The Supreme Court of Canada has sided with the B.C. Teachers’ Federation in a legal battle with the province’s government.
The dispute centred on a piece of legislation the government passed that nullified clauses in an existing contract with the teachers that concerned class room size and other conditions. It also banned future bargaining on certain issues.
In a 7-2 oral decision, the SCC overturned a B.C. Court of Appeal decision that sided with the government, and reinstated a ruling by a B.C. Supreme Court judge that determined the law was unconstitutional.
The SCC cited appeal court Justice Ian Donald, who provided a dissent in the appeal court ruling.
In his dissent, Justice Ian Donald said the legislation was unconstitutional because it infringed on the teachers’ freedom of association under s. 2 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
“Collective bargaining is protected in the sense that substantial interference with past, present, or future attempts at collective bargaining can render employees’ collective representatives effectively feckless, and thus negate the employees’ right to meaningful freedom of association,” Justice Ian Donald said.
“Actions by the government that reduce employees’ negotiating power with respect to the employer can satisfy this standard of substantial interference.”
The dispute first began in 2002 when the government passed legislation that was later overturned by the B.C. Supreme Court in 2011. The government then took a second crack at the legislation, passing a bill — called the Education Improvement Act — with similar provisions in 2012, which spurred the current battle. The court again declared it unconstitutional and the government appealed.
In its appeal, the government argued that the legislation goes beyond the “subject matter of typical collective agreements,” by “addressing issues for which the Province is politically accountable.”
The majority of the appeal court decided that the legislation was constitutional, saying the teacher’s freedom of association was respected because of consultations and collective bargaining that occurred in the lead up to the legislation.
The court said that what mattered was the quality of the consultation and whether teachers had been given the opportunity to collective representation.
Donald and the Supreme Court disagreed.
“The Supreme Court of Canada has made clear that s. 2(d) does not protect a particular regime for collective bargaining, but instead is a bulwark that protects the ability of employees to pursue workplace goals collectively,” Donald said.
It’s estimated that the government will now have to spend an additional $250 million to $300 million on education per year to hire new teachers and accommodate the classroom size limits that will be restored.