B.C. Premier comments on teachers’ strike

British Columbia Premier Christy Clark listens during a gathering with cabinet ministers and First Nations leaders in Vancouver, on Thursday September 11, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

British Columbia Premier Christy Clark listens during a gathering with cabinet ministers and First Nations leaders in Vancouver, on Thursday September 11, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Premier Christy Clark had a media availability at a meeting of B.C. cabinet ministers and First Nations leaders moments ago and, not surprisingly, the questions quickly turned to the teachers’ strike.

A few of her remarks:

On rejecting binding arbitration:

I, as a leader, and the [B.C. Teachers’ Federation] as leaders of their union, were elected, among other things, to negotiate agreements. I am not prepared to step away and shirk that responsibility by giving it to somebody else. I feel a duty to do this. In addition to that though, we know what binding arbitration would result in: higher taxes. So I have a duty to resolve the agreement in a way that’s fair and respectful for teachers and that’s fair for taxpayers across the province. It’s a pretty broad responsibility; difficult things to try and balance but I’m determined to do it.

On legislating teachers back to work:

My position on [ending the strike] hasn’t changed. I want to get a negotiated agreement; I intend to get one. I think as long as we keep our eyes focused on that goal, it will remain in our reach. The minute we take our eyes off that goal, I think it will begin to elude us. I think a negotiated agreement is good for the teachers’ union and I know it’s good for kids in the long-term in B.C.

On international students dropping out of B.C. schools and her upcoming (Oct. 9) trade mission to India:

I’m very hopeful that schools will be back – in fact I’m certain schools will be back – in session by the time I go to India. It’s a major, major source of international students for us potentially. [It’s] the fastest growing middle class in the world and [does not have] enough educational facilities. They need to partner with B.C. to try and help their dreams come true in that country.

On the current level of anger and emotion in the labour dispute: 

I understand that for a lot of people, this is hitting them very personally; for teachers, hitting them in their pocketbook; for parents and students, hitting them in their education, concerned about their future. I want to get those kids and those teachers back into their classes. The only way we’ll do that is if we keep our emotions level and approach this as thoughtfully as we can. That’s really what’s incumbent on those of us who are the leaders on each side of the table, on the government’s side and on the B.C. Teachers’ Federation’s side. I think we’re going to be able to do that. Despite some of the emotions, understandably, that we see in the public, and in the union membership, as long as the leaders decide we want to treat this thoughtfully and rationally, I believe we can get an agreement. I really do.

B.C. teachers vote 99.4% for binding arbitration

BCTF President Jim Iker speaking a news conference Wednesday night.

BCTF President Jim Iker speaking a news conference Wednesday night.

Members of the B.C. Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) have voted overwhelmingly in favour of binding arbitration — but what does it mean when the B.C. government has repeatedly stated that it’s never going to happen?

At a news conference held Wednesday night, BCTF President Jim Iker announced that 99.4 per cent of the union’s membership — that’s 30,490 out of 30,669 — voted yes to binding arbitration. That tosses the ball into the B.C. Liberals’ court, according to Mr. Iker.

“Unfortunately tonight, there is a single group of people standing in the way of our schools opening their doors tomorrow,” Mr. Iker said. “The BC Liberals’ refusal to accept binding arbitration is now the only reason children won’t be back in class.”

B.C. Education Minister Peter Fassbender, who has described binding arbitration as financially irresponsible, and handing over responsibility to a third party, said Wednesday night’s vote results were “widely expected and understandable.”

“We know B.C. teachers want schools re-opened,” he said in a statement. “That is a goal we all share. As we have consistently made clear, binding arbitration would lead to unacceptable tax increases in this case. That’s because the two side remain too far apart on wages and benefits.

“The best way to resolve this labour dispute remains at the negotiating table.”

And so the stalemate continues. How long can this go on? Will this end in the B.C. government legislating teachers back to work? Maybe.

For those interested, here‘s the BCTF’s framework for settlement through binding arbitration.