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School Stalemate: How We Got Here

Verbatim, nearly two decades of politicians' wrangling in the Legislature.

Will McMartin and David Beers 21 Oct

David Beers is the founding editor of The Tyee and serves as current editor-in-chief.

He started the publication in 2003 as an experiment in new ways of doing online journalism in the public interest, including solutions-focused reporting, crowd-funded support and a humane work culture. He loves what The Tyee has become thanks to amazing colleagues and readers.

He has lived in Vancouver since 1991. Before The Tyee he was a senior editor at Mother Jones Magazine and the Vancouver Sun, and his writing has appeared in many U.S. and Canadian outlets. He is an adjunct professor at the University of British Columbia's graduate school of journalism.

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Mediator Vince Ready threw up his hands yesterday and declared the teachers and the province are "just too far apart to come to a facilitated agreement or any kind of a negotiated agreement." He cancelled discussions and made non-binding recommendations to both parties. They include:

1. The government should consult with the B.C. Teachers Federation about amending the School Act with respect to class size limits for Grades 4 to 12.

2. The B.C. government should provide additional funding of $20 million this year to the issue of class size and special needs students and consider retaining the increased funding in future.

3. The government should commit to fund $40 million towards harmonization of salary grids through the province. The parties will meet within 60 days of the return to work to determine how the funding will be applied.

4. The government and the teachers federation should establish an ongoing process for regular communication on teaching issues, because the dispute 'has highlighted a huge gap in avenues of communication between the BCTF and government.'

BCTF President Jinny Sims said she would ask her members to vote on the recommendations. And so B.C.'s public school system nears the end of its second week of shutdown. More than 36,000 teachers walk picket lines to protest a collective agreement which was not negotiated, but enacted by the legislature in Bill 12, the Teachers' Collective Agreement Act. About 585,000 public-school students remain at home.

Whatever Justice Brown rules today in setting further penalties for the illegally striking BCTF members, and however those members vote on Ready's proposal, the rift between government and teachers is likely to remain raw and wide.

How did we get here? The answer goes back at least to 1987, when the Legislative Assembly passed Bill 20, the Teaching Profession Act, which gave the province's public-school teachers the means to organize collectively, to bargain for contracts with their employers, and to go on strike if contract negotiations could not be concluded successfully.

That act hardly smoothed the waters between teachers and politicians. The government enacted legislation in 1993, 1994, 1996, 1998 and 2002 to resolve disputes in the public-school system. This year was not the first to see B.C.'s legislature impose a collective agreement on public-school teachers; nor is it the first time teachers have gone on strike.

For 18 years, politicians seeking a framework for peace have laboured (and blustered) in vain. Here, in their own words, is that legislative saga, a cast of B.C. political celebrities (including Kim Campbell, Glen Clark and Gordon Wilson) rising in the Legislature to support or oppose key public education bills, their declarations today ringing sometimes pitiful, more often prescient.

April, 1987. The Socreds are in power. After several years of contentious school finance and curriculum reform, the NDP grants teachers the right to organize and strike. The BCTF is opposed to the bill, however, in part because it gives teachers in each district the opportunity to choose their own union. (Bill 20, Teaching Profession Act - Second reading debate, April 23, 24, 28 and 30, 1987.)

Hon. Tony Brummet, Minister of Education (Social Credit - Peace River North): The formal process of consultation on the Teaching Profession Act began last fall.... On January 5, 1987, the B.C. Teachers' Federation submitted a brief entitled "Improving the Labour Relations Climate in Public Education." Most of the major recommendations in that submission have been incorporated in this new legislation.

Three main requests have been granted: the right of teachers to bargain on all issues; the right to mediation options and the right to strike; and the right to bargain with the assistance of independent and neutral agencies such as special mediators, fact finders, etc.

Both teachers and school boards have argued that bargaining should remain at the local level. The new legislation provides this by requiring that teachers organize either a union or a non-certified teachers' association to bargain for them, school district by school district.

Greater professional freedom, autonomy and control over professional development and discipline, have been sought by the province's teachers for a long time. This has been provided through the new College of Teachers.

Barry Jones (NDP - Burnaby North): This bill is a dangerous experiment. It has long-range implications for the school system and for the students in that school system. I see it offering students nothing but more confrontation, more controversy and more jeopardizing of those very sensitive relationships that have endured tremendous hardships in recent years.

