Court Case Update

The BC Court of Appeal, by a 4 to 1 vote, ruled in favour of the government position over the BCTF position.

Some articles:

 

The full text of the decision can be found here – highly recommended reading, if you actually want to know what’s going on in this case, as there is a lot of misinformation out there:

http://www.courts.gov.bc.ca/jdb-txt/CA/15/01/2015BCCA0184.htm

From the summary:

The trial judge held that certain sections of the Education Improvement Act, S.B.C. 2012, c. 3, unjustifiably infringed teachers’ freedom of association under s. 2(d) of the Charter. This holding was based on two main conclusions: the Province’s consultations with the BCTF before the legislation was enacted were irrelevant to its constitutionality, and the Province had in any event failed to consult in good faith. 

Majority (per Bauman C.J.B.C., Newbury, Saunders and Harris JJ.A.): The Province’s consultations are relevant to the constitutionality of the legislation. The trial judge’s finding that the Province had failed to consult in good faith was based on errors of law and palpable and overriding errors of fact. Between the consultations and the collective bargaining leading up to the legislation, teachers were afforded a meaningful process in which to advance their collective aspirations. The legislation did not infringe s. 2(d) of the Charter.

Reasons for Judgment of the Honourable Chief Justice Bauman and Mr. Justice Harris:

[1]             This appeal addresses the constitutionality of legislation that affects the workload and working conditions of teachers in the public school system in this province. Enacted in 2012, the legislation nullified terms that were part of the teachers’ collective agreement before 2002 and provided that similar terms could not be renegotiated or included in their collective agreement until July 2013. The legislation also provided for the appointment of a mediator whose primary goal was to help the teachers’ union (the BCTF) and school boards negotiate toward a short-term collective agreement that would expire at the end of June 2013.

[2]             Earlier legislation nullifying terms of the teachers’ collective agreement had been declared unconstitutional for infringing teachers’ freedom of association under s. 2(d) of the Charter. The judge suspended the effect of her decision for 12 months to allow the parties time to address its implications. During that period, teachers were consulted by the Province, and teachers and school boards engaged in collective bargaining through their certified bargaining agents. The parties did not reach agreement and teachers engaged in lawful job action. On the expiry of the 12-month suspension, the legislation at issue in this appeal was enacted.

[3]             The Province recognizes that the legislation affects teachers’ working conditions and covers subjects on which teachers hold strong professional views. However, it contends that the legislation goes beyond the subject matter of typical collective agreements (such as job security and seniority rights) by addressing issues for which the Province is politically accountable. These issues include education policy under the School Act, resource allocation within the education portfolio—between potentially competing priorities such as class size and composition, salaries, technology in the classroom, new school building and seismic upgrading, among many other matters—as well as resource allocation across competing government portfolios—for example, between investments in hospitals and the operating budgets of schools. The Province says that during the 12-month suspension it consulted with teachers in good faith, in a manner that respected their freedom of association.

[4]             The BCTF brought another constitutional challenge. The judge declared that this legislation was also unconstitutional for infringing teachers’ freedom of association. The Province appeals.

[5]             The judge’s decision was based on two main conclusions. She held that the Province’s consultations with the BCTF were irrelevant to the constitutionality of the legislation. She also considered that the Province had failed to consult in good faith.

[6]             We would allow the appeal. In our opinion, the legislation was constitutional. Between the consultations and the collective bargaining leading up to the legislation, teachers were afforded a meaningful process in which to advance their collective aspirations. Their freedom of association was respected.

[7]             Moreover, the judge’s finding that the Province did not consult in good faith was based on legal error and must be set aside. In our opinion, the judge should not have assessed the substantive merit or objective reasonableness of the parties’ negotiating positions. Courts are poorly equipped to make such assessments. What matters in this case is the quality of the consultation process itself and whether it gave teachers a meaningful opportunity to make collective representations (through the BCTF) about their shared workplace goals. We find that it did.

 

The 2014 decision by Judge Griffin can be found here (this is the one that was appealed):

http://www.courts.gov.bc.ca/jdb-txt/SC/14/01/2014BCSC0121cor1.htm

That was a continuation of the 2011 decision, again by Judge Griffin:

http://www.courts.gov.bc.ca/jdb-txt/SC/11/04/2011BCSC0469.htm

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