Excerpt from the Official Report of
DEBATES OF THE LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY

(Hansard)


March 13, 2012

Speaking in the legislature against Bill 22

Watch it here:

Part one,
http://bit.ly/zyriDB

Part two,
http://bit.ly/x2jWGU

 

S. Simpson: I appreciate the opportunity to get up and take my place in the second reading debate on Bill 22, the Education Improvement Act.

The previous speaker talked about moving on and creating a more positive relationship to move forward. I think that's probably a pretty good piece of advice. The problem we have here with Bill 22 is that it takes us in exactly the opposite direction.

It takes us farther away from creating that opportunity. It takes us farther away from creating that climate of trust and respect that we will require to move forward and deal with what are, admittedly, some of the very challenging issues around the education file over the last number of years.

I want to talk a little bit in my time today — I know I'll conclude my remarks tomorrow — about what's in the legislation. In particular, I want to talk about how the legislation deals with teachers and has dealt with this round of bargaining that has not been successful.

We know that the government, in this round, has essentially said that money is off the table, and they have said that they will bring in mediation. Now, in doing that, they've done an interesting thing with mediation. The terms of reference for the mediator are quite narrow — quite narrow for any mediator who is going to engage such a complex situation as the one that we face in education collective bargaining today.

What the mediator has been told, whoever this mediator may be, is that…. I think there will be some challenge in finding a mediator to do this job. Certainly, part of the challenge is that usually, when mediation is put in place, there's some agreement between the parties on who should be doing that mediating, some agreement on who the person is who can best balance those needs.

But we can fully expect that that won't be the case here. We'll have a mediator who will be appointed by the minister, and we will have a mediator who will be there fully with that understanding. They may do a wonderful job. They may be excellent at their skill. But they will be there without the confidence of teachers if the teachers have no role in making that choice of a mediator.

When that mediator arrives on the job, they are going to have terms of reference that are extremely narrow in terms of labour relations. They are going to be looking at non-monetary issues, and even more problematic than that, they are going to be looking primarily at the concessions that the employer has put on the table. Their job is going to be to do that. So you're asking the teachers to come to the table and mediate around the employer's concession list, and we know that that will be a problem.

The previous speaker spoke a little bit about the challenge around seniority. Let's be clear here when we get to the issue of seniority. We have a situation today where, essentially, seniority and qualification go together to make the determination on who the appropriate teacher is. Seniority and qualification are what come together. We know that's true. We know that the government can't produce a list of examples where that has been stretched at all.

I've heard some people talk about the example that in French immersion you have teachers who aren't skilled enough in French. Well, the reality is that the government hasn't trained enough French teachers to be able to do the job. But we're not finding that when we talk about sciences and we talk about math and we talk about those other skill sets. That's the problem with putting the word "suitability" in rather than "qualification."

Once you put suitability on the table, it becomes a situation where those people making the determination about suitability have a pretty wide range to be able to make that decision. Clearly, it becomes problematic when you start to determine that people are appropriate for a job through somebody else's interpretation of suitability, without measurements that are clear and available. So that's part of the problem here.

The other problem we see with this is that if this is about non-monetary items, it raises the question about why it is that a whole list of potential non-monetary items that the teachers would like to have be part of this mediation process are not on that list.

Why is it that they're not included and as upfront as the conditions that the employer has put on the list? Issues like layoff and recall. Why isn't that a discussion point?

Qualifications, determining qualifications, educational change, job-sharing, the question of seniority, evaluation, temporary teachers' rights, supervision, transfers, professional autonomy, new-school planning, composition of staff committees — all of these are essentially non-monetary items. Yet they're items that we know are not going to be able to be discussed by this mediator at this time.

It is mediation that is simply not credible. It's not credible, and it's not legitimate. It's one thing to say that they're non-monetary items. It's another thing to say only one side of the table gets to put their items on the table.

The other problem with this that we know is that the determination about what constitutes or what is consistent with this non-monetary approach will be determined by the chief executive officer of the Public Sector Employers Council, who is an employee of government. They will make the determination.

So even if you get a mediator who is extremely skilled and comes in and finds an innovative way to try to get at some answers that might find some common ground, you now have an employee of the government, somebody who works on the employer's side and heads up the employer's side, who gets to make the determination whether in fact that's working or not. It's extremely problematic when that occurs.

