1. The McNeil government’s deceitful, ham-fisted, and mean-spirited attack on teachers

Michel Samson. Photo: Halifax Examiner
Michel Samson. Photo: Halifax Examiner

I almost felt sorry for cabinet minister Michel Samson yesterday.

As with the rest of his government, events had overtaken him. He stood before a room full of reporters who were repeatedly calling him out on his contradictions and his uninformed spin. “You say you’re speaking with the union,” said a reporter, “but the entire union executive is here in the building, and they’re saying they’re not talking to anyone.” Samson blanked, then continued reading his statement. Then another reporter asked basically the same question, with Samson again re-reading the statement. And again. And again.

It was clear that Samson didn’t know what his government was up to, and he was as perplexed as everyone else. Not knowing what to do, he stood there for maybe 20 seconds, deer-in-the-headlights-like. Then, just as the Mack truck of political reality was about to make roadkill out of him, he fled the room and we reporters all watched his white bushy tail disappear off into the Province House weeds.

There was a lot of fleeing yesterday. Premier Stephen McNeil was nowhere to be found — both he and Education Minister Karen Casey failed to show at the very emergency sitting of the legislature they themselves had called. And then — after a vote to recess the session after doing no work whatsoever — the rest of the Liberal legislators fled the chamber, refusing to speak to reporters.

How’d we get to this point?

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

We began with a labour dispute with the teachers union; labour disputes typically involve a lot of back-and-forth and a lot of political grandstanding, but usually in the end they’re resolved with some backdoor compromises and life goes on.

But McNeil has made breaking the public employee unions the cornerstone of his political agenda: he has drawn a line in the sand and will deny all unionized public employees any increase in salary, even to keep up with inflation.

Besides simple wage concerns, teachers have a wide-ranging collection of other issues they wanted addressed in contract negotiations, and so rejected two proposed deals. Their announcement that a work-to-rule job action would start on Monday was McNeil’s casus belli; no one was going push him around, dammit.

McNeil’s response to the work-to-rule action reveals a petty man with a fragile ego and not much in the way of smarts.

His response to a labour dispute with teachers was to lash out — not at teachers, but rather at students and parents. Casey called a press conference Saturday morning and announced that schools would be closed to students, but teachers would have to arrive for work as usual. Her reasoning? If teachers worked to the letter of their contracts, students’ safety was at risk.

This was a tremendous strategic mistake. Casey was admitting that the teachers were right — their “extra” but uncompensated work was essential to the schools and student safety. Moreover, students and parents, who had been watching cautiously and pensively but mostly quietly from the sidelines, were suddenly being directly attacked. It was like the German army overrunning Belgium on its way to Paris, the people of Belgium becoming the hapless victims of someone else’s war. Why was McNeil suddenly attacking students and their families?

A few hours later, McNeil called the legislature into session on Monday in order to approve Bill 75, the “Teachers’ Professional Agreement (2016) Act,” which would force a contract on teachers. Actually enacting the legislation, however, would take at least five days, meaning schools would be shut to students for a week.

And so MLAs made their way to Province House. Andrew Younger was in Asia doing who-knows-what, but had to fly on his own dime on an emergency flight back to Halifax. The rural MLAs were more fortunate — their mileage and per diems and overnight expenses would be covered by the taxpayer.

Early Monday morning, Casey called a press conference for 9:30am, where she was to present reporters with the text of Bill 75 and respond to questions.

Meanwhile, however, all hell had broken out. Students and parents were having none of it. They fought back. Demonstrations were planned. Social media lit up. In all my years of reporting in Halifax, I’ve never seen public outrage on anything like this scale — it was, in Gary Burrill’s words, a “public fury.”

And that fury was directed at Liberal MLAs, who for 48 hours were barraged non-stop with phone calls and email from constituents pissed off that they had been placed in the middle of the government’s battle with a union. By Monday morning, Liberal backbenchers were breaking ranks: no one went on the record, but it was clear that more than a few would vote against Bill 75.

This sent panic through McNeil’s inner circle. They needed a way to back off and save face. And so Casey didn’t show at the press conference she had called, but instead sent Samson in her stead, and we got the deer-in-the-headlights performance.

