NSTU President Liette Doucet
NSTU President Liette Doucet

This week’s episode revolves almost exclusively around the labour dispute between the Nova Scotia Teachers’ Union and the provincial government. It seems as though the McNeil administration expected the teachers to roll over and take the first offer (and then the second), but the teachers have made it clear that imposed working conditions have put quality education on the backburner in favour of data entry and standardized testing.

Nova Scotia Parents for Teachers member Tina Roberts-Jeffers
Nova Scotia Parents for Teachers member Tina Roberts-Jeffers

We speak with Liette Doucet, President of the NSTU, Tina Roberts-Jeffers, a community activist who works with Nova Scotia Parents for Teachers, and Kenzi Donnelly, a 17-year-old high school student who’s organizing her fellow students in support of the teachers.

Students for Teachers organizer Kenzi Donnelly
Students for Teachers organizer Kenzi Donnelly

The Halifax Examiner reached out to Education Minister Karen Casey to appear on this week’s episode, but her office declined to be interviewed.

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  1. In the end, it will be the resolution to this Teacher’s contract issue that will be really worth commenting on. The negotiations, spin-doctoring and actions by both the teachers/union and the government are a drama story that does little to stir confidence that either side really have the common goal of doing what is BEST for the students while enabling the teachers to receive a FAIR wage and operate in an acceptable work environment.

    Lock both negotiating teams in a room (sequestered like a jury), with no communication with the media or public, with severe penalties if an information breach occurs. There they should stay until a deal is reached. It is the right time to end this circus-like roadshow, today… it has been and is counterproductive the way it is playing out now.

  2. Well thanks kirkocconnel for taking this to an attack against the person so that I could also dismiss your argument.

    You’ve missed my point entirely.

    My point was actually that this isn’t about money. This government will spend where it wants to, even in this time of “austerity.” Witness the group sent to MIT who could obviously fully fund that trip themselves. I realize fully that other governments spent on these issues and that they are complex. But this government hasn’t tried to rein in funding in those areas I listed. All of them come from recent news stories or debates, so you can insult me if you like but go read the hansard before you defend the government. I won’t be debating every line, because I can just come up with more examples where they haven’t cut or decided to spend… it’s very unlikely you’ll win that argument unless you can show that this government single-handedly cut in every area possible, which we both know isn’t true. Instead of cutting in other areas, this government is going after teachers. Why? Because they want to save money so they get re-elected and they think the public will be on their side, especially when most people buy into what they say and want to look at teachers as being greedy. The reason I think they should get back to bargaining is the teachers are asking for improved classroom conditions. That means they are at their breaking point with dealing with classrooms that are inclusive without the proper supports provided, with soft caps that didn’t actually make classrooms smaller, with not replacing teachers who retired, and with the ever-increasing load of administrative duties that make improving their lessons and supporting students more and more difficult to do. Those who think this is about money are listening to one side only. That’s the government’s desire- to have the public think teachers are greedy and this is all about money. When aren’t wages on the table during negotiations? It would be foolish not to use them as a bargaining tool. The government isn’t bargaining in good faith with the teachers and they are spinning this to buy votes for the next election. You might like to dismiss me as being aligned with another party but in truth I had nothing against the Liberals until this government, and have voted Liberal before. Their way of dealing with issues like this is bullyish and not what I expect from the elected representatives.

    1. “Witness the group sent to MIT who could obviously fully fund that trip themselves.”

      See, you are conflating issues AGAIN. Dalhousie paid for that, not the Government. If you are unable to get straight who the party is you disagree with, how are you meant to have a discussion about certain areas of politics. I am not trying to be mean, I am trying to engage in a conversation. But you are blaming the Provincial Liberals with things the Dalhousie Board of Governors did, the HRM council did, the Conservative Canadian Government did.. but not the provincial Liberals…

      I am at a loss as to how to argue issues of scope when you are seemingly unwilling or unable to contain yourself within the scope. And maybe that is the issue generally. People, clearly Tim, think the Province either has more money than it has or all of these things are just a joke to them. It isn’t.

