Stephen McNeil. Photo: Halifax Examiner
Stephen McNeil. Photo: Halifax Examiner

“We believe we’ve delivered what is a fair package [for teachers]. If there is more required to be on the table, people need to explain where they want us to get that. Do they want us to take it out of health care? Do they want us to take it away from vulnerable Nova Scotians?”
— Premier Stephen McNeil, November 3, 2016

Let us begin, shall we, Mr. Premier, with the Yarmouth ferry.

And let’s zero in on the $32.6 million your government committed to subsidizing that vessel’s ever decreasing number of passengers — noting, just in passing, the $9-million worth of Nova Scotia taxpayers’ dollars you sent out of the province last spring to a U.S. shipyard to retrofit an American-owned, American-crewed ship for its brief, now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t season plying the waters between Yarmouth and Portland, Maine.

And let’s not forget the additional untold, uncapped millions your government has agreed in advance to pony up over the next decade to cover that ship’s inevitable future operating losses.

Not to mention — but who can forget? — the $40-million-plus your government previously spent in just two years to prop up the last cash-sucking Yarmouth-Portland ferry before it sank, with our cash and without the least trace of success.

And then let’s work our way — up or down, your choice — to your own ever more bloated, ever more expensive premier’s office.

Last spring, you’ll recall, you hired former journalist Laurie Graham as your principal secretary at a salary of $160,000, which turned out to be more than we pay the elected members of your cabinet. And then you created, out of the whole cloth of your political imagination, the job of Managing Director, Corporate and External Relations — aka premier’s prime spinmeister — specifically for Marilla Stephenson, another ex-journalist, and set her salary at $106,000.

In the larger scheme of things, of course, those salaries don’t amount to much. But consider this. If you simply eliminated Marilla’s salary — and position  — you could have hired a couple of fresh-faced new teachers to help ease classroom over-crowding, and probably even had a few bucks left over for classroom supplies.

Halifax Examiner columnist Stephen Kimber
Halifax Examiner columnist Stephen Kimber

I could go on. (Instead, let me invite Examiner readers to share their own suggestions for expenditures your government could cut in order to deliver a more “fair package” to Nova Scotia teachers and their students. Get out your notepad, Mr. Premier. I’m sure they will have a few.)

The short answer to your question, Mr. Premier — Do they want us to take it away from vulnerable Nova Scotians? — is that we don’t want you to take away from “vulnerable Nova Scotians” in order to reach a fairer deal for Nova Scotia teachers.

We simply want you to stop demonizing them, to stop seeing teachers — and nurses, and home care workers, and public sector workers generally — as the enemy, whose job security and benefits must be destroyed at all costs in order to lower the benefit bar for corporations even as you prop up money-losing private businesses in the false name of economic development and plump up your own nest with new hires to help you win the next election.

The really vulnerable Nova Scotians, Mr. Premier, are those whose futures you’re sacrificing at the altar of your false cut-our-way-to-prosperity gods.

I’m delighted to join The Halifax Examiner, and to have the opportunity to be part of “an independent, adversarial news site devoted to holding the powerful accountable.” Thanks, Tim Bousquet, for having created and nurtured this bold adventure in local journalism, and for inviting me to be part of it.

Stephen Kimber is an award-winning writer, editor, broadcaster, and educator. A journalist for more than 50 years whose work has appeared in most Canadian newspapers and magazines, he is the author of...

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  1. I’m glad everyone focused on the point – that he’s trying to blackmail citizens into supporting his stance. What was the Halifax-centric rhetoric on the Yarmouth ferry? I agree, some bad choices were made – contracting a ship that won’t carry trucks because Portland doesn’t want them driving through the city. So choose a new port! Not insisting that half the crew be Canadian.That’s a problem with an awful lot of government contracts – take a look! The whole western half of the province benefits from that investment, and most of the passengers make their way to Halifax to spend money. You don’t hear us grousing about the cost of repairs to the MacDonald bridge – you have a second one, afterall. This whole habit we’ve adopted of pitting one group of citizens against another is not what we are about. Can we stop it?