Kim Campbell (Social Credit - Vancouver-Point Grey): The BCTF asked for a number of things from government, but they didn't get them the way they wanted. They wanted full bargaining rights, and they wanted other provisions of the Labour Code to apply to them. But they did not want to be subject to the certification rules of the Labour Code, and that is the great hypocrisy, Mr. Speaker. The government has brought the teachers of British Columbia under the Labour Code, but they are not prepared to give the B.C. Teachers' Federation a monopoly, a prejudged certification.

They may organize every district in this province, and it may be that they will do that. God bless them, but they will not get that from the government. That is undemocratic; it is totally unfair to force teachers in this province to be subject to union discipline when they have never had the opportunity to participate in a certification vote.

Mike Harcourt (NDP - Vancouver-Centre): In a teacher survey conducted by C.Q. Research Corp. in 1986, nearly 80 percent of the respondents stated that teacher morale in their school had declined since 1982. Heavy workloads and deteriorating working conditions often frustrate teachers' feelings of success in the classroom. In fact, according to the survey, unmet needs of students rate second only to the attitudes and actions of the provincial government as a source of stress to teachers.

What a great reputation to have! I'm sure this government is proud of that reputation. Bill 20 only makes the situation worse. Rather than addressing real problems in education, Bill 20 is creating political problems. It is rattling the cage of teachers deliberately. It is setting up a climate for confrontation, Mr. Speaker.

May, 1993. The Socreds have been defeated by the NDP. The BCTF has gone on to organize every district in B.C. and is proving more adept at negotiating than the individual school boards. With end-of-the-school-year exams in the offing, the NDP government gives a special mediator 36 hours to listen to both sides and produce a collective agreement, which will be binding. (Bill 31, Educational Programs Continuation Act - Second reading debate, May 30, 1993. Sunday.)

Hon. Moe Sihota Minister of Labour and Consumer Services (NDP - Esquimalt-Metchosin): The purpose of this bill is to support collective bargaining where it is working and to fix it where it is broken. This bill puts students and teachers back in the classroom in Vancouver and serves notice to those districts still bargaining that it is time to conclude their negotiations expeditiously.

We have reached a critical time in the school year in the Vancouver School District. For those students facing grade 12 provincial examinations and for all students coming to the end of their school year, it's time to get back into the classroom. Collective bargaining in Vancouver has collapsed. ... Clearly, the situation has reached a point where urgent action is required.

[T]his legislation provides for the appointment of a special mediator to make recommendations, and it provides government with the option of deeming the report of the special mediator to be the collective agreement between the parties. The legislation goes further ... and requires the mediator to conclude a collective agreement within 36 hours after appointment.

Gary Farrell-Collins (Liberal - Fort Langley-Aldergrove): We have an amazing chronology of events that have taken place over the last little while. First we had all the strikes that took place around the province. We had the dispute on North Island and the one in Powell River.

If we look at some of the things that have taken place over the last little while, we can see that as early as January 5, teachers in Quesnel began a series of rotating strikes, which disrupted schools in their district. Even before that, teachers were in job action and were not filling out report cards, not marking, etc. So this dispute isn't something new that has sort of cropped up on the government all of a sudden. These teachers have been without contracts for almost a year in many cases.

Jack Weisgerber (Social Credit - Peace River South): It started in opposition, with the unrealistic expectations that were raised. It went on through the campaign. The promises that were made to people .... But it was much more than simply the actions of a party desperate to be elected. It spilled over into the term of their government. We saw it early on with the granting of the 7 percent retroactive pay increase to teachers, which led to the expectations that necessitated, at the last hour, the introduction of this bill today.

We saw a decision by the Premier and the Minister of Education to allow school boards to run deficits, suggesting that whatever teachers wanted, school boards should find the money to accommodate them, even if they had to run deficits. Then in its first session the government repealed the Compensation Fairness Act. Again the government was saying to public sector workers: "Don't worry about settlements in the private sector. Don't worry about the taxpayer's ability to pay. Ask and ye shall receive; ask and we will only say, `How much?'"

Hon. Glen Clark, Minister of Finance (NDP - Vancouver-Kingsway) There are five or six car dealers out of seven members of the Social Credit Party. There is a flight instructor, who is the Liberal Labour critic -- a depth of knowledge; I'm sure, in labour relations that we've come to appreciate in this House. We all come to the chamber with different perspectives, different philosophies and different ideologies. I think that's a wonderful thing about parliamentary democracy.

