EDITORIAL: Start listening to the courts

Told twice their legislation relating to teacher contracts is unconstitutional, it's time for the province to heed the legal system

This week’s B.C. Supreme Court ruling that elements of legislation around teacher bargaining rights are still unconstitutional, and served to provoke a strike, should stand as a final warning to the B.C. Liberals.

The decision, announced to great fanfare from the B.C. Teachers Federation, was the second such determination by Justice Susan Griffin. In 2011 she ruled that Bill 28 – enacted in 2002, it stripped class size and composition from the collective agreement – was unconstitutional. Part of her reasoning was that it removed the right to bargain those items in future.

She gave the Liberals a year to sort things out, but the government ignored the ruling and kept those elements out of Bill 22, the 2012 legislation that expires on June 30.

Education Minister Peter Fassbender, whose government has an eagle eye on costs, was no doubt nervous about the consequences of the ruling.

The net result could see teachers and special needs assistants hired around the province to allow for smaller class sizes.

He voiced disappointment with the ruling and claimed to have sought collaboration and co-operation in his discussions with the BCTF. That makes for a good sound bite, but government needs to focus more on the big picture, which means looking at the effect of its actions on the end users: students.

No doubt it would cost more to create smaller classes, through hiring extra teachers and installing more assistants to work with students with special needs. But it would be a worthwhile investment.

While we’re all for a fair bargaining structure, this is about more than teachers having slightly better working conditions. With less students in the room, those who need more individual help would, theoretically, have more chance to get a few minutes of their instructor’s time.

Measuring that benefit to students, which is how governments must gauge such decisions, may be difficult in the short term. At the very least, returning class size and composition to contract discussions is a step toward creating a better learning environment for our children.

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