COLUMNS: Getting education back

For months I’ve been trying, without much success, to avoid paying attention to the U.S. presidential elections.

“On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright fool and a complete narcissistic moron.” – H. L. Mencken, July 16, 1920.

For months I’ve been trying, without much success, to avoid paying attention to the U.S. presidential elections. There was nothing I could do about them anyway, so why waste time? Yesterday someone sent me the above quote. Didn’t make me feel any better.

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The big news in B.C. last week was the Supreme Court of Canada’s ruling in favour of the BC Teacher’s Federation in its 15-year legal battle over class size, composition and specialist teacher ratio provisions. The Campbell government stripped these provisions from BCTF contracts some 15 years ago, when Premier Christy Clark was education minister. In 2014, the B.C. Supreme Court found the B.C. government had failed to consult in good faith, and ruled in favour of the teachers. The province appealed, and the next year B.C. Court of Appeal overturned that decision. The teachers then went to Canada’s highest court, which can sometimes take months to make a ruling. However, after hearing the legal arguments, it delivered its decision after a 20 minute recess.

How much did these three court cases cost the BC taxpayers? Will the government have to pay the BCTF’s costs? According to teachers, the legislation resulted in 3,500 teacher layoffs and over $200 million in cuts to the education budget. The province will likely have to dig into its surplus funds to get the education system back to where it legally belongs, but what about the students who went from Kindergarten to Grade 12 under the underfunded system?

Ironically, this isn’t the first time Canada’s Supreme Court has overruled the B.C. Court of Appeal. In the 2014 Tsilhqot’in land-claim case, like in the BCTF’s case, the B.C Court of Appeal  overturned a lower-court ruling, only to see that reversed by Canada’s Supreme Court.  Back in 1997, the Supreme Court overruled the B.C.  Appeal Court in the Delgamuuk case, which recognized the existence of aboriginal title post-Confederation.

Diana French is a freelance columnist, former Tribune editor, retired teacher, historian, and book author.

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