The B.C. government says in new court documents that a recent Supreme Court of Canada ruling has bolstered its fight to avoid restoring 2001 contract language to teachers' collective agreement.
In a court case brought by B.C. Teachers' Federation, the B.C. Court of Appeal asked lawyers for the government and the teachers' union to file new submissions in light of the ruling earlier this month on collective bargaining rights for Mounties.
In documents filed on Monday, the province argued the Supreme Court's decision strengthens its position on terms deleted from its collective agreement with teachers.
In 2002, the province passed legislation that removed hundreds of provisions from the contract, including the right to bargain for class size and composition.
The government argues the Supreme Court affirmed its position, which is that the teachers are guaranteed the right to bargain on these issues, as the court requires, but have no constitutional guarantee of a specific outcome.
"The BCTF is not entitled, as a matter of constitutional principle, to forever preserve an outcome of bargaining," the government states in its brief.
On Jan. 16, the Supreme Court of Canada issued two RCMP-related rulings: Mounted Police Association of Ontario v. Canada (MPAO), which gave Mounties the right to unionize, and Meredith v. Canada (Meredith), which ruled in favour of the government on legislation that unilaterally rolled back Mounties' wage hikes.
In MPAO, the court ruled 6-1 that the RCMP's internal program for negotiating workplace issues is constitutionally inadequate, and federal public-sector legislation precluding Mounties from applying for statutory bargaining rights violates the right to freedom of association.
Legal observers and the teachers' union said the ruling guarantees a meaningful process of collective bargaining.
But the government's new documents say MPAO "is of no relevance" in the current case, as the BCTF "does not argue that the statutory bargaining model for teachers is deficient."
Further, the province said the Meredith decision means the government "must provide a meaningful opportunity for impacted employees to make representations before collective agreement terms are legislatively removed, but it is not required to secure agreement at the bargaining table as a condition of constitutional compliance."
Fiona McQuarrie, an associate professor at the University of the Fraser Valley's School of Business, said it appears the government is saying "that whether the amount or type of consultation was appropriate depends on the context and the issues in that particular set of collective bargaining relationships."
A B.C. Supreme Court judge in 2011 deemed the removal of the language on class size and composition unconstitutional and gave the province a year to amend it. A year later, the court called the new legislation "virtually identical" and slammed the government for bargaining in bad faith.
The BCTF, which has until Feb. 2 to file its further submissions, has said Bill 22 extended unconstitutional provisions into the future.
With a report from Sunny Dhillon