My background -- and I make no apologies for this -- is in the labour movement. The labour movement is the reason that I am in politics today. My father was a business agent for the painters' union and a business manager for a decade. I was a union organizer for four years before I was elected. I am very proud of my labour background, and that is why I'm in politics. It's certainly why I joined the NDP. It is the belief in the fundamental right of workers to organize collectively and to bargain that has motivated me to take political action and to get elected.

When I spoke in this House on Bill 19 a little more than six years ago, my opposition to Bill 19 was because it put hurdles in the way of people's fundamental right to organize collectively. It's a human rights issue for people in a free society to collectively join together to pursue their collective interests, and that is why we opposed Bill 19. That is a major reason for my being in politics.

But when I spoke six years ago in this House against Bill 19, I said repeatedly that it is the right of the Legislature to intervene to act in the public interest. ... It is a right which should be exercised very, very carefully. It is something which parliament should exercise as infrequently as possible. The reason is this: if you believe in collective bargaining and if you believe the system works, then there has to be pressure on both parties to settle. If the government is to intervene and say to the parties that the government is going to impose a solution on the parties, then the danger is that the parties will never mature in their relationship with each other. They will never collectively bargain. They simply will rely on government to bail them out.

In the Vancouver school system the collective bargaining system has failed. We have an obligation to intervene, as I said at the outset, in the public interest. This parliament can and should intervene in extraordinary circumstances, when the system has failed. I regret very much that we are here today intervening in this dispute, and I'm not ashamed to say that.

June, 1994. The NDP abolishes district-by-district bargaining and brings in province-wide negotiations. (Bill 52, Public Education Labour Relations Act - Second reading debate, June 6, 1994. Monday.)

Hon. Elizabeth Cull, Minister of Finance and Corporate Relations (NDP - Oak Bay-Gordon Head): We came to the conclusion that the existing system of local-by-local teacher collective bargaining had failed. ... There have been three rounds of teacher collective bargaining since teachers were given the same rights as other employees in 1987. This bargaining on a school-district-by-school-district basis has resulted far too often in labour disputes, and in each round the intensity of these disputes has grown.

In addition, the very system of local-by-local bargaining has created a whipsawing between school boards and teachers. Under this system, demands achieved in one district are pressed upon employers in another district, and in some cases to the point of dispute.

We believe that free collective bargaining is the best method in our system for determining workers' terms and conditions of employment. ... Bill 52 permits the use of strikes and lockouts in the bargaining process, but these disputes can only occur after a province-wide strike or lockout vote. The employers' association established under the Public Sector Employers Act will be the accredited bargaining representative for the trustees under this act. ... Bill 52 also recognizes the B.C. Teachers' Federation as the provincial union representing teachers.

[T]he system will provide for a more uniform result and better fiscal management of provincial education expenditures. Over the last seven years labour costs as a percentage of total school district operating expenditures have risen faster than the increase in school district operating budgets. B.C. has seen one of the highest rates of increase in education funding of any province in Canada. This result is, in part, a reflection of the bargaining system.

Gary Farrell-Collins (Liberal - Fort Langley-Aldergrove): [T]his government has finally run straight into the brick wall of fiscal reality. It realizes that the public is demanding that they try to do something with their budget deficit, with their spending, and that they hold taxes to a line. ... I think we're headed for a very risky period of time and for some very rough water as far as education negotiations in the province are concerned. We have this legislation sort of taking this bold step into a darkened room.

We have called for and asked for education to be designated an essential service.

Jack Weisgerber (BC Reform - Peace River South): I rise to speak in support of the legislation insofar as it moves the province into province-wide bargaining. ... Last year alone, we saw at least two school districts -- one of them in Vancouver, one in Campbell River -- with long, protracted strikes. We saw children in certain parts of the province disadvantaged against those in other parts of the province. ... So I believe the decision to move to province-wide bargaining was obviously the right solution, and I commend the government for having made that decision.

Now, I do believe that the government has only gone halfway. ... It seems to me that the prudent thing for the government to have done in bringing in this bill would have been to restore -- not to designate, but restore -- education as an essential service, as it was previously in British Columbia.

