Court fines B.C. government $2 million

A judge has ruled that the British Columbia government was so hung up on provoking its public school teachers into strike action that it failed to negotiate in good faith, costing the province $2 million in damages.

In a 12-year battle over legislation that eliminated teachers' rights to bargain on issues such as class size and composition, a B.C. Supreme Court judge has concluded — for the second time — that the law is unconstitutional.

Justice Susan Griffin said in a 115-page ruling released on Monday that the government didn't bargain in good faith with the BC Teachers' Federation after a court decision struck down the legislation, Bill 28, in 2011.

"One of the problems was that the government representatives were pre-occupied by another strategy," Griffin wrote.

"Their strategy was to put such pressure on the union that it would provoke a strike by the union. The government representative thought this would give government the opportunity to gain political support for imposing legislation on the union."

The judge said that the government's extension of legislation that was already declared unconstitutional was so "fundamentally unfair" that awarding damages of $2 million against it is warranted.

But Education Minister Peter Fassbender denied wanting to goad teachers into a strike, saying the government is focused on students and long-term stability in schools.

"Those kinds of comments just inflame the situation," he told reporters. "The reality is every meeting I've had with the BCTF, it has been about finding collaboration and co-operation."

Fassbender said the government will be reviewing the court decision, and it is too early to make any statements about a possible appeal.



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