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B.C. education minister expects ‘normal’ start to school year amidst teacher contract dispute

Education minister Rob Fleming is optimistic a new deal will be struck with teachers.
Education minister Rob Fleming is optimistic a new deal will be struck with teachers. Nadia Stewart / Global News

When the school bells start ringing across the province next week, B.C. Education Minister Rob Fleming says he expects things to feel pretty familiar despite ongoing contract negotiations for teachers.

The B.C. Teachers Federation (BCTF) and the province are in the midst of mediated talks to find a new deal after the old contract expired in June.

“Our government is respectful of the mediator’s wish to have a blackout around commentary in terms of what the content of those negotiations are right now,” Fleming said Wednesday. “We are continuing to hold to this compass of serving vulnerable students better in B.C.”

WATCH (Aired September 5, 2017): B.C. education minister on public education priorities

B.C. education minister on public education priorities
B.C. education minister on public education priorities

The possibility of a teachers strike is looming over the talks considering students were out of the classroom for weeks in 2014, the last time teachers hit the picket lines.

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But Fleming pointed out it is an NDP government at the negotiating table this time around, not a B.C. Liberal one.

“We are in a vastly, vastly different place than we were [in 2014] which was the most disruptive, damaging school work stoppage we have seen in British Columbia in decades,” Fleming said.

“We are prepared to take the time and exchange views and I think at the outset of negotiations, and it continues to be the same, that we have a lot of shared views with the B.C. Teachers Federation.”

READ MORE: B.C. government not ready to update education funding model yet

Although Fleming is taking a positive tone, the BCTF have been using social media and ad space to launch preemptive strikes against the government.

In an online post last week, the teacher’s union argued the government is “trying to roll back teachers’ [2016] Supreme Court win by gutting collective agreement guarantees on class size, class composition, and the number of specialist teachers” in B.C. schools.

 

The ad campaign has not deterred Fleming from being “hopeful and optimistic” that a deal can be reached.

The education minister also pointed out that in “conservative governments” in other provinces, there have been substantial cuts to the system.

READ MORE: Out-of-work Ontario teachers ‘more than welcome’ in B.C.: education minister

“For parents, and I appreciate that as well, the Teachers Federation has said school will start normally, there will be no disruption,” Fleming said. “We are not in the same kind of strife you are starting to see in other jurisdictions in Canada.”

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Aside from the ongoing labour dispute, Fleming is focusing on a new high school curriculum for grades 11 and 12. The curriculum moves away from traditional reliance on math and English skills and focuses on “real life skills.”