Re­spect for teach­ers would pay off for all Nova Sco­tians

Premier should re­think the path he’s put the prov­ince on and shelve the ill-con­ceived Bill 75

Cape Breton Post - - EDITORIAL - BY DANNY CA­VANAGH AND HAS­SAN YUSSUFF Danny Ca­vanagh is the pres­i­dent of the Nova Sco­tia Fed­er­a­tion of Labour. Has­san Yussuff is the pres­i­dent of the Cana­dian Labour Congress.

Is it pos­si­ble to con­vince Nova Sco­tia Premier Stephen McNeil to change his mind?

We hope so, be­cause walk­ing away from the bar­gain­ing ta­ble and im­pos­ing a con­tract on the prov­ince’s public school teach­ers isn’t just go­ing to hurt teach­ers – it’s go­ing to hurt the qual­ity of ed­u­ca­tion for years to come.

We are both par­ents and have learned first-hand that it is teach­ers’ pas­sion and ded­i­ca­tion that drives kids’ en­thu­si­asm for learn­ing. And it’s teach­ers’ com­mit­ment to their stu­dents – and their per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence in the class­room – that makes them the best cham­pi­ons for the con­di­tions that make or break qual­ity public ed­u­ca­tion.

That’s why we’re dumb­founded by Premier McNeil’s ac­tions this week. He’s mark­ing Na­tional Teacher Ap­pre­ci­a­tion Week with leg­is­la­tion that erodes the abil­ity of teach­ers to ne­go­ti­ate a fair con­tract, keeps wages be­hind the ris­ing cost of liv­ing, and guts long-ser­vice awards. The leg­is­la­tion also makes it harder for teach­ers to ad­vo­cate for bet­ter learn­ing con­di­tions for their stu­dents.

We aren’t sur­prised to see so many par­ents very pub­licly sid­ing with their chil­dren’s teach­ers. They see the de­te­ri­o­rat­ing learn­ing con­di­tions due to prob­lems with class size and com­po­si­tion, and the ever-in­creas­ing ar­ray of non-teach­ing du­ties ex­pected of teach­ers. They un­der­stand that their kids’ learn­ing con­di­tions and work­ing con­di­tions of teach­ers are in­ex­tri­ca­bly linked. They also point out that when it comes to the right to col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing, the Supreme Court puts teach­ers squarely in the right.

Canada’s Supreme Court has sent a very strong mes­sage to ev­ery pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment that, in Canada, ne­go­ti­at­ing in good faith and re­spect­ing the col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing process is the law.

Last Novem­ber, our high­est court, which can take months to de­liver a de­ci­sion, took just 20 min­utes to rule that the gov­ern­ment of Bri­tish Columbia had vi­o­lated Canada’s Char­ter of Rights and Freedoms when it used leg­is­la­tion to strip rights from teach­ers’ col­lec­tive agree­ments – leg­is­la­tion sim­i­lar to McNeil’s Bill 75.

The re­mark­ably fast rul­ing ended a costly 15-year war on ed­u­ca­tion that was first waged by B.C. Premier Christy Clark, back when she was the Min­is­ter of Ed­u­ca­tion, and sought to im­pose a con­tract on teach­ers that stripped them of their right to bar­gain class sizes and bet­ter sup­port for stu­dents with spe­cial needs.

The rul­ing has forced Premier Clark to com­pletely re­write years of anti-ed­u­ca­tion talk­ing points, in­vest in ed­u­ca­tion and hire 1,100 full-time teach­ers. B.C. kids will do bet­ter in spite of Premier Clark’s ac­tions, not be­cause of them.

But it is the B.C. tax­pay­ers who ended up foot­ing the $2.6 mil­lion le­gal bill for their gov­ern­ment’s strong-arm tac­tics. Why would Premier McNeil set up Nova Sco­tians for the same costly le­gal bat­tle? Why not sim­ply in­vest that money in a fair con­tract for teach­ers that will im­prove the public ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem and the fu­ture for all Nova Sco­tians?

There’s no deny­ing that ne­go­ti­at­ing con­tracts is hard work. We have sat at many ne­go­ti­at­ing tables, and we know that very well. But it works. Ev­ery year the over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of col­lec­tive agree­ments in Canada are bar­gained with­out a labour dis­pute. In the fed­eral ju­ris­dic­tion, 94 per cent are set­tled with­out a work stop­page. In ed­u­ca­tion terms, that’s a solid A+.

Achiev­ing that kind of strong track record isn’t just the re­sult of the good work of unions, but the hard work of em­ploy­ers, in­clud­ing gov­ern­ments too.

We hope Premier McNeil will take a mo­ment to re­think the path he’s put the prov­ince on and shelve the ill-con­ceived Bill 75. We hope he’ll lis­ten hard to what stu­dents, par­ents and teach­ers are say­ing, and re­mem­ber the teach­ers who in­spired him and who helped his own chil­dren thrive. Most im­por­tantly, we hope he’ll roll up his sleeves and do the hard work of ne­go­ti­at­ing a con­tract with Nova Sco­tia’s teach­ers. That’s the job vot­ers elected him to do.

“We’re dumb­founded by Premier McNeil’s ac­tions …”


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