  2. So glad to see Steve Kimber having a great venue to showcase his talent. He and Tim B. make a fabulous team.

    My feelings on Robert McNeil’s tactics run the gamut from plain disagreement to utter disgust. Our Nova Scotia problem is that our MLA’s seem to be such a sorry, inept lot that even if we could pick the best,and lump them into one party, there still wouldn’t be enough to form a legitimate, credible government. The school for MLA’s would be a decent idea but it could never be instituted.

  3. Rather than duplicating health care governance by amalgamating the regions into one provincial health authority, get rid of the health authority altogether. We already have one called the Nova Scotia Department of Health and Wellness.

  4. A little bit of research seems to show that Mr McNeil is making significantly more salary than the other Atlantic premiers. The others ring in at around $140-$150k/year, while Mr McNeil’s salary sits at $202k/year…… In fact, the premier of New Brunswick actually took a pay cut, and the premier of PEI has promised to also take a pay cut.
    Another side of this issue is the way in which Mr McNeils compensation was decided. It was given to a panel to determine, which IMHO came to a decision in much the same way an arbitrator would……. And Mr McNeil decided before their decision was released that it would be legally binding. So compare that to Mr McNeils approach to the NSTU- He passed legislation to bypass potential arbitration with the NSTU, because he’s claiming that the province cannot afford it……. Yet that is precisely what he gave to himself and his cronies, and enjoys a salary at least $50k higher than any other Atlantic premier.

    The hypocrisy here is just mind blowing. He is preaching austerity, while using journalists funded by tax dollars to spin words and terms – Referring to the service award as a “bonus” rather than a negotiated benefit, claiming that he “negotiated” when in fact he made no effort to negotiate at all by any sense of the definition….. He’s bashing teachers pensions, when an MLA in this province only needs to work two years to qualify for a pension they can start receiving at age 55…. And from what I could see, his pension as of 2014 was around 75k/year…… God knows where it stands now.

    My advice for Mr McNeil is that leaders lead from the front. Before he uses millions more to spin his bargaining position, he should take a long look at his own backyard.

    Thanks to Mr Kimber and the Examiner for staying on top of these guys. McNeil’s a tricky fella.

  5. I believe the real discussion should be about Quality and support for teachers in the classroom. We have a strange labor-management relationship where in this case the Province represents management but has no direct day to day contact with the teachers. We have a layer in between which are the school boards.
    In the case of the Halifax Board, I suspect the teachers are concerned about a large bureaucracy which limits their effectiveness in the classroom. Effective labor-management relations requires direct contact between employer and employee. Should there be a focus on fixing the basic structure?

  6. I share John Wesley Chisholm’s opinion, though I’ll present it in a far less eloquent manner. What the Premier did was despicable; he resorted to emotional blackmail, an impossible choice for the ethical and the honourable. In essence, he was/is the wife-beater who tells his wife she made him do it, it’s her fault, or closer to the situation, the family won’t have enough to eat because of extraneous, unfair demands from within. What McNeil did is his version of “Sophie’s Choice.” It’s unconscionable, the lowest I’ve seen a politician stoop in my seventy years. He willingly ran for office, sought all it implies, predictable and otherwise. If he has the unmitigated gall to run again, hopefully citizens will remove him from an onerous position which he’s clearly demonstrated is beyond his ability and ethical standard.

  7. It’s sad that if you look up False Dilemma the example given is literally exactly what our Premier said to CBC last week.

    I believe the minimum bar for entering the legislature should be basic courses in logic, rhetoric, reason, negotiation and conflict resolution, plus some history of government and how it works. This “Legislator’s Diploma” would qualify our elected citizen representatives minimally to be up to the task and we would have some hope that when things got complicated they would at very least know how to think about problems, how to decide who and what to believe, how to know when they are wrong, and where to look for help.

