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
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 …”