We know that we have a situation where we're going to have big challenges to make this work. In the area of mediation alone we now have a situation. This mediation has been damaged by the decision of government to go where they want to go in order to get at this issue.

Now, hon. Speaker, I'm kind of looking to you for a little bit of guidance here as to whether we can go for a few more minutes. Very good. Thank you.

I want to move a little bit to the…. Actually, I'm going to save moving to the second issue here in order to talk about that more completely tomorrow, when I get to finish my comments. That's around the issues of class size and composition and that aspect of the bill.

I'm going to change gears a little bit to talk about the issue of funding. We know that the government has talked about the funding, and again, a number of speakers have talked about the $165 million. We'll talk about the detail of that more tomorrow. But let's be clear. What we're talking about here is the equivalent of that $165 million.

We need to know that when that money essentially got forced onto the table by the Supreme Court decision around the unconstitutionality of B.C. Liberal legislation, one of the things that Justice Griffin stated in her ruling was that it was her belief that the government was saving about $275 million a year by making the changes they made.

So the government comes and says: "We're going to provide $165 million over three years." In the first year it's $30 million, on top of what essentially is a frozen budget that was brought in by the Finance Minister.

Now, I understand that if you looked at the cost of inflation on education spending, K-to-12 education spending, probably $130 million or maybe $135 million to cover inflationary costs. So you have a situation where you've added $30 million, but arguably, you've excluded about $100 million just in inflationary costs to keep the status quo. That's the challenge we have — that the government has essentially eroded the budget by that amount.

Because we used the per-pupil funding formula that we're using, it puts additional pressures, I believe, on the system in terms of where we stand today. So the reality is that this claim that somehow the government has added $30 million to the budget…. It's not real in terms of actually covering off against cost pressures. It's not real when you talk about covering off against cost pressures.

Now, I understand that the government…. The B.C. Liberals, may not understand the concept of inflation, considering how they grasp many financial issues these days, but….

Day 2

S. Simpson: I'm pleased to take my place to continue my representation on Bill 22. When we adjourned yesterday, I had spent some time talking about the misplaced notion that this is somehow a fair and balanced mediation that we're seeing, which has been incorporated in Bill 22. At that point, as I'd said, the challenges with it are not only the fact that it restricts to non-monetary items....

Even setting that aside, the reality is it has essentially said that what will be mediated here are the concession demands of the employer, while the whole list of items that the teachers have put on the table that are not monetary in nature are, in fact, not part of this discussion and have not been allowed to be part of this discussion. I enunciated that list yesterday when we went ahead.

There's also, of course, the problem that mediators tend — if you're an effective mediator — to function best when they're selected through some kind of mutual agreement. But we know that in this instance the mediator will be selected by the government regardless of the view of the teachers as to the appropriateness of the individual, whoever that may be, when that decision comes.

What I'd like to take my last bit of time here today to talk about, one of the key issues…. I want to talk about the issues that ended up in front of the Supreme Court that led to the aspect of this legislation that deals primarily with questions of class size and composition.

As you will know, the government in 2002 passed legislation that was challenged by the teachers in the Supreme Court. The teachers were successful in having this legislation deemed essentially unconstitutional because of the nature in which it was adopted, without consultation with the teachers and without respect for the tenets of collective bargaining.

What we saw there were restrictions that were put on the ability of teachers to have the right to bargain class size and composition and matters related to that. So the courts ordered the government, within one year, to come back and to sit down with the teachers and to find some common ground that would allow a resolution of this to come forward. We know, of course, that timeline is coming to a close.

Instead of actually resolving the matter…. The government's failure to resolve the matter — and some people would say the government's failure of good faith to resolve the matter — leaves us in the situation that we are in today where the government essentially, in some aspects, is bringing back the exact legislation that the courts overturned — the exact wording in the legislation that the courts overturned.

I'd like to just quote a couple of pieces. First of all, what the judge, Justice Griffin, said in ruling against the government on this matter:

"The government consulted fully with the employers before passing the legislation, over at least a seven- or eight-month period…. Internal government documents indicate that at least some government officials expected that the teachers union would be very opposed to the legislation. The government has not offered any explanation as to why…it could not also have consulted with the B.C. Teachers Federation about the intended legislation.

"By passing this legislation without so much as consulting with BCTF, the government did not preserve the essential underpinnings of collective bargaining, namely good-faith negotiation and consultation."

