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Updated: Thu, 28 Aug 2014 18:04:04 GMT | By CBC News, cbc.ca

B.C. teachers' strike: Can Vince Ready mediate a 'miracle'?

Vince Ready. CBC

Vince Ready. CBC

Veteran mediator Vince Ready has agreed to meet with all sides in the B.C. teachers' strike, raising hope he will work another one of his "miracles" to get the school year started on time.

While the Vancouver-based mediator has not yet agreed to begin formal mediation, he has agreed to exploratory talks to see if the two sides are close enough to broker a deal.

The move follows a meeting on Wednesday between B.C. Education Minister Peter Fassbender, BC Public School Employers' Association negotiator Peter Cameron and BC Teachers' Federation president Jim Iker. It appeared to offer hope that meaningful talks between the two sides could begin.

At the meeting, Fassbender proposed both sides put on hold the specific issues that are currently the subject of an ongoing court battle.

He also proposed if mediated talks can begin on the remaining issues, that the strike and lockout be suspended for two weeks to reopen schools for the start of school.

But Fassbender said Iker told him in the meeting he would need to consult the union executive before responding. The minister said Iker also told him teachers would need to vote before the strike would be suspended.

On Thursday, Fassbender called on Iker to canvass teachers in advance of Sept. 2 on the idea of suspending the BCTF's pickets if Vince Ready is engaged in mediation.

"There are only a few days ahead for Mr. Iker to seek a mandate from teachers on this idea," said Fassbender.

"I think parents, students and communities would like to know whether the BCTF is willing to let schools open and allow teachers to work while mediator Vince Ready helps the parties to negotiate an agreement.

The minister said he was encouraged that the lead negotiators for BCPSEA and the BCTF were meeting with Ready but it was up to Ready to decide when to start full mediation.

BCTF considers proposal

After Wednesday's meeting, Iker did not indicate what the union planned to do, though he said he wanted mediation to start as soon as possible.

"The minister has some ideas and I think those ideas should come to us through the bargaining table with Mr. Ready," he told reporters. "There wasn't any new idea proposed today that we haven't heard."

The union said in an emailed statement that Iker hopes the government will demonstrate to Ready that it's willing to make "significant moves," including more funding to improve class size and composition.

The minister has repeatedly said the government will not legislate the teachers back to work.

The fight over Bill 28

The legal battle to which Fassbender is referring is the ongoing fight over Bill 28,  legislation which the Liberal government introduced in 2002 that took away teachers' ability to bargain class size and composition.

Recently the B.C. Supreme Court ruled the legislation was illegal, and ordered the government to settle with the teachers. But the government is now appealing that ruling.

Fassbender, who estimates teachers' legal grievances amount to $225 million a year in additional funding, is now asking the teachers to put those issues aside while they wait for the legal appeals to be exhausted.

"Put that aside for the sake of this process, because it will run its normal course, and we'll see what comes out of it at that point," said Fassbender on Thursday morning.

But a Ministry of Education spokesman insists the government is still willing to discuss class size and composition in negotiations.

The two sides will meet with Vince Ready this afternoon to determine if  — for the first time — Ready believes they are close enough for mediation to begin.

Ready agreed earlier this month to work with the groups, but can't start until teachers and government are closer to agreeing to terms.

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