate Griffin dismissed as “speculative.”
It could include compensation to retired teachers for earnings they gave up. This retroactive lump would be on top of the ongoing costs, running to hundreds of millions more as 60 school districts try to reassemble the world of 2002.
This union victory began when the Supreme Court of Canada invented a constitutional right to collective bargaining in 2007, based on “freedom of association” in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The BCTF is piggy-backing on that landmark decision, in favour of the Hospital Employees’ Union, after Gordon Campbell ran roughshod over their sweetheart contract from the Glen Clark years. That one was settled for $85 million, including retroactive payments.
In case there are parents and taxpayers who still believe that all would be calm had the NDP won the 2013 election, allow me to put that to rest.
NDP leader Adrian Dix took to his Facebook page a couple of days after last week’s ruling, joining calls for an apology from Clark. That would be for what Justice Griffin characterized as deliberately provoking a strike to build public support for the latest of a long line of settlements imposed on teachers.
Within minutes, Dix received this caustic response from Tara Ehrcke, president of the Greater Victoria teachers’ union.
“But where was the NDP during the election campaign?” Ehrcke asked Dix. “You committed a measly $100 million – a third of what it will take to restore class sizes and less than the [NDP] platform in 2009, and only pocket change more than the Liberals’ Learning Improvement Fund of $75 million.”
Note the mindset of this prominent member of the radical fringe that controls the BCTF. “A measly $100 million.” An extra $25 million? “Pocket change.” This is the same union boss who demanded that hundreds of teachers be hired starting this week, reorganizing current classes in the middle of the school year to make them smaller by one or two students.
Parents and students would endure yet another major disruption of the public school system.
And who needs an increase in rural ambulance service or drug and alcohol treatment for street kids. Let’s get those teacher-librarians back in schools, and slightly reduce class sizes to offset declining enrolment!
No government, B.C. Liberal, NDP or Green Party, can let its unions control their own payroll, just as no private company can. That goes double for this union, which had its own obvious role in provoking an illegal strike in 2012. It made outrageous benefit demands and cancelled extra-curriculars for months before it even specified its wage demand.
Bargaining, if you can call it that, resumes shortly. Both sides need to cease fire.
Tom Fletcher is legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Twitter: @tomfletcherbc