1. Schools closed

If you’ve been in a cave or solitary confinement or on a three-day acid trip, you’ve missed that on Saturday the Liberal government ordered all provincial schools closed starting today.

What happens now?

On their respective Facebook pages, Graham Steele and Andrew Younger have been posting their informed knowledge of house rules and how that will play out on the floor of the legislature over the next week. Says Steele:

Question: How long might it take for the government to legislate a new teachers’ contract?

Background: Starting Monday, the government is closing all public schools in Nova Scotia. They will not re-open until legislation is passed to impose a contract. The legislation will embody the agreement of September 2, 2016, between the NSTU bargaining committee and the government. That agreement was, of course, rejected by the NSTU membership.

The legislature has been recalled for 10am on Monday. That is when the proposed new law will be introduced.

So how long does it take to pass legislation?

The answer is “it depends”. A law can pass in a few hours, or it can take a couple of weeks.

There are five stages in the law-making process: first reading, second reading, Law Amendments Committee, Committee of the Whole House, and third reading. There is a sixth stage, called proclamation, but it’s not particularly relevant here.

The Rules of the House stipulate (I’m simplifying a bit) that a bill can pass only one of the five stages each day. First reading will happen on Monday.

The rules don’t have to be followed if there is unanimous consent of the House. In other words, all MLAs present, including the opposition, would have to agree to pass a bill more quickly. If they do, then a bill can be passed into law in as a little as a few hours. It happens occasionally, but obviously not on anything controversial.

There are other rules—too complicated to get into here—that dictate exactly how long each stage will take. Basically it depends on how much of a fight the opposition is willing to put up. Back in 2001, when an anti-strike law was proposed by the Hamm government, it took two and a half weeks to pass the bill into law, because the opposition used the absolute maximum time available, plus every procedural trick they could think of.

Bill 148, which was controversial, was introduced on December 14, 2015, and passed third reading on December 18, 2015. So that’s kind of a “medium” example of how long it takes to pass a bill into law.

The Law Amendments Committee is the public hearing stage, at which any member of the public can come into Province House and speak to a bill. This is the only stage that has posed significant time problems for the government. In recent years, it has been the subject of considerable, heated tussling between the parties. Expect that to be very much in evidence for the bill introduced on Monday. The government doesn’t want to lose days or even weeks listening to teachers’ stories at Law Amendments, so they’ll try to shorten it as much as they can.

I’ll have much more to say about House procedure in the days to come. Hopefully folks find this useful.

This morning, students are already streaming to Province House for a 9am protest. The legislature convenes at 10am for the introduction of Bill 75, the “Teachers’ Professional Agreement (2016) Act,” which when passed will force a contract on teachers. (There’s very questionable legal authority to do this, a subject we’ll examine in an article I’ll publish later today.) Younger expects first reading to take an hour  or so, and then the house will break. The Parents for Teachers group is holding its own rally at Grand Parade at 3pm.

As of now, Wednesday appears to be the biggest day of the week, when undoubtedly hundreds, if not thousands, of citizens will attempt to address MLAs directly when the entire legislature meets as the Law Amendments committee.

People can register to speak at Law Amendments here. My understanding is that each speaker will be allotted five minutes, but the house will hear everyone who registers. There is no age requirement, so students can register and speak.

I’ve never seen such a public response to a government issue in Nova Scotia — this already dwarves the response to the cut of the Film Tax Credit. I expect this week will be full of demonstrations, unforeseen twists, and more.

The government appears to fear a province-wide work stoppage. I’m told the Health Authority sent a notice to employees over the weekend reminding them they had to go to work today. Besides a potential sick day strike in sympathy with the teachers, like everyone else, healthcare workers are struggling to find child care arrangements for students suddenly barred from school.

In a press release sent out Saturday, just after Education Minister Karen Casey’s announcement that she was closing the schools to students, the NSGEU appeared to threaten job actions in solidarity with the teachers:

In coming days, we may be forced to ask our members to take unprecedented action against this government. We are asking all 31,000 of our members to be prepared to stand up when the time comes.

It’ll also be interesting to see how much support the film people and the striking Chronicle Herald reporters give to the teachers.

Things can get crazy very quickly. When Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker took on the public employee unions of that state, the political eruption lasted months.

It is, as someone said, a horrible time for the provincial paper of record to be on strike. We at the Examiner are going to try to pick up as many loose ends as we can. This will be a somewhat abbreviated version of Morning File, as I’m trying to get to Province House as early as I can.

