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BC cabinet received advice on provoking teachers' strike: court record

Court transcripts the British Columbia New Democratic Party released today and cited in the B.C. legislature show senior bureaucrats gave the provincial cabinet advice on how to provoke a full scale strike by the B.C. Teachers' Federation in 2011.

The exchange is between Paul Straszak, the former CEO of the Public Sector Employers' Council, which bargains on behalf of the government, and BCTF lawyer John Rogers. The exchange centre around a briefing note Straszak prepared for John Dyble, deputy minister to Premier Christy Clark.

Following is an edited and condensed version of the transcript:

Straszak: "So what we're talking about here is cabinet is going to be in an awkward situation in the context of a low scale strike, meaning it's going to want to put an end to it but the public won't necessarily see the need for the legislation because the kids are still in school."

Rogers: "Down below it says 'Managing negotiations, however, is more challenging. There's no indication that the BCTF is interested in escalating to a full strike this calendar year'; right?"

Straszak: "That's right."

Rogers: "You state 'We have some tools to increase the pressure on the [Teachers' Federation] to escalate the strike'?"

Straszak: "That's right."

Rogers: "So your objective as government was to increase the pressure on teachers to have them go out on a full scale strike?"

Straszak: "We -- yes. I'll say that's correct. What our objective here is explaining the management to a full scale strike. And the big issue, as I said, for government when it interferes in free collective bargaining is the pressure associated with it. So all we had is this kind of low level strike which was having a really significant impact on education but where parents weren't up in arms. So we're simply describing a political dynamic here that if you do step in with legislation prior to a full scale strike you may have a public problem. And so the notion of how you can get to a full scale strike is outlined here."

Justice Minister Suzanne Anton responded to questions from the NDP in the legislature on behalf of the government. "This is a matter before the courts," she said in one of several similar responses that noted the government is appealing the B.C. Supreme Court ruling by Justice Susan Griffin in the B.C. Court of Appeal. "That's where this matter will be heard and that's where we should have it."

Clark yesterday told reporters that the government did not provoke a full scale strike, but citing cabinet confidentiality she declined to release the documents raised in court.

NDP MLAs noted Clark and other government representatives have discussed the ruling in media interviews, in a letter to teachers and at a BC Liberal fundraising dinner in Victoria last night. Leader Adrian Dix told reporters that the transcript the NDP obtained is available to any member of the public, though there is a fee to have it released.

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee's Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

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