BCTF dispute heading to top court

Education Minister Mike Bernier says 'relationship never better' as union gears up for one last appeal over teacher staffing levels

A striking teacher joins a rally at the B.C. legislature during the lengthy dispute that disrupted graduation in 2013 and closed schools in the fall of 2014.

The B.C. government’s 14-year legal battle with the B.C. Teachers’ Federation over staffing levels will go one last round at the Supreme Court of Canada.

The top court announced Thursday it will hear the union’s appeal of last year’s decision by the B.C. Court of Appeal that the province didn’t violate bargaining rights with its 2002 legislation setting class size and special needs support.

Education Minister Mike Bernier said the long-running dispute won’t disrupt efforts to continue cooperation with teachers, and the latest five-year negotiated settlement shows “government’s relationship with the BCTF has never been better.”

The agreement came in 2014, after a long, bitter strike that saw the government send out $40-a-day child care payments to 230,000 families for 13 school days lost due to strike action in the fall.

BCTF president Jim Iker said the latest appeal offers a chance to restore the 2002 class size limits and specialty teacher ratios, but the union won’t wait for another court proceeding to press its demands.

“A month from now, the B.C. Liberal government will deliver its 2016 budget,” Iker said. “Enrolment is starting to increase after years of decline and we know that there are more students with special needs, refugee students and others with unique needs entering the system.”

Bernier declined to comment on the details of the case, with another court action on the horizon.

“B.C. students rank first amongst all English-speaking countries in reading, science and math in international testing,” Bernier said. “We will keep working with the BCTF so students benefit from making our great education system even better.”