VICTORIA – Education Minister George Abbott says he won’t appoint a mediator in the long-running B.C. Teachers’ Federation dispute until after he returns from an education trade mission to China on March 26.
Abbott said Wednesday his Asian trip was planned long before his ministry developed Bill 22, the legislation designed to force an end to months of teacher work-to-rule action that culminated in a three-day strike last week.
Once Bill 22 is passed in the legislature Thursday, Abbott said he will send letters to the heads of the BCTF and the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association inviting them to take part in mediation, before he leaves for China on Saturday.
The legislation requires the BCTF and BCPSEA to bargain “in good faith” with the yet-to-be-named mediator in an effort to reach agreement without adding new costs to the overall B.C. education budget.
Abbott acknowledged that there is no practical way to compel the BCTF to negotiate if they refuse. BCTF president Susan Lambert has repeatedly rejected the idea of a ministry-appointed mediator as well as the government’s “net zero” financial restriction.
Abbott said because of the long history of disagreement, court challenges over restrictions on class size and special needs support and other unique complications, he will be seeking a mediator with significant education experience.
In earlier interviews, Abbott has mused that a mediator who can “walk on water” would be preferable, and suggested that the skills used by Mahatma Gandhi to unite the disparate religions of India and achieve its independence would be useful in the teacher dispute.
If no settlement is reached by the end of June, a new contract would be imposed that extends from last spring to June 2013, after the next provincial election.