The newly appointed mediator for the long-running contract dispute with the province’s teachers knows he has a hard road ahead of him.
“When I was first approached, I described this as mission impossible. I think there are enormous barriers and the parties have not been able to agree in the past and there is a sorry record of negotiations going back almost 20 years,” said Dr. Charles Jago. “Am I hopeful? I can’t say that I am. But will I give it an honest try, I will certainly do that.”
On Wednesday, Jago was given a mandate to mediate a contract settlement between the B.C. Public School Employers Association and the B.C. Teachers’ Federation by the end of June or, failing that, provide the provincial government with a list of recommendations.
Jago, a historian and former president of the University of Northern British Columbia, said he gave the position careful consideration when he was approached, knowing that the two parties have been locked in a stalemate since September of last year.
Jago has an impressive list of accomplishments and credentials. Along with authoring the 2006 report, Working Together to Improve Performance: preparing B.C.’s Public Education System for the Future, Jago has held academic appointments in Canadian universities for over 40 years and, as UNBC president, initiated the development of the Northern Medical Program.
What Jago’s credentials don’t include is any experience as a mediator.
“One would have to question the wisdom of the government for appointing someone like me, but I do have related skills and maybe the fact that mediation hasn’t worked out in the past has influenced their thinking, that it’s time to take a new approach,” said Jago. “I am an educator, I can deal with the representatives of the BCTF as educator to educator and I have experience beyond my role in direct education.”
Though he lacks experience as a mediator, Jago said he does have direct experience at the negotiating table both here and in Ontario, from the employer’s side of the table.
“For three or four years here in B.C. I chaired the University Public Sector Employees Association, and helped to co-ordinate bargaining in the university sector,” he said. “So I am very familiar with the negotiating context for public services in B.C.”
Education Minister George Abbott said Jago brings a unique combination of skills and experience to the table.
“We are very, very pleased to have a mediator of his calibre and his character involved here,” said Abbott. “Everything around the life and achievements of Dr. Jago point to him having the requisite skills to make some progress in what has been, to date, an intractable dispute among the parties, where there has been little progress.”
The BCTF had put forward two candidates of their own for the position, both sitting judges, on the B.C. Court of Appeals and the B.C. Supreme Court. However, both candidates were disqualified after the Chief Justice for each court refused to release either for duties as a mediator.
Jago will be paid what he refers to as “the general pay for mediators,” $2,000 for each day that he puts into the mediation effort.
“I also have some resources that I can call upon if I need advice or support,” said Jago. “I’m not going to be sitting with the parties day after day. I will be giving this the time and attention that I can without undermining my other responsibilities.”