For the rest of the day, the McNeil government attempted to deceive its way out of the crisis. They said they were negotiating with teachers, but weren’t. They said they had resolved the safety concerns with the union, but the union had made no changes in policy.

The legislature was called in to immediately take a vote on going into recess. All Liberal MLAs voted yes, all opposition MLAs voted no. McNeil and Casey weren’t present, but the Liberals have a solid majority so the vote carried. “Cowards!” yelled Lenore Zann. The Liberals fled the chamber, heads down, avoiding reporters’ questions.

Mid-afternoon, Casey announced that Bill 75 would not immediately proceed, but might at some later point.

And so here we are. No one knows what happens now.

One thing is clear, however: McNeil’s deceitful, ham-fisted, and mean-spirited attack on teachers was an utter failure.

2. Examiner coverage of the the contract dispute

Yesterday, the Examiner published five articles related to the contract dispute.

First, Stephen Kimber wrote about “How the government chose to build two new schools in the ‘right’ place in the right pre-election time” — that is, in McNeil’s and Casey’s districts.

Then, I devoted all of yesterday’s Morning File to the issue.

Yesterday morning, I went to Province House and reported on events as they unfolded.

Also, reporter Katie Toth wrote two articles related to the issue: “Lawyer: McNeil’s bid to force a contract on teachers sits on shaky legal ground,” and “Student Power: student demonstrations shouldn’t be ignored, says historian.”

The articles I wrote are free, but the other articles are behind the Examiner’s paywall and so available only to paid subscribers. Click here to purchase a subscription.

3. Canadian Martyrs’ Church

A graphic of the Ashcroft proposal compiled by the Community Coalition of South End Halifax.
A graphic of the Ashcroft proposal compiled by the Community Coalition of South End Halifax.

“St. Thomas Aquinas-Canadian Martyrs has sold a former church site to Saint Mary’s University in Halifax but another interested buyer may not be ready to walk away,” reports Pam Berman for the CBC:

The site is expected to change hands next spring but Ashcroft Homes still thinks its sales agreement should be valid.

That deal fell through at the end of October — and the church parish put the property back on the market.

The Ottawa-based company wanted to build two highrise towers for student residences. The proposal was turned down by Halifax Regional Municipality, and so Ashcroft Homes appealed to the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board.


“Ashcroft remains ready and willing to close the original agreement of purchase and sale and intend to take legal action to enforce its right to do so,” [Ashcroft’s lawyer, Nancy Rubin,] said in the letter.

4. Cyclist struck

A  police release from yesterday:

Halifax Regional Police responded to a vehicle/cyclist collision Friday morning in Halifax.

At approximately 8 a.m., police responded to the intersection of Bell Road and Summer Street in relation to a vehicle/cyclist collision.  A 29-year-old woman was reported to have been struck while cycling east on Bell Road in the marked bike lane by a car that was travelling in the same direction then turning southbound on Summer Street. The cyclist  was transported to the QEII Health Center with what were believed to be non-life-threatening injuries. 

The 38-year-old female driver was issued a ticket under the Motor Vehicle Act for changing lanes unsafely.


1. Inclusion

Donham's grandchildren, Josh and Jacob.
Donham’s grandchildren, Josh and Jacob.
Donham’s grandchildren, Josh and Jacob.

Parker Donham is rightly concerned about what he calls the “ugly underbelly of the teachers’ contract dispute” — a disdain in some quarters for having children with special needs in the classrooms:

Our schools have many educators who welcome all children to their classrooms, and work beautifully with everyone. But there is an ugly underbelly to the teachers’ dispute, a persistent whisper campaign against the inclusion of children with Down syndrome, autism, cerebral palsy, attention deficit disorder, and other circumstances that set them apart from so-called normal classmates.

Some teachers want a return to the days when students with special needs were delivered to school in shortbuses and segregated in isolated classrooms with nothing to inspire or challenge them. Out of sight, out of mind, hope, potential, friendship, and love.

That sentiment isn’t limited to teachers. I also hear it from a minority of parents who think that the inclusion policy takes educational opportunity away from their children. I’d argue it does just the opposite: it helps teach kids to see the world as full of a spectrum of people with different abilities and resources, and yet we’re all in this together.

