VANCOUVER - British Columbia is providing $50 million for school districts to hire hundreds of new teachers in response to a scathing Supreme Court of Canada decision, but the educators' union says that's just a fraction of what's needed.
The money is a first instalment as part of an agreement with teachers after the province's decision in 2002 to chop contract provisions allowing teachers to bargain class sizes.
B.C. Teachers' Federation president Glen Hansman said Thursday that the work “to repair the damage to public education has just begun” and that Premier Christy Clark and her government must now pay to reinstate conditions for teachers and students.
“It's been almost 15 years to the day since then minister of education Christy Clark first brought in the unconstitutional legislation,” he said. “Teachers and students have waited long enough.”
Education Minister Mike Bernier would not say how much money the province would provide for teachers in response to the November 2016 ruling that called the government's actions unconstitutional for blocking the union's right to bargain class size and the number of students with special needs in each class.
He said a lot has changed since the government's decision to introduce legislation so the union cannot expect to have an agreement reflecting its former conditions.
“When you look at how the province has really changed over the last 15 years, we have almost 70,000 fewer students, there have been changes where people are living around the province and schools have been closed because of that,” he said.
“There's a lot of discussion that has to take place. It's not as simple as just flipping a switch and just going back to 2002 because we're not at the same place in the province.”
Bernier said he didn't know when a final agreement will be in place but hoped it would be ready to allow planning for the next school year.
“Negotiations and discussions are going to continue on with the BCTF more than likely past (the time) when we present our next budget,” he said. The provincial budget will be presented in mid-February.
The $50 million will go towards hiring additional teachers and speciality teachers, including speech-language pathologists and behaviour intervention specialists, aboriginal support specialists and counsellors, the government said.
The money is in addition to a $100-million learning improvement fund that the government already put in place last year to help hire more teachers and education assistants.
Hansman said the union has negotiated a dispute resolution process as part of the agreement after years of acrimony between the two sides, leading to three strikes by teachers.
Teachers also want transparency from the government, he said.
“That transparency is really, really important to us. We've been concerned that the current education fund is a shell game.”
New Democrat education critic Rob Fleming said the agreement allowing school districts to hire more teachers likely halted British Columbia's slide to one of the lowest-funded jurisdictions in Canada when it comes to education.
“But the signal today that the 15-year war on education that (Premier) Christy Clark has waged in the courts, in confrontations, in the longest school disruption in B.C. history just in 2014, that era is over. That has been an absolute political failure of the B.C. Liberals,” Fleming said.