      1. While its a lovely treat watching you two jack each other off over bro-links, I must interrupt. There’s a bit missing from that ‘minimum bar for entering the legislature’ shtick, that a lot of people find valuable. It’s called integrity. And what I see as a lack of integrity. The PC party which JWC represents has been an integral force in the destruction of the forests of Nova Scotia and the environmental nightmare of Boat Harbour through it’s continued support of Northern Pulp, much of this through former premier John Hamm and current leader Jamie Baillie. It’s sad, but not bawling your eyes out sad, more roll your eyes sad to read this. As much as I would love to vote against the Liberals for a laundry list of reasons, the PCs and their policies are no sane choice. Carry on.

  8. Why is the pot always a fixed size (or increasingly smaller) each year?

    If inflation means that the services Nova Scotians need (like schools and healthcare) costs more, why is the assumption that it must either degrade, or money stolen from other services (which are also subject to inflation).

    McNeil is not asking us which service we should fairly support, but rather which service we should let worser further each year, in order to keep taxes low (or lower) so that he and his fellow politicians can keep their jobs for another term.

    The answer is simple. Tax me more.

    And justify it by intelligently telling Nova Scotians the importance and worth of these services, and why, if they have become more expensive, it’s important for citizens and businesses to open their pocket books a little more and fund them as needed.

    If they lose the next election as a result, its because they failed to inform the public on the reality of government responsibilities, the cost of important services, and the role of citizens to do the right thing.

    In which case, they deserved to lose. And we can elect someone else that does know how to manage a government correctly.

  9. I trust the most vulnerable Nova Scotians MacNeill refers to is himself and his cronies come election time next year.

  10. Super happy to see you writing for the Examiner!

    Where can I find how much NSBI spends on failed local businesses? Why is the government in the business of providing loans or financing to business anyways? Isn’t that a bank’s job?

    Would be cool if politicians stopped speculating with our money and spent it instead on the foundational aspects of society that aren’t driven by the profit-motive (health care, education, transportation). These things are needed for the economy to flourish – not sure why that’s so hard for people to understand.

    I get what McNeil is doing here: trying to get the best deal for Nova Scotians but all he’s really doing is distracting people from their jobs, further hindering them from doing those jobs properly, and demonizing unions – which are organizations designed to protect workers and improve the working conditions of all people.

    Anyways, I think it’s about time we actually invested in Nova Scotians instead of asking them what else they should give up.

    1. I found out that NSBI only gives assistance to export activities and those who wish to export. So the Braggs and the Risleys will be enriched.

  11. Do NSBI or the Department of Business do anything other than produce buzzword laden press releases that say nothing, and give money to billionaires? Last I heard, both were essentially non-functional after the shake up which created the new department, and their “let’s hire a liberal hack who is utterly unqualified and unprepared for this position” hiring of NSBI’s CEO.

  12. Not just help him win the next election, but also help him spin and keep some of the investigative journalists and government critics at bay… (by hiring journalists)

  13. Excellent article – finally someone spells it out clearly. Stephen McNeil – subscribe, read and smarten up.

  14. As you note, the most “vulnerable Nova Scotians” in this scenario are the students in the schools.

    The arguments about taking away from other priorities such as health care is a very childish argument and really diminishes the credibility of the Premier’s position.

  15. I think teachers should strip their classrooms of all materials they purchased or supplied from home. Next they should pack up every item they purchased by applying for a grant outside the tax payer funded education system. Last, they should quit all activities outside of their contract for one week which would include coaching, chaperoning, supervising, prop building, reference letter writing, etc.

    The public has little appetite for lies and spin. Premier McNeil needs to get back to the bargaining table and put a contract in place for teachers that address their concerns. He needs to restore funding cut to our education system and quit the half truths and spin about what his government has done to date.

  16. I am deeply offended that Mr. McNeil talks about taking money from our most vulnerable citizens, and I am curious to find out which category of vulnerable citizens – the many citizens of all ages that are waiting for critical mental health support? the many seniors in care whose quality of life have diminished because of huge cuts to long-term care facilities? or those vulnerable citizens on income assistance who are lining up at food banks at 7:00 am for an opening of 9:00 am so they can feed their children and/or themselves? Mr. McNeil, you are looking in the wrong place – they already have next to nothing.

  17. Kind of disappointing. Asking the readers to fill in the blanks of an incomplete article seems, I don’t know, I could go on but why should I?