And sure, the inclusion policy costs money. It requires Educational Assistants in the classroom (and other supports) and, like all other aspects of teaching, takes teachers’ time and attention. But these are the money and time resources that an equitable and just society requires for its educational system.

2. David Wheeler

David Wheeler. Photo from his Twitter profile, @DrDavidWheeler1
David Wheeler. Photo from his Twitter profile, @DrDavidWheeler1

It’s kinda weird that no one much is talking about the suspension of CBU prez David Wheeler. To be honest, I have no idea if this op-ed by Rankin MacSween in the Cape Breton Post frames the issue correctly. I don’t follow the ins and outs of CBU, and I don’t know if Wheeler’s focus on “online education, First Nations partnerships, and international student[s]” makes sense or not.

3. Cranky letter of the day

To the Charlottetown Guardian:

“Jeers” to the selection of the Grey/Gray Jay as Canada’s national bird? Really? 

Does the illustrious editor know that it is a member of the crow family, is found from Alaska to Newfoundland, and the name, Whiskeyjack is a variation on the name of “Wisakedjak”, a trickster and cultural hero in several First Nations’ mythologies?

During childhood camping days, albeit off-Island, we enjoyed their antics. One memorable incident involved two Whiskeyjacks trying vainly to lift a slab of back bacon that my mother had temporarily left on a picnic table. The squawking was incessant and vigorous as they either argued with or instructed each other on how to steal the delicious prize. Sadly for them it was too heavy and an inch or so was about as high as they could manage to lift the morsel, their wings flapping away, until my mother reappeared.

So, you see, Mr. Editor, at least one person on P.E.I. has seen them, and I would imagine that there are other Island residents who have also. Although rare, sightings are on record for P.E.I. Of the four birds you have suggested only one, the Canada goose is not already recognized as a provincial bird. 

Canada is a big country . . . impossible to please everyone, I guess.

Kathy Mijatovich, Cornwall



Halifax Regional Council (1pm, City Hall) — here’s the agenda. I’ll be live-blogging the meeting via the Examiner’s Twitter account, @hfxExaminer.

Public Hearing with RC & HEMDCC- Case 19626 (6pm, City Hall) — a joint public hearing of city council and the Harbour East–Marine Drive Community Council on W.M. Fares’ application to build a five-storey, 81-unit apartment building and two two-storey commercial buildings on four acres at 836 and 842 Portland Street in Dartmouth (at the southwest corner of the intersection of Portland Street and Portland Hills Drive). More info here.


Today's drinking word.
Today’s drinking word.
Today’s drinking word.

Human Resources (10am, Province House) — Laura Lee Langley, who wears about about eight different hats at Province House but will, I think, be appearing today as the clerk of the Executive Council, will be asked about hiring practices. Drink every time the opposition mentions Marilla Stephenson.

On campus


Machine Learning (11:30am, Room 143, Goldberg Computer Science Building) —  Stjepan Picek, a postdoc at the Computer Security and Industrial Cryptography (COSIC) group at KU Leuven, Belgium, will speak on “Machine Learning and Evolutionary Computation in Cryptography.”

Wheelchair Skills (12:30pm, Room 409, Centre for Clinical Research) — R. Lee Kirby will speak on “Wheelchair Skills Assessment and Training- What in the World is Going On!?”

December 6th Memorial (7pm, Sexton Campus) — Dal Women in Engineering present an event to honour the 14 victims of the Montreal Massacre. Includes a candle bearing ceremony and discussions from current day incidents of violence against women.

Saint Mary’s

National Day of Remembrance & Action on Violence Against Women (12pm, Art Gallery, Loyola Building)

In the harbour

Slow day in the harbour, so not much chance of reenacting the Explosion:

Maule. Photo: Halifax Examiner
Maule. Photo: Halifax Examiner

3:30pm: Maule, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Cagliari, Italy
4:30pm: Boheme, car carrier, sails from Autoport for sea


Long day yesterday.

