Sunday, 17 November 2019
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Op-ed: Negotiate, don’t dictate. It’s time to send a message

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – The last couple of weeks weren’t very good for the Liberal government here in Nova Scotia.

There were large teacher rallies at MLA constituency offices. There was the work to rule announcement by a united Nova Scotia Teachers Union.  

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There was an Auditor report revealing that many capital spending decisions at the Department of Education  aren’t based on needs, but on political considerations, with Education minister Karen Casey and Premier Stephen McNeil directly implicated .

Then there was an impressive walk-out by students. Not just a few. And not just in Halifax, but all over the province.

Most Nova Scotians understood that this was not a strike merely about more money for greedy teachers. Teachers were complaining about working conditions that were taking them away from teaching, and what parent wouldn’t understand that?  They were complaining about class sizes and lack of books.

What’s more, working to rule showed the extent to which teachers go beyond the call of duty every day. All the extracurricular stuff, the coaching of sports teams, the concerts, the drama clubs.   

So the government just did what it has been doing in situations like these ever since it was elected. It uses legislation to make it all go away.  Remember the home care workers? Remember Bill 100 and the university workers, remember the NSGEU nurses?

Removing the right to strike like this will inevitably be fought in court and found to go against the charter, and a future government will be ordered to pay compensation. But McNeil doesn’t care, the operative word here is future.

To ensure the safety of students the Nova Scotia government is closing all schools, leaving parents scrambling to find a way to ensure the safety of their children. How safe is that?

The government is also saying that teachers must report to work on Monday, ensuring that there will be no more teachers rallying at MLAs’ constituency offices or Province House as the proposed back to work legislation that the Liberals intend to proclaim winds its way through the legislature.

There is something deeply disheartening when your rights are removed with the stroke of a pen. You feel powerless. As if you don’t matter. As if you’re not fighting for what you honestly believe to be right. It’s like a kick in the guts. 

It’s not for me to say, and I don’t know what, and I don’t know how. But it strikes me that maybe it’s time to send a message.

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