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For 14 years, the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation (“BCTF”) has battled the BC government over class size and composition. The battle began in 2002 when the province – with Christy Clark as Education Minister at the time – passed two statutes removing teachers’ ability to negotiate class size and composition forever. This decision sparked years of protesting.

The BCTF sued the BC government, stating that it was unconstitutional for the BC government to change language in their collective agreement.

In 2011, the BC Supreme Court ruled in the teachers’ favour, finding the BC government acted illegally by removing the teachers’ constitutional right to bargain. The court declared the law unconstitutional, but suspended the order for 12 months to allow the province to address the decision.

After the 12-month suspension had expired, the BC government enacted a new statute, which included provisions that were previously declared unconstitutional. The BCTF challenged this new statute, and again the BC Supreme Court held the legislation was unconstitutional.

In 2015, the British Columbia Court of Appeal overturned the trial judge’s decision. However, Justice Ian Donald delivered a dissenting opinion agreeing with the trial judge, including her findings that the BC government bargained in bad faith.

The Supreme Court of Canada (“SCC”) last week delivered an unusually quick result, taking only 30 minutes to decide. The SCC delivered an oral judgement finding that “the majority of the Court would allow the appeal, substantially for the reasons of Justice Donald”; therefore, declaring the BC government’s legislation changes to be unconstitutional.

What does it mean going forward? BC teachers are currently in a 5-year contract; however, there is a clause stating they can negotiate class size and composition after the SCC ruling. BC Premier Christy Clark stated her government set aside $100-million in case the BCTF won their fight. Now, work will begin on deciding what are the right class sizes and the right number of specialized teachers.

For more about collective bargaining and the rights of teachers, contact our Labour Law Group.


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This content is not intended to provide legal advice or opinion as neither can be given without reference to specific events and situations. © 2021 Nelligan O’Brien Payne LLP.

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