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

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  1. The opposition leaders must figure Christmas came early with this disaster. But will it make a difference in the end? MacNeil will do the political calculus (good time to be a polling firm) likely realize that few people are buying banker Baillie as saviour of NS and even fewer support Burrill. He will then trot at the legislation pass it and keep repeating the wage hikes and severance are unaffordable. No one around here seems to enjoy anyone getting more $ or benefits than anyone else so it will likely work. And aside from the teachers and their families it won’t change much in the next election.

    It’s a comment section in an online publication…I’ve got tons of time for butthurt snowflakes. I apparently even have time for asshats. Just to hear what others have to say, maybe inform my somewhat weak knowledge in these areas.

  2. Parker Barss Donham’s Whisper Campaign

    “Accessibility” seems to be the word that has prompted Parker Barss Donham’s (PBD) comments and passion. Although he has close personal experience with the subject matter I hazard to guess if he has a full grasp of what happens in a classroom setting. Most of us lack this exposure.

    His recommended reading, UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is a given but the resources to meet and hopefully exceed those rights requires more than lip service or a rant. It requires investment.

    We all have been touched by young students with disabilities. I have always been touched by their loving family, their teachers and caregivers. We all want equal educational rights for children. We also do not want any determent of the quality of education within our schools. It is a difficult balancing act for everyone involved. I hope we can attain the desired educational rights for all with adequate funding and trained personnel. Until such time this station is achieved we have to exist with what we got.

    It is the whispering campaign that can be dealt with directly as it relates to the NSTU as stated by PBD. He should request a statement from the NSTU disavowing that such a campaign is part of their mandate. When his reply is in hand then post it here for all to see rather than add fuel to the whisper campaign as he has done.

    I’m sure the NSTU would gladly address the matter and hopefully satisfy Parker Barss Donham and his concern and now our curiosity.

      1. The SCOC listened and then dismissed the appeal from the BC government and now it is firmly established a government cannot legislate away the right to bargain class size and composition.

      2. The “whisper campaign” is hardly a whisper. Teachers have explained LOUDLY how difficult their inclusive classrooms are to work in. Special needs students are the unfortunate bargaining chip the teacher’s union will ignore once service awards are reinstated

  3. Politicians’ characters tend to emerge in the crunch. McNeil has more than once reacted with anger in a “mean-spirited” way, and we’ve seen it several times. In his own riding, it’s well known, including his aggressive opposition to a small community in his riding that asked for a green and quiet corridor on the railbed instead of a motorized road for Off-Highway vehicles. He was “agitated” because he wanted ATV’s- upset when the community did its work, attended consultations, followed a process, and were given a ministerial letter declaring them a non-motorized section . He worked to overturn the process and the letter, including an apparent quid pro quo with Rodney MacDonald’s ATV-liking government to re-open the issue and ensure a different conclusion . All in court documents.Politicians who do not hesitate to use the levers at hand to get what they want may win in some short-terms issues, as with this one, but in the end the damage they do defeats them. May it be so. The said community has never recovered from the negative impact of his “agitation”.

  4. Great article today on the Teacher’s situation. Great context, too.

    You know, for a completely one-sided, overly biased, unsourced piece of reporting.

    I guess this officially means that Halifax Examiner is the Breitbart of the Nova Scotia left. Which is weird for me, as a socialist, to have to accept.

    You know, I read this article once by this guy.. Jim or something. Anyway, it talks about how important context is to journalism, as well as understanding the history of issues.

    You can read it here:

    You really ought to hire that guy. He makes sense. Oh, and for the next Examiner Radio, you should talk about the Dalhousie and St. Mary’s rivalry. I am sure you can get three members from Dal to come on the show to bash St. Mary’s unimpeded by things like dissenting opinion or offering contrasting views. Send the invite to just the President of the University. If he is too busy, I am sure the three wholy Biased Dalhousie people will be sure to pick up the slack. That is the new format for the radio show, isn’t it?

    Maybe get that Jim guy on there too. He seems good at providing context and believing in it’s importance.

  5. As an Education prof at MSVU, I have been talking about the inclusion issue in many of my classes… if inclusion is only about saving money, but not about changing the way teaching and learning occurs, it does not make much sense to include the kids that were previously excluded because of their different learning abilities.
    What Nova Scotia needs is an investment into true inclusive education, into co-teaching models between classroom and resource teachers (Germany has made great experiences with that), more education in diffrentiated learning and alternative teaching methods for teachers. All this costs money of course, but our children and teachers should be worth this investment.