So we have where we have gotten to today with this matter. We have a situation now where what the government is doing is very much similar to what occurred then. I would note, and I would like again just to quote a little bit more from an opinion piece that we saw in the Vancouver Sun today, prepared by Joel Bakan, who teaches in the faculty of law at the University of British Columbia. Just to quote a couple of his observations in a pretty strongly worded opinion piece that he advanced today questioning the government and the decisions that the government has made in Bill 22 and the constitutionality of, in fact, what has been done here.

Professor Bakan says in his piece today:

"In 2007 the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the government had violated the Canadian Charter by imposing legislative restrictions on the rights of health workers to bargain collectively. In April 2011 the British Columbia Supreme Court followed that decision to rule that legislation concerning teachers was unconstitutional and thereby invalid because it prohibited bargaining on class size, class composition and the ratios of teachers to students.

"It is those very same restrictions that the government now seeks to reinstate with Bill 22 — a disturbing disregard for such a recent judicial declaration that they are constitutionally invalid."

That is a remarkable thing here. This government knows full well that what they have incorporated in Bill 22 is very likely going to end up before the courts again and will very possibly, depending on a judicial decision, end up being dealt with in the same way that the previous legislation was dealt with by the courts.

But those of us who would think that this is nothing but a cynical move on the part of this government…. It's a desperate effort to get over this hump at this point in time rather than to deal with the real and substantive issues.

Professor Bakan went on to say in the piece:

"Governments are obliged to govern according to law. That is what distinguishes democracies from tyrannies. As a fundamental democratic principle, the rule of law is seriously jeopardized when governments play fast and loose with constitutional and international laws, as this government is now doing with Bill 22."

That's what the legal profession is saying about what this government has done.

It's very concerning that in fact that is the direction that we would see the government taking. I don't doubt for a minute that the comments that were made by Professor Bakan here…. I don't doubt for a minute that those comments and those assessments of the legal parameters of what Bill 22 does are probably pretty close to some of the advice that this government has got from its own advisers.

But I don't think it really matters, because I don't think that this is about good government. I don't think this is about good legislation. I don't think this is about trying to find some room here to reach an agreement that's acceptable. This is about trying to get around this problem.

In this case, it's to get around the problem that the courts found the actions and conduct of this government unconstitutional. That's what the B.C. Supreme Court decided and that the government has not done the work to resolve that question in any way, shape or form.

Instead, what the government does is come back and bring in Bill 22 — Bill 22 that in fact incorporates language that the courts threw out. It comes back and says: "Class size. We're going to take a pass on that. You can talk about it in a year." It says: "Students with special needs in classes. We're going to take a pass on the law as it exists today in terms of how many children you can have in a class."

In terms of the ability to discuss class size and composition…. Well, all of those things that the previous minister had talked about when the former minister…. In 2006, when the government introduced the Education (Learning Enhancement) Statutes Amendment Act, the former Education Minister, now the Attorney General, came and talked about how the government and schools would be consulting with teachers on the makeup of classrooms.

Well, here we are ripping up exactly that same clause and saying: "We're not talking to teachers anymore. That's not important. We don't have to talk to teachers because we have a legislative hammer."

That's the story of a government that just uses the crude implements that are available to it instead of trying to find solutions that work for British Columbians. That's very problematic.

So you have a situation where the government, in fact, has removed many of those pieces, has told the teachers that they have no room to talk on these matters. Now, we'll see how the teachers respond to this in regard as to whether they go back to court or not. That will be a decision that the teachers will make, presumably at some time in the future.

But it's unfortunate that we're needing to debate the future of our kids' education and the role that teachers will play in our children's education in the Supreme Court of British Columbia. That's not the place where that discussion should be happening.

It should be happening with educators and with parents and with trustees and with ministry officials, and it should be happening in a way where people are trying to find common cause to resolve these matters. But that is not what's occurring today, and instead, we have the government moving forward to bring this particular piece of legislation in.

As this moves forward, what do we hear? I know that I have received literally hundreds and hundreds of e-mails and letters, as well as phone calls, from constituents — some of them teachers, many of them not teachers, many of them parents. They have contacted me with their concern about what's occurring here.

What I'd like to do is just read some pieces from a couple of my constituents. I chose here not to select pieces that were written by teachers but rather pieces that were written by parents of children in my constituency who have concern about how Bill 22 is playing out and about how this whole matter is being addressed.

