law

Public Education and the British Columbia Provincial Election

Some of this blog’s readers are likely already aware that the Canadian province of British Columbia (where I live) is going to have a provincial general election on May 9.  Lots of issues are being raised in the election campaign: jobs, the cost of housing, natural resources, regional inequities, and campaign financing.

As in any election, education is also an important issue. The platforms of BC’s three major political parties – the Liberals (who, as the party with the most elected representatives in BC’s Legislature, are the current governing party), the New Democratic Party (NDP), and the Green Party – all have promises related to elementary and secondary (K-12) education. That’s heartening to see, because publicly-funded education is an essential part of a democratic, equal-opportunity society. However, the election discussions around BC’s K-12 public education system have not paid much attention to the significant events around that system in the last few years. I think these events should have a higher profile during this election – not just because (more…)

Why Government Is Not A Business

There’s more than enough information on the Internet right now about the havoc being inflicted on the United States by President Donald Trump and his associates. However, there are two perspectives on this craziness that I want to bring to your attention.

Some commenters have said they are not surprised at Trump’s behaviour in his new job because he’s “acting like a businessman”. In other words, he’s doing what the new CEO of any new business would do: setting up new procedures, changing things that need changing, and bringing in staff that he feels comfortable working with. Leaving aside the fact that Trump is a much less successful businessman than he pretends to be, this situation is a (more…)

Race, Class, and Bias in Hiring

At the start of a new year, a lot of people make resolutions for what they want to achieve in the next twelve months – and often those resolutions have something to do with work. The resolution could be to choose a new career, to get more education, or to look for a new job. So now is a particularly appropriate time to look at two recent studies about bias in employers’ hiring processes. The results of these studies demonstrate that job applicants can often be rejected for reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with their ability to do the job. And the studies also suggest that biased hiring has effects that go way beyond individual careers or workplaces.

These two studies used essentially the same methodology, which is (more…)

Supreme Court of Canada Decision in the BC Teachers’ Federation Case (Part II)

On November 10, the Supreme Court of Canada delivered an oral decision in the legal dispute between the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) – the union representing teachers in BC’s public school system – and the British Columbia provincial government.

That decision ended a 14-year legal battle between the two parties over the BC government’s decision to pass legislation that removed the language around class size and composition from its collective agreement with the BCTF, and that also excluded those issues from collective bargaining. The BCTF claimed that the government’s actions violated Section 2(d) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees freedom of association. Two previous Supreme Court of Canada decisions – in the Fraser case and the Health Services case – have established that in the context of labour relations, “freedom of association” includes workers’ rights to form unions and to engage in collective bargaining.

The Supreme Court decision on November 10 was remarkable because (more…)

Supreme Court of Canada Decision in The BC Teachers’ Federation Case (Part I)

This Thursday, the Supreme Court of Canada held its hearing of an appeal by the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation (BCTF), the union that represents teachers in British Columbia’s public school system.

This ongoing case – which started in 2002 – involves several actions by the BC provincial government in its collective bargaining for a contract with the BCTF, primarily around the government’s decision to pass legislation declaring that some items would not be bargained, and removing those same items from the collective agreement that was then in effect. The BCTF opposed both of these changes. Later, there were also issues around the government’s conduct during bargaining.

The BC Supreme Court twice ruled in the BCTF’s favour, once in 2011 and again in 2014. The BC government appealed the 2014 ruling, and the BC Court of Appeal overturned that ruling. The Court of Appeal decision was the basis of the BCTF’s appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.

I think it’s fair to say that all parties involved with this case expected that a case this complex would entail a lengthy hearing at the Supreme Court, followed by several months for the nine judges to review the arguments and write their decision. However, much to everyone’s surprise, (more…)

Job Churn and Precarious Work

I wrote an opinion article for the Report on Business section of the Globe and Mail newspaper, responding to recent comments by Canadian politicians that workers should “get used to” job churn and precarious work. You can read the article here.

Letting the Sunshine In

How much light should a “sunshine list” shine?

Public sector compensation disclosure lists – “sunshine lists” – are lists of individuals in public sector jobs that are paid more than a certain amount. These annual lists usually include the person’s name, the public sector organization they work for, their job title, and their annual earnings for that fiscal year.  In Canada, five provinces have some version of a legislated “sunshine list”: Alberta, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Saskatchewan, and New Brunswick. (Other provinces publish salary information in their public accounts, but don’t produce a single comprehensive list.)

The reasons for publishing these lists usually involve “accountability” and “transparency” – but recently there has been pushback from some of the workers included on the lists. (more…)

Why Academic Freedom is Important to Everyone (Not Just Academics)

The ongoing conflicts at the University of British Columbia that I wrote about last week have caused a lot of discussion about the concept of “academic freedom”. Unfortunately, a fair amount of that discussion has criticized academic freedom as nothing more than an excuse for lazy academics to do irrelevant work, or as something that’s only important to ivory-tower inhabitants fighting over trivial issues.

Clearly I’m biased on the importance of academic freedom,  because it’s extremely relevant to my occupation. But the right to academic freedom in universities is something that is, and should be, important to everyone. Here’s why. (more…)

Bill C-377: A Sad Day for Democracy

Canada Day, July 1, is a day for Canadians to show their pride in their country. I love my country deeply. I am very grateful to have been born here, and I chose to live here. But this Canada Day is less than a joyous occasion for me – because on June 30, a law was enacted whose content and history is an embarrassment to democracy in this country.

I’ve written a couple of previous posts about Bill C-377, which started out as a private member’s bill in Canada’s House of Commons in late 2011. The bill amends Canada’s Income Tax Act to require “labour organizations” to submit statements to the Canada Revenue Agency showing the details of every financial transaction they make with a value over $5,000, along with details of any salaries over $100,000 annually that they pay. They are also required to submit a statement estimating the amount of time they spend on “political activities, lobbying activities and other non-labour relations activities”.

This information would be made publicly available on the Canada Revenue Agency website. It’s important to note that the details of financial transactions could include the amount of the transaction and the details involving the union, and the details of the other party or parties participating in the transaction.

There are many articles on the Internet describing the selective interpretations of Parliamentary procedure that were used to push this bill through Canada’s House of Commons and Senate. It says a lot about the poor quality of this bill that procedural manipulations were necessary for it to receive the approvals needed to become law. However, what I want to focus on in this bill’s enactment is the shameful disrespect for expert opinion and the apparent dominance of party loyalty over responsible decision-making. (more…)

Calling for a Public Inquiry

There is a situation going on right now in my home province of British Columbia that is deeply distressing to me as a researcher, as an instructor who teaches courses about employment, and as a citizen. I’m writing this blog post to join the calls for a public inquiry into this situation.

I have been told that this situation hasn’t received a lot of attention outside of BC, so I’ll explain what has happened.

In early September of 2012, Margaret McDiarmid, at the time the health minister in BC’s provincial government, held a news conference to announce that four employees had been fired and three employees had been suspended from the ministry’s pharmaceutical services division. (Subsequently, the suspended employees were fired, and a student researcher on a co-op term was also fired.) The health ministry’s pharmaceutical services division, among other responsibilities, assesses medications to determine whether they will be approved for sale in BC, and/or whether the cost of purchasing the medications will be subsidized by the BC government’s PharmaCare program.

McDiarmid stated at the news conference that the reason for the suspensions and dismissals was an alleged privacy breach involving confidential patient-related data. She also stated that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) were investigating the allegations.

Some of the dismissed and suspended employees were employed through contracts with the ministry, and some were permanent employees. Several of them filed wrongful dismissal and defamation lawsuits; others pursued grievances through their unions. One of the lawsuits alleged that (more…)