  6. And this outright lie from Laurie Graham at 2:34 PM Monday

    laurie graham ‏@lauriegrahamNS 20h20 hours ago
    NS schools will re-open tomorrow. NSTU pulled back on its “work to rule” restrictions making it safer for students. #nspoli

  7. I don’t know the details of the odd situation with David Wheeler at CBU either, but I will always listen with great attention to anything Rankin MacSween has to say. He’s a brilliant, dedicated man who has led New Dawn to be among the most successful community development corporations in the country. And — I speak as a former Dean there — he’s surely right that the Board of a university so close to its community needs to be open with that community about whatever is going on with its leadership.

    1. I hope I didn’t sound critical of MacSween. I honestly don’t know what to think of the situation, and his insight helps.

      I’ve been thinking a lot about the increasing costs of education and what we should think about that. I have a piece in the works, but it’ll likely take a while.

      1. You didn’t sound critical of MacSween, Tim. Eager to read your piece on education. Though it would be time-consuming, would love to see a comparison made between a tuition-free country like Finland and Nova Scotia, detailing differences and similarities, and how education is done there versus here.

    2. McSween might be a great guy or not, don’t know him (admittedly his OneNS membership makes me cringe). But here’s another view to what he’s been in favor of via Wheeler at CBU.

      As a former CBU grad, I’d consider this whole affair as nothing more than business as usual…

      And why can’t we have a Canadian running CBU? Seriously, we need foreigners to run our schools for us?

  8. > They said they were negotiating with teachers, but weren’t.

    The Minister, in response to a question, said that the Deputy Minister was in conversation with the Executive Director of the union (she didn’t mention a name).

    > They said they had resolved the safety concerns with the union,
    > but the union had made no changes in policy.

    Uh, when? You’re misrepresenting the sequence of events. In mid-week last week the union sent a work-to-rule “guidelines” document to members. The gov’t indicated to the union they had problems with the document w.r.t. proper supervisions and referenced the Education Act. The union (reportedly on Friday) sent info to their members clarifying the issues the province cared about (clarifying, deleting and adding things actually) but did not send that info to the province. To say that there was “no changes in policy” is factually incorrect…they did so to their members on Friday, but not to the government (according to the Minister, which is not a statement that the union has contradicted)….geez, I cannot imagine what the conversation between the Deputy Minister and the Exec Director was about, can you? Maybe it was about that. Maybe not. But you don’t know, and you draw conclusions about this as if you do.

    I’m going to state that I’ve been quite disappointed with the Examiner’s commentary and reporting on this issue. You’ve misrepresented information, drawn conclusions without evidence, and made claims without foundation. You have drawn on a narrow spectrum of information and sources for commentary. If you want credibility as a news source you have to up your game, because what you’ve done on this file is crap. And I’m no “government supporter” on this topic, but the hyperbole of the public doesn’t have to be echoed by the news sources and for the most part that’s what you’ve done.

    1. Actually additional other news services have reported/quoted a union representative as saying that the policy updates/clarifications WERE provided to the Government – at 5:08pm on Friday.

    2. If you’re interested in facts, this from the CBC, yesterday afternoon

      Although union president Liette Doucet has maintained student safety wouldn’t be in jeopardy — and teachers and principals were already told to put safety ahead of any work-to-rule protocol — Casey said she only received satisfactory confirmation on Monday morning.

      However the union said it gave notice to the province on Friday it would address student safety concerns and told teachers that safety trumps work-to-rule protocol.

    3. All I’ve seen you comment on is the coverage, not the issues. How could what the government has done possibly make sense? I see a lot of questions that need answering and the coverage has shown that no answers have been given.

    4. Casey herself admitted at her 5 minute news conference yesterday that they had received a copy of the NSTU safety protocol on Friday. She couldn’t answer the question as to why they had to close schools when the safety concerns had already been addressed. Watching McNeil’s interview last night on CTV (I stopped counting after hearing the word “safe” mentioned 15 times) was a prime example of a deceitful cover up. He also denied that there were any dissenters among the Liberal backbenchers – that may come back to bite him.

