Ottawa-On behalf of BC's 41,000 public school teachers, today's win is a massive victory for our rights and vindication of all the years we have spent fighting the BC government's unconstitutional legislation.
It's also a very emotional day. We came to Ottawa today for a hearing and instead got a surprise ruling from the bench. Those of us there in the courtroom couldn't help but cheer and I know there are thousands of teachers back home in BC doing the same.
I am so proud of all our members, our past presidents, and executive committees for sticking with this fight for so long. It has been a tough journey and a long road, but today we finally have justice.
This is the final step in a very long legal process, in which the BCTF has consistently argued that the governments' actions in stripping teachers' collective agreements in 2002, and their further refusal to address the situation, was unconstitutional.
Today, Canada's highest court affirmed teachers' bargaining rights and agreed with the arguments that the BCTF has been making since then Education Minister Christy Clark first stripped teachers' collective agreements.
That unconstitutional legislation allowed the BC government to underfund education. As a result, BC has fallen behind the rest of Canada and an entire generation of BC students has lost out. According to the most recent Statistics Canada data, BC is last on seven key measures of education funding. BC's funding is currently $1,000 less per-student than the national average. Only PEI is worse than BC in terms of per-student funding and it was the government's action in 2002 that allowed it to happen. This is completely unacceptable for a province as prosperous as BC.
But now, there is hope that those students coming up through the system will start to see classroom conditions and support levels improve. There is hope for teachers that their teaching conditions will return to workable and fair levels. In restoring our contract language from 2002, BC schools will once again be able to offer smaller classes, more support for children with special needs, and extra help for all students. The government should take immediate action to get those provisions back in effect so we can get back to a place where our teachers, schools, and students are properly funded and supported.
The BCTF values our productive relationship with Ministry of Education staff on areas of common ground like curriculum revision and enhancing Aboriginal Education, but it has been the political players in government that chose to keep fighting and needlessly wasted taxpayers' money in court. That time, energy, and money should have been invested in kids all along.
With this Supreme Court of Canada decision, the onus is now on the government to fix this once and for all so we can all put the focus back where it needs to be-on our schools and students.
We know the BC government has the funds available to make this situation right. There is a $1.9 billion surplus and the government has continuously acknowledged our potential court victory as a cost against the province's contingency fund. The money is there and the government should take action now to improve teaching and learning conditions across BC. Given everything that this government has done and forced teachers to endure, it is the only responsible and ethical action for them to take. The government should bring forward to the BCTF a plan to operationalize this language as soon as possible.
The Federation will be acting on the ruling and communicating in further detail in the coming weeks. However, today, we must say that we are delighted to know that the BC Liberals and all governments across Canada must respect bargaining rights and collective agreements.