I don't have any trouble at all defining what essential service means. It means that school teachers would not be allowed to strike. It means that you would simply designate education as an essential service, as police are an essential service, as ambulance operators are an essential service, as I believe education is essential.

Gordon Wilson (PDA - Powell River-Sunshine Coast): What a sad day it is in British Columbia today! ... This is shameful legislation, and every single member of that government knows it. ... This government, that's supposed to be a labour government, is removing the rights of workers to choose their own bargaining agent and is removing the right to freely negotiate contracts at the local level.

We've heard a lot about this whipsawing. What utter nonsense! The whipsawing is because the school boards are kept in the dark; they don't have authority and they don't have ability and funding. ... This legislation basically removes any local autonomy or authority of local school boards, and they must now bargain provincially; it puts a centralized power base in the hands of this government.

Jeremy Dalton: (Liberal - West Vancouver-Capilano): We know that there were, as I recall, six school strikes last year. Fernie was the first. It was actually locked out in January of last year. Then we had a strike in Quesnel, which went on for several weeks. North Island was the longest. It was out for six weeks, I believe, before we ordered them back to work through the memorable Sunday members will remember last spring. Of course, Vancouver went down, and there were other districts.

Hon. Elizabeth Cull: We've been through a history of collective bargaining in this province, which unfortunately got off on the wrong foot with the way the former government established it under Bill 20, and over successive years each round of bargaining has become less and less effective. Instead of the system maturing and getting better, and the problems being resolved, as one would expect in a new collective bargaining system, it has gotten worse.

In the first round of bargaining in 1988-89, there were almost a million student-days lost due to strikes. With the number of students in the system, that might not seem like very much, but two rounds later, by the time we got to collective bargaining in 1992-93, it had doubled. In fact, it had more than doubled to 1.916 million days lost due to strikes.

At some point responsible people looking at the system -- parents, teachers, legislators, school trustees -- have got to say: "Look, there has to be something done to fix this. It's simply not working the way it is."

April, 1996. With a new premier and an election coming, the NDP introduces legislation that rules out strikes for the election period and invests a special mediator with the power to set contracts for up to five years. (Bill 21, Education and Health Collective Bargaining Assistance Act - Second reading debate, Saturday, April 27, 1996.)

Hon. Elizabeth Cull, Minister of Finance and Corporate Relations (NDP - Oak Bay-Gordon Head): This legislation is intended to deal with any dispute that might arise within the next two months. As I mentioned, there is the immediate situation of the current dispute between the Surrey Board of School Trustees and the Canadian Union of Public Employees, Local 728.

For the most part, the collective bargaining process works. ... Very few collective bargaining situations require this further step, and this legislation is the further step that ensures that services to students and to patients remain without a disruption. It provides a clear opportunity for employers and unions to reach settlement by mutual agreement.... But where that fails, where we have not been able to resolve it through the normal process, the government has a responsibility to step in, to act, to ensure that services are protected, and this bill does that.

Gordon Campbell (Liberal - Vancouver-Quilchena): What we should be passing. . . . What we should have passed, what this government should have passed and what they never should have removed from the labour legislation was the designation of education as an essential service in the province.

Lyall Hanson (BC Reform - Okanagan North): I'd like to point out that the bill does have a sunset date of June 30, but the contracts that could be imposed under the bill could, in effect, be there for as long as five years. That's a lot different than trying to give the impression that this is a temporary measure that the people of British Columbia need to guard the education system for that period of time.

Hon. Paul Ramsey, Minister of Health (NDP - Prince George North): The Leader of the Opposition speaks about the need to protect education, yet he brings forward a platform which would slash spending in this province by $3 billion a year and gut public education services in this province as a result. Look at the contrast here.

We have also taken the leadership in restructuring the public school system, cutting at the top. The first review of school district governance in 50 years has been undertaken, and as a result we're going to be amalgamating 34 school districts into 16 and asking all schools districts across the province to find savings so they can protect education for our students.

Robin Blencoe (Ind. - Victoria-Hillside): There must be some members across the ways that are having a tough time with this. The member for Burnaby-Edmonds -- a long time in the labour movement -- sits, and I wonder what he's thinking. I'm wondering what he's thinking now. I'm wondering what his colleagues in the labour movement are thinking. ... What about the member for Columbia River-Revelstoke -- a long, proud part of the labour movement, a long time working in the labour movement? I wonder what he's thinking today. And the member for North Island.

