By Tamsyn Burgmann, The Canadian Press
VANCOUVER – Chief negotiators were quietly hunkered down for talks as another week without school loomed on the horizon for half-a-million British Columbia school children.
The warring sides in the province’s protracted teachers’ strike were reticent to reveal details Friday, but the union confirmed its president and the employer’s representative began “discussions” with a veteran mediator on Thursday.
There was no clarity about the scope or length of the meeting between B.C. Teachers’ Federation head Jim Iker, negotiator Peter Cameron, for the B.C. Public Employers’ Association, and Vince Ready, a respected mediator brought into the dispute earlier in the summer.
The government did not confirm the talks. A spokesman only said the parties have agreed not to comment until there is something to report.
The school year has been delayed indefinitely as more than 40,000 teachers picket across the province, waiting for their leadership and the government to strike an agreement so they can commence classes. Teachers started strike action almost two weeks before the end of the school year in June.
Bargaining has been at a near standstill while both sides attempt to gain public support, families grow weary of the dispute and many on the picket lines say they yearn to start teaching again.
The government says a union proposal and landslide vote on Wednesday to end the strike with binding arbitration is a non-starter, saying it would result in a tax hike.
Education Minister Peter Fassbender wants a negotiated settlement. Premier Christy Clark said Thursday she is determined to get a conclusion before flying to India on a trade mission on Oct. 9, three days after the legislature resumes.
Fassbender had flatly rejected back-to-work legislation until Thursday, when he softened his position and said legislation was another option available to government.
A coalition of Ontario public school educators donated $100,000 Friday to a growing pot of money being distributed as loans and grants to financially struggling teachers. The contribution raised an overall hardship fund to nearly $9 million.
Ontario Teachers’ Federation president Rian McLaughlin represents 160,000 teachers, who she said have watched their B.C. counterparts suffer for a long time and want to show their support.
Three affiliates contributed to the donation: the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association and the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation.
McLaughlin said there’s an oversupply of qualified teachers in Ontario looking for jobs across the country, and their decisions on where to go will be influenced by what they’re observing in B.C.
“A fractured, multi-year relationship with the government that’s just not going anywhere and not seeming to resolve itself is certainly going to be off putting,” she said.
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