More than 500 Nelsonites marched down Baker Street on Tuesday as part of the Parents Etc. for Public Education March 2014.

B.C.’s legal battle with teachers’ unions cost $2.6M

Epic feud lasted 15 years and went all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada

The provincial government’s 15-year legal fight with the B.C. teachers’ union cost taxpayers $2.6 million in legal fees, according to the ministry of education.

A ministry statement breaks it down to $900,000 spent on external lawyers and $1.7 million on staff lawyers.

The feud, which began with a court ruling in 2002 that said the government’s removal of class size and support staff rules from the B.C. Teachers Federation contract was unconstitutional, went all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada. The top court ruled in the teachers’ favour in November.

Earlier this month, the province announced it had reached an interim settlement with the union, including a $50-million fund to hire up to 1,100 teachers for the current school year. The agreement has yet to be ratified.

“What is important now is that we are at the table with the BCTF talking about how to ensure we are dealing with the complexities that came out of the court’s decision, and to ensure we come up with an agreement that offers the best path forward for students,” Education Minister Mike Bernier said in a statement.

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation believes that while the province ultimately lost, their right to fight the battle was important.

“You never love seeing taxpayer money flow to lawyers, but some of the principles that the government was standing up for, especially its ability to make its own priorities, were important,” said B.C. director Jordan Bateman.

“While the Supreme Court ultimately decided against the B.C. government, the Court of Appeal had sided with them, showing there was certainly legitimate legal questions that needed to be settled.”

The $2.6 million in legal fees breaks down to about $173,300 annually over the course of 15 years. In comparison, the City of Surrey spent about $1.96 million in total legal fees in 2015, while the City of Nanaimo spent $582,000.

The fees could have been used to hire 57 teachers, using the government’s formula of $50 million to hire as many as 1,100 teachers, or about $45,500 per teacher. With 60 school districts in B.C., that’s just under one teacher per district.

 

@katslepian

katya.slepian@bpdigital.ca

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