What about the member for Cariboo North, a staunch union member? Where is he today? I suspect he's got his running shoes on, and he's having to do damage control at home with his members. ... What about the member for Skeena, who stood up for teachers, who stood up against legislation that impugned and impinged upon the rights of labour?

Gordon Wilson (PDA - Powell River-Sunshine Coast) Hon. Speaker, I rise to speak to Bill 21. As I do, I'd like you to sit back, relax and close your eyes, and let me take you on a journey into time: the date is October 7, 1975. ... [T]he New Democratic Party in power brought the House into a special session, and brought in standing order 81 so that they could introduce Bill 146 and be permitted to advance it through all stages in the same day. That bill was to give them an opportunity for 90 days of strike-free time so that then Premier, Mr. Barrett, could run an election -- and could run that election free from labour strife.

Hon. Speaker, here we have it again. This government, desperate for an election window, has decided they're going to bring in a piece of legislation, and that piece of legislation is to give them a period of time when they can have strike-free electioneering.

I think we also have to point out how ironic it is that this New Democratic Party, which is the party of labour, the party of people, is the only party when in government, certainly in the recent history of British Columbia that has actually legislated people back to work.

Hon. Andrew Petter, Minister of Forests (NDP - Saanich South): Let's also recognize that there's a second important purpose to this bill that is not at all inconsistent with the position this government and this party, which I represent, has taken over time, or that the labour movement has taken. That is a position that at the end of the day government must retain some residual authority to step in where labour issues reach a point that they cause damage to the public interest.

Dan Jarvis (Liberal - North Vancouver-Seymour) This government removed essential services from the Labour Code in 1992. There really is no need for this bill. Under section 72 of the Labour Code, the Minister of Labour, at any time, could direct the Labour Relations Board to declare education an essential service.

As I said earlier, the NDP ordered the teachers back to work in 1993 with the Educational Programs Continuation Act. This was a band-aid solution then, and this is a band-aid solution now. They have presented this bill under the guise of an anticipated crisis when there is no crisis or so-called emergency when there is no emergency. This is a contrived issue. So here we have the NDP -- the great defender of collective bargaining -- suspending collective bargaining for at least two months.

Cliff Serwa (Social Credit - Okanagan West): What is the crux of this problem right now with the school district of Surrey? Well, I'll tell you what it is, hon. Speaker. For the last number of years, there have been smaller increases in the Ministry of Education funding than during the restraint years of the Bill Bennett government: 1.3 percent in 1996-97, less than the rate of inflation. Where are the school districts going to get the money from? It was 0.8 percent in 1995-96, again less than the rate of inflation. So as you put more and more pressure on school districts, it makes it more and more difficult for them to be responsible and reasonable to the constituents that they represent, who are the taxpayers in their communities. So the reality, in the term of this current government, is that they have decreased the real amount of education funding by 4 percent.

John van Dongen (Liberal - Abbotsford): Taking away the right to strike or to freely bargain a collective agreement is not justified. If any action is necessary, then such action should be limited to the imposition of a cooling-off period -- the temporary suspension of the collective bargaining process without alteration of either party's position or intervention interfering with either party's rights for such a brief period.

Judi Tyabji (PDA - Okanagan East): This is a very strange day. The strangeness of this day is that one of the most articulate speeches in defence of unionized workers has come from the last sitting member of the Social Credit Party.

July, 1998. BCTF membership is growing with BC's school age population. Teachers get the right to negotiate class size limits with the NDP. (Bill 39, Public Education Collective Agreement Act - Second reading debate, Tuesday, July 21, 1998.)

Hon. Paul Ramsey, Minister of Education (NDP - Prince George North): This act mandates, by law, the historic agreement recently reached with the British Columbia Teachers Federation. This agreement brings with it an additional $200 million in new funding for our schools; $150 million alone is for new teachers, librarians, counselors and English-as-a-second-language specialists. ... Let's be clear here: what this agreement does is lower the maximum class size and set a standard for classes throughout British Columbia in kindergarten to grade three.

Ideally, it would have been nice to see trustees reach this agreement without government intervention. It would have been nice to see teachers and trustees shaking hands at the end of bargaining, but that simply wasn't on. The two parties were, and remain, miles apart. It simply wasn't possible.

