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Mediator previewed Bill 22, Abbott admits

British Columbia Education Minister George Abbott.

Darryl Dyck/ The Canadian Press/Darryl Dyck/ The Canadian Press

Government staff showed parts of a new education bill to Charles Jago before he was appointed to mediate a labour dispute between teachers and the province, education minister George Abbott said on Tuesday.

The British Columbia Teachers' Federation is trying to have Dr. Jago – appointed last month – turfed from his role over what the union contends is his bias and a flawed process, including Dr. Jago reviewing the bill before it was passed.

But in a written statement Tuesday, Mr. Abbott said the only parts of the legislation shown to Dr. Jago were those directly related to his prospective mandate and that the only changes Dr. Jago suggested were aimed at balancing the interests of parties in the dispute.

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"My staff shared the draft terms of reference for the mediator that government was considering including as part of Bill 22. These are the terms that were eventually incorporated into Section 6 of Bill 22 as these were directly relevant to the assignment," Mr. Abbott said. "We did not share with Dr. Jago any other component of Bill 22."

Bill 22, passed last month, ended the job action by teachers, imposed a cooling-off period and brought in a mediator to broker a deal between the BCTF and the B.C. Public School Employers' Association, the province's bargaining agent. The mediator – who is bound by the government's net-zero mandate – has until the end of June to make non-binding recommendations.

Dr. Jago was appointed March 28. Mr. Abbott said he and his team met with Dr. Jago on Feb. 16 "to discuss the assignment and to gauge his interest and availability."

Last week, the BCTF asked that Dr. Jago be removed from the mediator's role, citing bias and a flawed process.

At a press conference, BCTF president Susan Lambert said she was concerned by Dr. Jago's statements to the union that he had helped "wordsmith" the new legislation.

Along with raising concerns about Dr. Jago's qualifications and experience, the BCTF also questioned the timing of his appointment, noting that the government approached Dr. Jago before Bill 22 was passed and before the BCTF had put forward its candidates for the mediator's role.

In response, Mr. Abbott said he felt it was important to have a suitable candidate in mind should the parties fail to reach agreement.

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The only changes that Dr. Jago suggested had to do with wording and were aimed at providing as much balance as possible to the mediator's terms of reference, Mr. Abbott maintained.

Dr. Jago, who will be paid about $2,000 a day, has said he will not be commenting publicly until the end of his assignment. Neither of the two candidates put forward by the BCTF were available for the job.

Bill 22 features steep fines for teachers and the union for illegal strike activity. BCTF members are scheduled to vote this month on further measures to oppose the legislation. Teachers in some school districts have already withdrawn from extracurricular activities to protest the bill and members are discussing a province-wide withdrawal.

Dr. Jago has declined to step down and the Labour Relations Board is considering the BCTF's application to have his appointment set aside. The board is expected to announce next week how it will handle that application.

Some labour experts have questioned whether the labour board has jurisdiction in the matter.

"The question I would have is why not go to the courts instead of the LRB?" said Mark Thompson, a professor emeritus with the Sauder School of Business at the University of B.C., adding that the labour board has an obligation to review the BCTF's request.

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With a report from Justine Hunter in Victoria

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About the Author
National correspondent

Based in Vancouver, Wendy Stueck has covered technology and business and now reports on British Columbia issues including natural resources, aboriginal issues and urban affairs. More

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