    5. Cool.

      Someone should let Laurie Graham know all of this before she sends out any more tweets telling the world that the schools are now safe because the union pulled back on WTR.

      This whole situation has become an absolute joke. I find it incredibly disheartening that despite overwhelming evidence of deceptive behaviour by this government, there are still die hard liberals that cannot repeat the lies and talking points fast enough.

      As someone that voted for the a Liberals both provincially and federally, it’s my opinion that we need to start using our head and stop it with the partisan BS. At the rate this is going, McNeil is going to bury the liberals so deep in the mud that it’s going to be another 14 years before they get in power again.

  9. Donham is out to lunch. Inclusion without resources to support inclusion is not a win. It’s a failure. He’s blaming the wrong people.

    And maybe MacNeil’s move was a stroke of genius that Liberal’s have become masters at. Weather the storm. Ditching plan A for plan B may have always been an acceptable option. Bill 75 hasn’t gone away, but the protesters have. We’ve been down this road before more than once.

    1. Parker Donham is spot on. School boards have enough money to deliver the mandated programmes for all students, it just happens the boards choose to deliver non mandated programmes and then claim they don’t have the means to provide the necessary support people to ensure the teaching environment is not disrupted.
      The Supreme Court dealt with this matter in 2012 and inclusion with proper support is the law and must be funded before any non mandated programme.

      1. You’re both living in a world that never existed.

        And the Supreme Court in BC just dealt with inclusion in the classroom by capping the numbers because it’s 2016, and we don’t have time for butt-hurt snowflakes and bad arguments.

        1. “butthurt snowflakes”

          I sincerely hope you never have a disability or a child with one. It may become more difficult to discount their concerns based on slogans you pick up on the internet.

          1. Paul Vienneau, that term doesn’t refer to children with disabilities. Be careful how you misinterpret the words of others.

        2. I am referring to the Supreme Court of Canada 2012 decision.

          Para 51 of the SCOC decision
          ” In Jeffrey’s case, the Tribunal accepted that the District faced financial difficulties during the relevant period. Yet it also found that cuts were disproportionably made to special needs programs. Despite their similar cost, the District retained some discretionary programs, such as the Outdoor School — an outdoor campus where students learned about community and the environment — while eliminating the Diagnostic Centre. As Rowles J.A. noted, “without undermining the educational value of the Outdoor School, such specialized and discretionary initiatives cannot be compared with the accommodations necessary in order to make the core curriculum accessible to severely learning disabled students”
          I suggest you take the time to read the decision.

          1. And I am referring to the more recent SCOC decision that determined that the 2012 decision was lacking in detail and enforcement. I suggest you take time to understand the more recent conclusions.

          1. It’s a verbal ruling at this point in time from my understanding. But’s here’s something easy for you to understand.


            Think about the implications in regards to class size and composition. There are requirements that clearly weren’t being met by the 2012 inclusion decision. In other words, the SCOC says teachers were right to raise flags about class composition and size.

    2. Please read my whole article, Robert, and tell me where I’m off base. The NSTU has been dogwhisting about accessibility as a problem, but you’re a bit more explicit with your butt-hurt snowflake jibe. Children with disabilities can’t stick up for themselves. Please tell how you would decide which children with disabilities you would throw under your bigoted bus.

      1. You’re not sticking up for those kids, that’s for sure by advocating for a broken system and blaming the people who want it fixed. I read your whole article. Now you comprehend the SCOC decision – I’m not repeating myself, it’s all written above. Nice display of Vic Toews logic on the bus analogy lol.

        I no more bigoted than you. Racist or xenophobic either, what else ya got in the SJW tickle-truck? This is typical dead end internet arguing, enjoy the echo chamber.

      2. Parker Donham, I read your article – twice – and I saw no actual evidence for your assertion that there is a “whispering campaign” directed at excluding special needs kids from classrooms. I suppose I could claim there is a whispering campaign directed at excluding left handed kids from classrooms and offer that I heard one teacher at the corner store complaining about left handers, as proof. Quite simply, when you offer one incident to prove your point, you are throwing all teachers under the bus, so to speak. Are we to now look at every teacher we meet and wonder, are they one of the whisperers?