This agreement will provide 1,200 more teachers in British Columbia's classrooms. It will provide an investment of $150 million in kindergarten-to-grade-3 teachers, counselors, librarians, ESL teachers. It will add more than 450 teachers to B.C. schools just this fall.

April Sanders (Liberal - Okanagan-Vernon): Two months ago we saw the Premier and this minister join with the BCTF to announce an unprecedented three-year agreement. ... It was unprecedented, because the employers -- the elected boards who represent the communities, the families and the children who go to school in those communities -- didn't have the foggiest idea, weren't privy to the information, arrived and found out that they had made an agreement.

What did we have as a result of that? We had 55 out of 60 school boards say: "Absolutely no. We refuse to enter into this arranged marriage, pushed by this minister."

Geoff Plant (Liberal - Richmond-Steveston): I think that if you go back over the last five years in the public education sector collective bargaining history, you'll find that things aren't getting better; they're getting worse.

There was a bill passed in 1993 called the Educational Programs Continuation Act. ... In 1993, the same year in which that arrangement was imposed on the teachers in Vancouver, the government also passed a bill called the Public Sector Employers Act. That act created a new model for collective bargaining in the public sector. ... it became the mechanism for the creation of the Public School Employers Association, which is, essentially, the bargaining agent on behalf of the school districts.

In 1996 this new model, introduced in 1993 for collective bargaining in the public education sector, failed again, and the government was required to pass legislation.

What I want to say, as a result of looking at what happened in 1993 and in 1996, and at what is now happening in 1998, is that I think the government's approach to the resolution of the problems that are presented by collective bargaining agreements in the public education sector is getting worse rather than better in terms of its respect for the idea of collective bargaining, in terms of its respect for the idea of school board autonomy, and in terms of all of the things the government was trying to fix in 1993, when it created this new model.

Richard Neufeld (Liberal - Peace River North) On June 25, 1998, the B.C. School Trustees Association issued a press release, and within it, their president Carole James stated: "Trustees are deeply disappointed with the imposed contract."

Further on in the press release, the president identifies trustee concerns, and I'm sure the minister has seen these. There are five concerns that have been identified. One is the class size limits, which could force schools to reorganize classes and, as a result, force students to move at any time during the school year. If that were to occur, it would be a very disruptive course of action for families. Another point that was raised is that the children would possibly have to move from their neighbourhoods because of the inflexible class size limits.

January, 2002. The NDP is defeated. A new BC Liberal government, after installing essential services legislation, imposes a three-year collective agreement on BCTF members. (Bill 27, Education Services Collective Agreement Act - Second reading debate, Saturday, January 26, 2002.)

Hon. Graham Bruce, Minister of Skills Development and Labour (Liberal - Cowichan-Ladysmith): This bill brings a difficult process between teachers and the employers to a conclusion. After ten months of hard work and 45 issues on the table - only three that were able to successfully reach a conclusion, and really minor ones compared to what was before them - this legislation sets out the terms of a new collective agreement.

The collective agreement itself runs from July 1, 2001, when the previous agreement expired, and it'll run until June 30, 2004. The terms will remain in effect until a new collective agreement is reached following its expiry. ... It continues the existing collective agreement, with the following exceptions: we are making provisions that every teacher in British Columbia will receive, over the course of three years, a 7½ percent salary increase.

Jenny Kwan (NDP - Vancouver-Mount Pleasant): Contrary to what you might have heard on the news, B.C. teachers are actually not the highest-paid in Canada. Teachers in Ontario, in Alberta, in Yukon, in the Northwest Territories, even in Nunavut, all make more than their colleagues in British Columbia.

Experienced teachers in York - that's Ontario - earn approximately $11,000 more than their Vancouver counterparts, while experienced teachers in Edmonton and Calgary make about $2,000 more.

Teachers' beginning salaries: are they competitive, as the Premier has said, and to create a competitive environment you have to pay them? Well, let's compare that with some other occupations in terms of what their starting salaries might be: a dental hygienist, a therapist's starting salary - $49,800; a newspaper reporter - $41,700; a systems analyst - $40,800; a probation officer - even though, I guess, some of them are going to be losing their jobs - $39,000; public school teachers in British Columbia - $37,700.

Joy MacPhail (NDP - Vancouver-Hastings): How about an MLA?

Jenny Kwan (NDP - Vancouver-Mount Pleasant): My colleague from Vancouver-Hastings asks: "What about a beginner MLA?" Close to $80,000.