      But without a clear plan for improvements in the school system, shovelling money into it hasn’t helped. Hiring more Teachers, hasn’t helped. So we seem to need a structural change of some kind but the Teachers are completely unwilling to do any changes. So .. I guess we will change the system by doing the same thing we have done for the last two decades or more, which everyone agrees never solved the problem, because THIS TIME it will solve the problem.

      Yes, that is the best, most logically course of action someone should take.

  3. Spend more money on education by all means, but not on teachers salaries. The average teacher in Nova Scotia earns $67,000 after ten years according to Statistics Canada. This is well above the salaries earned by software developers, administrative assistants, office managers, operations managers, accountants, executive directors and store managers according to Payscale.com

    Teachers also get 2 months off in the summer and only work five hours a day. Sure they spend time marking papers at home if they teach English, but most teachers don’t have to work that hard.

    Teaching is stressful, they say. Try running your own business if you want to try stressful. The fact is the kinds of people who become teachers are looking for good salaries, job security and a lot of time off. It doesn’t take much to overwhelm those losers.

    Cut teachers. It doesn’t matter if there are 50 students in every elementary school class. The bright kids will learn on their own anyway, the rest will fall through the cracks just like they’re doing now.

    Let’s not confuse education with teachers’ salaries. Let’s think about how we can improve education.

    1. Ah, but teachers make less than most astronauts, corporate CEOs and presidents of medium to large countries!

      What I’m trying to get at here is that it’s a little silly to compare teacher salaries to other random jobs. Nova Scotia teachers in 2013 were making less than the median and average salaries of teachers in other provinces according to a BC Federation of Teachers Document. Payscale.com also notes the average teacher’s salary across the country –again NS teachers make less than the average.

      Teachers rallying against the software creep that is encroaching into the classroom is the right thing to do. According to a new Australian teaching study (due for release next year and mentioned in June by the Economist), the top 3 best investments for teaching effectiveness are Feedback to pupils, meta-cognitive strategies (helping students think about their own learning more explicitly), and peer tutoring. Although I’m a fan of big data, filling out those online reports is massively onerous and cuts into the time teachers could be spending in the areas I mentioned above.

      Just as an aside, the health authorities tried doing something similar a few years ago. When they got the data back, they accused their employees of botching the numbers, because they couldn’t possibly be working THAT hard each day. It was very insulting at the time, and considering the software package costs were in the millions, it was a big waste of money that you’ve probably never heard about.



    2. Sounds like you had a poor experience in school and also sounds like you haven’t been in a classroom in many many years. You sound very out of touch and way off base.

    3. I want to be VERY CLEAR about this, I believe Teachers work a significant amount of hours, more than 5, in a day. I do not think it is an easy job.

      That being said, this is the demographics issue I am speaking too.

      Most (read 99%) of people no longer have their own pension plans. No jobs have “Service awards”. No jobs allow for significant time off built into the position. Demographics have changed, especially since the crash of 2008 but really since the Internet. For better or worse, Jobs just do not provide as many benefits as they used to, except Teachers have a LOT of baked-in benefits that cannot be adjusted. They are not calling in all Teachers to work the extra month off. And while I believe most people support the teachers unconditionally in the work they do, the compensation model is has too many “bonuses” to justify to the average worker in this Environment.

      I would equate the situation to that of when Politicians used to get 40% of their salary as “tax-free”. Initially, that Compensation model seemed to make sense as they are the Government so they are being taxes to pay themselves, so they should have some income tax-free. Also, it is a cheap way to increase their salaries without increasing much money put into it. But this day and age, it is just unacceptable for the general public for politicians to get a part of their salary tax-free so it has been phased out in practice.

      No other employment offers a “Service award” for retirement or death. None. Certainly no professions. This has a few solutions with minimal impact and significant cost benefits but no one wants to address it apparently.