This is a quote from Mr. Gregor and Ms. Ficart around their children. They are constituents in my constituency, and they write a fairly long letter, but I'll just quote one clause out of this letter. This is a letter, I would note, that has been addressed to the Premier.

"The future of our children is not yours to sacrifice in the name of balanced budgets or for the political expediency of winning back the fraying right wing of your party. We demand that your government sit down with teachers in good faith, respect the ruling of the B.C. Supreme Court and engage in meaningful negotiations and work together to do what's best for all the children of the province."

That's good advice. It's good advice from my constituents. It's good advice that, if there was any sense on that side of this chamber, the government would be paying attention to.

Ms. Brown, who is a parent in my constituency, says she's writing on behalf of her family, which includes two school-aged children. They are "outraged at the treatment that teachers in the province are receiving and, by extension, my children." She goes on to say:

"My family asks this government to reconsider your position towards teachers and their labour action. Do not pass Bill 22. Bargain in good faith. Let teachers decide on class size. Allow experienced teachers to keep their seniority. Treat my children and their teachers with the respect, dignity and rights they deserve."

That's what Ms. Brown has to say as the parent of two school-aged children in my constituency.

The last letter I'll read is not a long letter. I'll read this one in its entirety. It's from Ms. Zanker, who is a parent in my constituency.

"I am a Vancouver-Hastings citizen and a working mother of a school-aged child who attends Franklin elementary school in East Vancouver. I urge you to withdraw your proposed Bill 22 that would legislate a contract on teachers. This legislation is provocative and will not motivate a successful resolution to this dispute.

"There is a dispute because there is a real difference of understanding between the two parties about what is needed to improve K-to-12 education and invest in teachers' ability to deliver a high-quality education that all families want for their children and our province needs for its future.

"I am supportive of my son's teacher, who has gone above and beyond to teach a classroom of diverse and energetic young learners. She is not the exception but the rule. I don't know what it is like to work in the Legislature, but managing a classroom of children while imparting key foundational learnings is not something that just anyone can do.

"I urge you to withdraw Bill 22 and respect teachers' collective voice through their union by mediating, not legislating, your way through this dispute."

As I'd said, I have a very long list of these letters. While I certainly received many, many letters from teachers, I received just as many letters from parents who are speaking for their children.

The comments that I've read into Hansard today from these three particular parents I would say probably are the most common kinds of themes that I've got in the correspondence that I've received — parent after parent talking about what they want for their children and their aspirations for their children, parent after parent asking this government to step back from Bill 22, to get back to the table, to mediate in a more authentic way than Bill 22 offers, to begin to have a discussion, to try to find a solution here, to try to deal with the critical aspects of this legislation and of what we're facing.

We have a situation where the government has seriously, I believe, damaged our situation going forward. We have a circumstance where if Bill 22 passes, which…. Clearly, that is totally and entirely within the government's purview to do that. I assume, at some point here in the coming days, that will occur.

What will happen, when Bill 22 passes, is we will take a situation that we all know is already challenged at the best of times, in terms of the relationship of government to our teachers and the relationship of government to education, to parents — if, as I suspect, the parents that I quoted today from my constituency, who I believe are more the norm in terms of parents across this province in their views…. You've created a situation where the divide becomes even greater between the government and between educators and parents on these questions of how best do we move forward with our children in K-to-12.

That's the situation that is being created here. It is one where trust and respect on both sides are just falling by the wayside. And trust and respect are falling by the wayside because of the way the government has chosen to move forward by putting Bill 22 on the table, has chosen to move forward by exacerbating this divide and by deciding to use the big stick when other avenues would have been much, much preferable.

If there's one thing that we know and one thing we can expect, it's that bringing back that trust and respect is what we need. That means bringing back confidence that we can work together. We are not seeing that in Bill 22. Because of that… Among other reasons, that's why Bill 22 does not deserve the support of this Legislature and does not deserve the support of the members of the Legislature.

I would hope that over the next couple of days maybe, the Premier — who was the catalyst for this in 2002 — and the Education Minister, the cabinet and the back bench will make the decision to step back. I don't believe that will occur, but I hope it will occur.

Should that happen, and should we get back to some thoughtfulness around this issue, I believe we can find a solution. I believe that we can move forward, but it will only happen if the government is prepared to step up and do that. Bill 22 tells us very clearly that is not the government's intention.

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