Raffi talks ‘child honouring’ and bargaining ruling at Surrey teachers convention

NEWTON — Just one day after the B.C. Court of Appeal ruled a provincial government bill could restrict bargaining on class size and composition, the Surrey Teachers’ Association held its annual convention – headlined by one of their most vocal supporters from last year’s strike.

Teachers from all over the city packed the gym at Princess Margaret Secondary Friday morning for the keynote speech by beloved children’s entertainer Raffi Cavoukian, who was critical of the B.C. Liberals during the 2014 job action.

"I have a lot of friends this morning," he said, "and I’m a friend of teachers."

Throughout his hour-long talk, Cavoukian primarily discussed human development and "child honouring" – his philosophy of putting children first when designing sustainable environments and communities. But he threw in a few comments about the ruling, voicing his disapproval of Premier Christy Clark.

"Political battles between teachers and a provincial government are such a waste of time," he said. "We all need the support to do our jobs, and your profession needs the respect from this provincial government, and you need a premier who understands that and who supports you in your daily work.

"I honour the work you do, day in and day out in your classrooms. You are the ones in whose care our young will thrive."

In its 4-1 decision, the B.C. Court of Appeal argued that Bill 22, introduced in 2012, did not violate teachers’ constitutional rights by limiting bargaining on class size and composition. The court found the government operated in good faith when consulting with teachers prior to the bill’s introduction, contrary to the findings of B.C. Supreme Court Justice Susan Griffin.

While the B.C. Teachers’ Federation won two lower court rulings on the matter, STA president Jennifer Wadge said there was a fear that the appeals court would partly disagree with those rulings.

"We thought we might lose on some issues, but the overwhelming decision was really shocking and really disappointing," said Wadge. "It has huge implications for workers who bargain with government in this province."

MJ Norris Elementary teacher Darrell Hagglund said teachers were initially confident the appeals court would rule in their favour, but as the decision drew closer, there was less certainty.

"I think, early on last year, we thought it was going to be upheld," he said. "But hearing the rumblings through the STA and different professionals, it did not seem very positive."

"You just always look at precedent," said his colleague, Trevor Driedger. "With the health-care workers, there was the same situation."

Both agreed that whether or not the court ruled in favour of B.C. government, the case was destined to go to the Supreme Court of Canada. The BCTF has said it will seek to appeal the decision to the high court.

"The government wouldn’t have given up if we had won," said Hagglund. "It’s just the next phase, which is too bad because it’s more money and it’s more headache."

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