      With two amendments this could be addressed. I see the solution being along the lines of capping the award at an amount, maybe between 20000 -30000, and/or adjusting the death benefit to be an insurance plan, which would likely be a better bet anyway for greater coverage. I am not sure, and this isn’t the place to flesh out the changes, but I do see the Demographics as a large part of this. While many people support the teachers, they have a lot of degree holders working at call centres. Hell, I’ve meet many teachers there. The six years of education argument just doesn’t hold the sort of respect it once did. And they keep saying you want to be treated like a profession, this is life in most professions. And they don’t get summers off.

      That being said, this was not a hard conclusion to see coming. The NSTU should have had a plan for this. They should have been representing the Teachers instead of making these types of “resist change” arguments. Basically, from what I can tell, everything that is a complaint by the Teachers is something the NSTU had happen or explicitly requested happen during a negotiation.

      Anyway, like I said, this really isn’t the place to discuss it but I would say my point is just because the Minister of Education couldn’t discuss it doesn’t mean you couldn’t have someone on the show who could have stated this side of the argument. The Sacred Cow killers-side as it were. I wouldn’t mind seeing some balance in the Media on that.

      1. I would be interested to see how many teachers actually qualify for the full post-retirement service award. You need to put in a solid 35 years in order to fully qualify. I don’t think a lot of the money that the government defers for that program is actually paid out.

        Also there’s a bit of a history behind that. Teachers gave up a pay-raise in order to get the service award. The government dodged a financial bullet with that. Having dated and befriended a handful of teachers, it’s clear that getting that 35 year service record is absolutely brutal.

        I don’t disagree with you that demographics are changing. I would argue a couple things:

        The act of teaching is a combination theoretical and practical experience. Teachers that have been in the profession who speak out against interventions that are non-nonsensical –read: waste of money– should be given a lot of latitude. I haven’t seen from this government.

        Secondly, if we want to actually attract folks to this province, we have to be able to say we are objectively great at something. Healthcare is the struggling-by –nurses got the shaft when this government first came in power and residents got a rough shake as well. The movie industry is lethargic. Here in Halifax, we’re demolishing a lot of the history that makes this city unique. Not only that, but good rural jobs are drying-up, leaving quaint coastal towns in dire financial straights. Now, our education system is being bogged down by big data –the results of which probably aren’t contributing to anything. Can we rely on a group of folks to keep tabs and increase accountability in government? Well we’re essentially looking at a year-long dispute at the Herald, which itself has bought-up a bunch of independent papers around the province… so no help there.

        I feel like the message we’re sending out to the rest of the country is that if you have a great work ethic in a productive industry, don’t come to Nova Scotia. We simply don’t want you.

  4. “We don’t have the money.”
    That’s not the first time I’ve heard that.

    I DIDN’T hear that, however, when the government said:
    downtown Portland needed lines painted on their roads
    the Yarmouth-Portland ferry couldn’t operate successfully
    all of the paper mills in the Province needed millions of dollars
    we needed a new convention centre
    Royal Bank needed $22 million
    we need more schools built (even though we have empty ones and we overspent on the P3 schools fiasco)
    we need highways twinned
    we need municipal water service so developers can make money
    the bluenose needs to sail in the water

    I’d love to give you solid numbers on all of this and add it up but I haven’t got the time to waste. The point is the government is willing to spend BILLIONS of dollars through these ’causes’ listed above and many others such as its own staff and pensions and Nova Scotia Business Inc.

    You want to attack government spending? Attack one of those causes, one that Canadians don’t put at the top of their list of priorities. Most Canadians will tell you health care and education is where they want their money spent. This is a case of the government not listening to its constituents and not bargaining in good faith.

    Making that argument is falling for the government’s spin. Hook, line, sinker.

    1. “the Yarmouth-Portland ferry couldn’t operate successfully”

      Well, this is a local issue for the people of Yarmouth who felt that more should have been invested into the Ferry during it’s original run, before it was shit-canned by the NDP, only to have them then resurrect it at significantly higher costs than the requested subsidy in the last week of an election campaign, ham-stringing whatever Government who came in to having to make sure it has the best chance of success, because if/when it fails, no one can say they did not get it a more than fair chance to work, this time.

