British Columbia

B.C. teachers' strike: Voting today on binding arbitration

Nearly 41,000 striking public school teachers across B.C. will cast ballots today on binding arbitration, but it remains unclear if the vote will bring the strike any closer to ending.

Government has already rejected the idea, saying a resolution must come through negotiations

B.C. teachers and their supporters rally at Canada Place on Friday to help put pressure on the government to end the months-long dispute. (CBC)

Nearly 41,000 striking public school teachers across B.C. will vote today on a proposal to end their months-long strike if the government agrees to use binding arbitration to settle the ongoing dispute.

But it remains unclear if the vote will bring the strike any closer to a halt.

B.C. Teachers' Federation president Jim Iker on Friday proposed the idea for a vote, and the union is expecting to have a strong "yes" mandate when the results are counted Wednesday evening.

Iker is proposing binding arbitration be used to settle wage and benefits issues, while leaving class size and composition to be resolved in an ongoing court case.

But Education Minister Peter Fassbender has repeatedly rejected the idea of binding arbitration, saying the only way the strike will be settled is through negotiations.

On Tuesday, Finance Minister Mike de Jong confirmed the government was unwilling to hand over any part of the dispute to a third party to resolve.

"Our job is to protect the interest of taxpayers. It is not to surrender to some unaccountable third party responsibility for determining a question that involves hundreds of millions, maybe billions of taxpayer dollars," said de Jong.

But with no negotiations scheduled between the two sides, it remains unclear how and when the three-month-old strike will be settled and students will return to school.

De Jong said the legislature will resume sitting for a full fall session on Oct. 6, raising speculation the government could legislate an end to the strike.

In the past, the government has also repeatedly and emphatically rejected that idea as well, saying this time around, a solution must be reached at the negotiating table.

On Tuesday, de Jong was asked if that might change, and stopped short of dismissing the idea.

"I hope not," said he responded.

 De Jong also said Tuesday that while the province is showing a budget surplus of $266 million, he's not about to use that money to settle the dispute.

Later Wednesday, the B.C. Nurses' Union and the B.C. Federation of Labour will announce plans to back the BCTF. That support is expected to include financial support for cash-strapped striking teachers.

VOTE | How do you think the B.C. teachers' strike should be resolved?

With files from Stephen Smart