I appreciate all the emails and messages sent my way, and I’m trying to read them all and will respond as I can.

2. Neoliberalism and the attack on education

Oh, and good times from 2013, when then-candidate Stephen McNeil tweeted:

We support the collective bargaining process and the right to strike and will continue to do so. #nspoli #cbpoli

— Stephen McNeil (@StephenMcNeil) May 28, 2013

McNeil showed that he was willing to spout any nonsense in order to get his party elected, and this tweet was in retrospect a bald-faced lie.

I don’t think McNeil is particularly smart. He has latched on to a discredited austerity philosophy, probably because a handful of smart and rich people like John Risley can get the dim-witted premier to embrace their self-serving political agenda.

I explained that agenda yesterday on Facebook:

I intend on writing at length about this today. It’s probably the only thing I do all day. But there’s been an ideological war — I know most people hate talking about or thinking about ideology, but there’s a well-connected and well-funded movement that does nothing else —there is an ideological war against government, and especially against government that works for regular people.

In these people’s eyes, government should only serve “the market,” which itself is a fictional construct, but the idea is that government should facilitate the transfer of wealth from regular working people to the owners of capital. In their eyes, the number one problem is a public service that is competent and serves the broad public interest. Teachers fit this bill exactly, but they’re only part of the larger attack.

The goal, famously, is to shrink government so you could “drown it in a bathtub,” do away with regulations, etc.

This has been a 30 year project — 35 years ago people laughed at these notions, which are now mainstream. The process has been to:

1. vilify government — not just this or that government, but the very notion of government;

2. convince people that we are in horrible economic shape (we aren’t) and that government is to blame (it isn’t);

3. attack the public employee unions as too expensive (they aren’t);

4. undermine the faith in schools (schools are the most visible government presence in most families’ lives);

5. say we can “save” the schools by introducing “make government work like a business!” (government isn’t a business) measures like increased data collection, testing, vouchers, etc, which are specifically (this is important: it’s the goal) designed not to “save” schools but to destroy them, and then;

6. once people have lost faith in the government institution most close to their lives, it’s easy to destroy the rest of the public service so that

7. the transfer of wealth can continue uimpeded, without the opposition of an educated or politically aware public.

I actually did write all day yesterday, but I’m not finished and what I do have is unfocused and too long and riddled with spelling mistakes and probably boring besides, despite the embedded video of Mozart’s Spring Quartet. I’ll keep at it.

3. Day care

The McNeil government was preparing for closing the schools on Friday, and knew that parents would be left scrambling for childcare arrangements, and so it “relaxed” the rules on daycares. On Friday, daycare operator Lisa Rondeau wrote:

I am so extremely disappointed right now. So angry and frustrated!!

Throughout my 22+ year career I believed that the Department of Education and Early Years Branch and its regulations were about the best interests of children and families. On top of the new regulations regarding fee caps and the mandatory wage floor, this morning I learned first hand about the political agenda that fuels the Department of Education and Early Years Branch and I am saddened and disgusted.

As a licensed operator I have jumped through many many hoops to provide a violation-free, regulated child care setting for toddlers up through to school age. My business has expanded and increased strictly as a result of my community’s need. I have been PROUD.

This past fall I was disappointed that the needed school age spaces I tried to provide were unable to be obtained. The regulations were too many and the process too long for us to successfully meet in the short time available when the department began again accepting license applications. Alas, I accepted that rushing this process wasn’t conducive to quality child care.

That is what was so shocking about the phone call I received from a department representative this morning. The call began with a simple question about available spaces for school age children in the event of a strike. Of course I have none! I turned away upwards of 25 families in September when the department would not expedite my application for new license. The process was too long and detailed to complete in just 6 weeks, they would make no guarantee for families.

When chatting further I discover the department is actually encouraging operators to “be creative” in opening more spaces. What does that mean? Operators could “apply for a change in age range.” Really? I have toddler spaces available. Why yes — “toddler spaces could be used for siblings — say if they were primary age.”

Wow! Despite the regulations to the contrary, despite the fact the setting, the equipment, the program all are developmentally inappropriate — because after all — it is “just temporary.”

Some Centres also have larger spaces available. “You mean like our gym?” Yes of course we could “apply for a temporary space increase” to offer care to parents. “More then our licensed capacity?” How could that be? Yes, we simply had to ” email the department” and someone would “come and do an inspection.” It’s just a gym space — we have no tables or equipment it would be awkward and certainly wouldn’t meet classroom set up regulation! Yes it might be “however if you think you might consider that option, email the department.”