      I mean, going through your list of grievances is like mind-reading a schizophrenic. I have no idea where you are going with it, most of the issues you bring up have nothing to do with this particular Government, hell some of them are not even provincial in area. If you are going to have an argument, it should not be able to defeat itself upon reading.

      The problem isn’t that the Government doesn’t want to spend money. The problem is it is doing targeted monetary investment to see what the returns are. That is clear from the text and amounts of the RBC subsidy (which I think is a bad idea) the ferry (which, again I agree is a bad idea) and the Bluenose (which is a HUGE story with various complexities that involve at least three different Government, of all three parties, two community groups and a Senator I do believe).

      I can tell you without hesitation, this Liberal Government would love to fund Education to the greatest extend the world has ever seen. Every student gets a personalized teaching plan, tailored programs that help struggling students and help to progress good students faster. Early Trade programs and university-credit courses in all High Schools. They would love to do that. But to do absolutely everything possible for teachers would bankrupt the province, close all the hospitals and ruin the economy. So, there HAS to be a limit of some kind. And finding the limit is what the Government is trying to do. But the one variable that has been in this equation of Teacher’s issues isn’t the Liberal Government, they had the same problems with the NDP. Same with the PCs (though I LOVE how they, in opposition, are actually trying to sound like they care. Oh Jamie, your lust for power betrays your true nature). So if it is NOT the party actually in power (and not actively saying any and everything to have a chance to be elected again), who is the problem? The Teachers? I don’t think so. So.. I guess, given ALL OTHER VARIABLES have been worked out of the equation, maybe the discussion should go to the NSTU and their provably horrible stewardship of their Union and the Teachers desires.

      You know, if you ACTUALLY wanted to solve the problem and not kick it down the road again. I highly suspect (given the known sympathies for teachers in the Liberal cabinet, regardless of your opinion otherwise) that some band-aide solution that SOUNDS good will be hammered out but these same grievances will come up and more than likely, more demands. This was caused and worsened by the NSTU. And until the focus gets back to how awful their Union representation is, no concrete solutions will get done. Period.

    2. Cute rant. Please take time to answer the questions I posed.
      And read the NS public accounts :

      Is this fair ” Retirement health plan benefits vary depending on the collective agreements negotiated with each group. The Province pays 65.0 per cent and 100.0 per cent of the cost of retirement health plan benefits for the PSSP and TPP retirees, respectively. “

  5. Viewing this issue from the narrow view of the last few years really fails to address Teachers concerns and the balancing of that with fiscal and demographic realities. This was two decades, at least, in the making and I think everyone who has followed this since then, as I have, would easily have been able to defend the Government’s position and exposed the real issue at hand and the real thing that caused this decades-old problem: The NSTU.

    1. More like 4 decades.
      This is the first government that didn’t cave to NSTU.
      Why are teachers so special that taxpayers pay 100% of the cost of post retirement health benefits ? Nurses, jail employees, snow plow operators and all the other civil servants have to pay 35% of the cost. How much would it cost to give all provincial employees and those who work in healthcare the same deal on benefits as enjoyed by teachers ?
      Why do people who claim to be well educated require 2 days paid leave to attend retirement seminars ? If you are a 55 – 60 year old teacher and haven’t figured out how retirement works how much paid leave should less educated provincial employees get to prepare for retirement ?
      We don’t have the money.

      1. These are NEGOTIATED benefits, not something teachers smash & grab. And you better believe teachers pay for them, along with all NS taxpayers,
        either directly or indirectly. Teachers have turned down 2 contracts negotiated on their behalfs which signals a huge disconnect between what the teachers think is important and what the union thinks is important to them. Maybe we should just listen to try to sort this out before jumping on the teacher envy bandwagon If teachers weren’t so important to students’ (& parents’) wellbeing, as a society we wouldn’t get so bent out of shape every time teachers stand up for themselves. But standing up means inconveniencing their own support base. This means it’s important.