Joy MacPhail (NDP - Vancouver-Hastings): The legislation introduced on August 15, 2001, nearly five months ago, by the Minister of Labour was the Skills Development and Labour Statutes Amendment Act, Bill 18. It was the piece of legislation that imposed essential services on the bargaining regime of teachers. August 15, 2001, was near the end of the first 90 days of the new era, the glorious, halcyon days of the new era.

In the last five months, what have the teachers done? What have the hard-working, dedicated teachers done, that my colleague so ably profiled? They followed the letter of the law. They didn't want the essential services legislation. Teachers predicted it wouldn't work and it would prolong confrontation in this province, but what did they do? They followed the letter of the law - not once, not twice, not three times but four times. Four times they went to the LRB, and they have followed the letter of that law from August 15, 2001.

Hon. Christy Clark, Minister of Education (Liberal - Port Moody-Westwood): [T]he member opposite has taken us on a bit of a tour of history. I hear her saying she doesn't think we should be legislating workers back to school. As a matter of principle, she doesn't think we should be forcing collective agreements on people who are working in schools. You know what this member did when she said that? You know what she did?

She did that five times as a member of this House. Five times her government legislated people back to work in schools.

October, 2005. We arrive at the current impasse. The collective agreement legislated in 2002 expired in 2004. Without allowing essential services legislation to play out, the BC Liberals impose still another collective agreement and legislate teachers back to work. The teachers strike. (Bill 12, Teachers' Collective Agreement Act - Second reading, Tuesday, October 4, 2005.)

Hon. Mike de Jong, Minister of Education (Liberal - Abbotsford-Mount Lehman): The bill signals a failure. ... It is a failure not unknown to this province, to this chamber or to these negotiating parties, but it is a failure, nonetheless, in the collective bargaining process.

The parties came in. We had a meeting, and we talked about having Deputy Minister Mr. Connolly step in and conduct a fact-finder review: where exactly are the parties, and most importantly of all, what are the prospects for a settlement?

In his report Mr. Connolly chronicles the fiscal differences. It's worth pointing out that while the employer quantifies those differences at just under a billion dollars, $938 million, the union itself acknowledges that by its estimation, it's almost a $700 million difference. So these are not trivial or minimal figures we're talking about. It's a big difference there.

So, Mr. Connolly brings a report to the government that says at the end: "Because of the positions of the parties on the two major issues, it is my opinion that there is no prospect for a voluntary resolution at the bargaining table" - no prospect for a negotiated settlement.

Let's deal with the legislation. ... It says the following: the terms and conditions that existed at the expiration of the last contract in June 2004 will remain in effect until June 2006 - next spring. I'll tell you what it doesn't do: it doesn't provide for a wage increase. We'd better be upfront about that. There's no salary increase for teachers, and you know what? If I were a teacher, I wouldn't be very happy about that. The other people that took zero-zero-and-zero weren't very happy about that.

John Horgan (NDP - Malahat-Juan de Fuca): In 1996, prior to the provincial election, an agreement was brokered between the parties - the BCPSEA and the B.C. Teachers Federation. It involved the government directly inserting itself into the negotiation. An outcome was reached. Legislation was required. Students were in the classroom. Teachers were in the classroom. Life went on. Again in 1998, in lieu of wages, the B.C. Teachers Federation negotiated improvements in class size and class composition - workplace issues that had a direct correlation to positive student outcomes. In 2002 this government stripped those out.

The minister said that the parties met 35 times and didn't agree on a single point. The government gave a mandate to the BCPSEA. It said: "Don't give them any money, and don't talk about working conditions." ... If you can't talk about wages and working conditions, what are you talking about? What are we doing? What's the point?

Carole James (NDP - Victoria-Beacon Hill): I was an elected school trustee in the Greater Victoria area for 11 years, and I spent time bargaining on the employer's side of the table. I know what it's like to make tough decisions, to talk about issues like ability to pay, to talk about how you can provide support for students and to talk about how you can ensure that you have a fair settlement for your employees. I know that negotiations mean give-and-take. Negotiations, yes, mean making tough decisions, but they also mean respecting the people on the other side of the table.

Political analyst Will McMartin is a regular contributor to The Tyee. David Beers is founding editor of The Tyee.  [Tyee]

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