What about our new wage floor for staff? “Well there wouldn’t be funding for those staff so you wouldn’t be expected to pay the new wage floor” Really!?! How convenient for the government to bend yet another regulation!

“Some centres are offering off-site camps” I was told. Pardon me? Did I hear that correctly?? It’s strictly against regulations for licensed operators to offer camps! Camps don’t run according to regulations. We were told this on multiple occasions over the years when attempting to meet our summer demand for care! But no!

NOW the department is saying ” well we can’t possible police that, so we aren’t able to stop centres from doing so.” Amazing how it all changes when the light needs to shine brightly on the department!
When my community needed licensed spaces the department dragged its feet and quoted regulation after regulation and were strictly enforcing department expectations and policies — AS THEY SHOULD!

But now — in the face of a teachers WTR or possible strike — it all “temporarily” disappears and is SO EASY! Why!? To make this government seem the hero! To place yet further scorn and an evil eye toward those greedy teachers… let’s support the families who will be in such desperate need as a result of these awful unionized teachers — it’s utterly shameful and disgusting!

I am ashamed to be affiliated with regulated daycare today.

4. Examineradio, episode #90

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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(direct download)
(RSS feed)
(Subscribe via iTunes)


1. How the government chose to build two new schools in the “right” place in the right pre-election time

Stephen McNeil Memorial School under construction.
Stephen McNeil Memorial School under construction.

Stephen Kimber details how and why the government can find money for schools when it serves a partisan agenda:

The very suggestion the Nova Scotia government would cherry-pick new school building projects from the bottom of the priority pile simply because said schools would be built in constituencies held by Education Minister Karen Casey and Premier Stephen McNeil, is — cue the harrumphs — “a ridiculous comment to make.”

So says the minister herself. So it must be true.

This article is behind the Examiner’s paywall, and so available only to paid subscribers. Click here to purchase a subscription.

This reminds me of when I asked then-Premier Darrell Dexter if he was going to extend payroll rebates to some firm to set up shop in Nova Scotia in order to fill what even in 2010 appeared would be an empty office tower above the new convention centre. “That’s a ridiculous question,” he said.



No public meetings.


Legislature sits (10am, Province House) — the legislature will take up Bill 75, which will force a contract on to teachers. I’ll be live-blogging via the Examiner’s Twitter account, @hfxExaminer. If I get there early enough, and if I can figure out how to do so, I’ll Facebook Live the demonstration outside.

On campus


Human Trafficking (6pm, Room 1016, Rowe Building) — Caroline Skydriver, a human trafficking survivor, shares her story and sheds light on the trafficking issues/industry in Canada. Hosted by Dalhousie Women in Leadership as part of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence campaign. More here.

In the harbour

5am: Crystal Ace, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Emden, Germany
6am: Atlantic Star, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Liverpool, England
3:30pm: Atlantic Star, container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for New York
3:30pm: Crystal Ace, car carrier, sails from Autoport for sea
5:30pm: Boheme, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Southhampton, England


On to Province House.

Tim Bousquet is the editor and publisher of the Halifax Examiner. Twitter @Tim_Bousquet Mastodon

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  1. It matters not, whether a given school is needed or not; if one is scheduled to be built, the party that approves it will be ridiculed for vote buying. That is just the way it is, and if the school project turns out to be a gem and considered a worthwhile creation in the end, then the party in power at that time will reap the benefits and take the praise; because that too is the way it is.

    1. Are you saying that following protocol in terms of deciding where to spend infastructure money is pointless? Because that’s what it looks like.

      I don’t accept politicians doing something they know is wrong because that’s how it is. I expect better than that, in fact I demand it.

  2. Are we saying that these new schools oddly being built in their own ridings instead of other higher priority ones are also going to be named after McNeil and Casey? Am I misreading that? Anyone know?

  3. I don’t now that I’ve ever seen a better example of government action that is so purely self serving as this day-care space story. This is clearly a “regime” (a term not to be thrown around lightly in a democracy) that believes it can do whatever it wants.

  4. What a great day to be a journalist! The headlines changing by the hour as politicians scramble to control and re-direct the public fury

    Too bad our newspaper of record has kept the professional journalists in their employ out on the sidewalk unable to break news as it happens.

    Thanks Halifax Examiner for doing your part to keep us informed.