Examineradio – Episode 100
Bousquet: Hello, this is Examineradio, the weekly show and podcast that covers news, politics and all things Halifax. I’m Tim Bousquet, Editor of the Halifax Examiner, which is available online at halifaxexaminer.ca
Tailleur: And I’m Terra Tailleur, and I’m here as Tim’s helpful news assistant.
Bousquet: We also have Russell Gragg on the line. Hey Russ.
Gragg: How are things, Tim?
Bousquet: Good, you’re in Toronto and we have you via Skype connections.
Gragg: Yah, so this is how it’s going to be for the next little bit anyway. I’m recording in the Canadaland studios. I’m actually on Jesse Brown’s mic. Thanks for keeping me on it. It’s giving me an opportunity to keep up with the news back home, of which there isn’t much.
Bousquet: Hey, before we get to the show, the three of us have a ??? coming up and Russ, you organized it so why don’t you tell us about it.
Gragg: Yah, so on Friday, March 3rd we’re going to be hosting a round table with Canadaland founder and host, Jesse Brown, and the two of you, Tim Bousquet and Terra Tailleur, will be presented – kind of a co-presentation between Canadaland and the Halifax Examiner and CKDU called ‘Is Atlantic Journalism Fucked?’ You’ll get the answer.
Bousquet: Do we have an answer to that?
Gragg: I’m sure between the three of you, you’re going to come up with a definitive answer. I’m sure of it. So it’s Friday, March 3rd at the Marquee on Gottingen Street. Tickets are $10 at the door. There are no advanced tickets. The doors are open at 6:00 and it’s going on at 7:00. And it’s going to be a ton of fun.
Bousquet: Where does all the money go?
Gragg: The money goes to CKDU Radio – the folks who graciously air Examineradio each week – and except for today – give us studio space in order to record and produce, this show on podcast.
Bousquet: Okay, we’ll have more on the roundtable on halifaxexaminer.ca soon – probably tomorrow. Let’s jump into it. This is Episode #100 – one zero zero.
Bousquet: …balloons …of Examineradio. And as always you can listen to the show on CKDU – 88.1 FM in Halifax on Fridays at 4:30 or via their website at www.ckdu.ca.
Gragg: You can also subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play or any other place you find podcasts and have each new podcast automatically delivered to your device of choice. Just search for Halifax Examiner and that platforms a search engine and it’s going to be the first result.
Bousquet: Today we’re speaking again with Graham Steele because there’s so much going on over at Province House with the teachers and so forth. Usually we have a long list of things we discuss before an interview that we call Week in Review but this week is dominated by one subject only, which is snow. Russ, you’re not seeing this, Terra came into the studio juggling all these pages of snow information…
Tailleur: Bundled up as almost little… yah… snowballs if I could have. Yah, so Russ, you’re fortunate enough that you’re not here right now kind of dealing with everything that we are, which is – it snows , we shovel out, it snows again, we shovel out, we get a little bit of a reprieve, it snows again and we shovel out.
Bousquet: I should say, I missed the first snowstorm – the big one – the two feet or two foot or however much it was. I was trying to quietly sneak out of town and visit my mom on the weekend. It was her birthday, and didn’t tell anyone I was leaving, and couldn’t get back home. So I didn’t get back until late Wednesday, and here I am trying to play catch-up.
Tailleur: Yah. Well, the city says we’ve had nearly 80 centimetres of snow this past week. Just in the last 12 hours there was another 15 to 20.
Bousquet: And we’re recording on Thursday afternoon.
Gragg: Yah. My understanding is that the total amount dumped over the course of this week actually exceeds what happened in White Juan. Is that just anecdotal or is that, in fact, the case?
Tailleur: I wish I had a fact-checker here right now.
Bousquet: There’s a lot of snow out there.
Gragg: And in terms of the clean-up, you know, people will not forget the storms of two years ago and the absolutely abysmal job the city did, and the private contractors did, in managing that. Is it going better this time?
Tailleur: Well I think the city has been very careful this time to not raise expectations. And right now, as of today – as of Thursday – it is telling people not to expect all the sidewalks cleared for another 10 to 12 days. So it’s telling people, you are going to have to wait. And probably what will happen is the sidewalks will be cleared before that , but, you know…
Bousquet: Yah, I should add, the sidewalks downtown are fine – or clear anyway – I don’t know about fine, but they certainly haven’t gotten to my neighbourhood in Dartmouth yet, so I think they concentrated on the downtown area first. But there’s these contractors – I don’t know what these contractors are doing. They’re certainly not clearing my street. I always shovel my own – the walk in front of my house –and then the contractor brings a neighbour’s snow over and I have to shovel it out again.
Tailleur: The residential sidewalks are the last to get done.
Tailleur: So, sorry Tim. You’ll be the last one.
Gragg: Well they had to clear out the downtown so that the MLAs could get to the Legislature, right?
Tailleur: We’re going to need a lot of room in order for all the teachers to rally at the…
Bousquet: Yah, I just walked by there, and the sidewalks around Province House are clear, but I really think the city ought… We’ll see what happens by tomorrow. Maybe they’ll bring the trucks in and haul the snow away. I don’t know. There’s a lot of snow out there.
Bousquet: What other fun snow facts do you have?
Tailleur: Well that’s it. I know many of the schools have been shut down. I know, for example, just… I teach at the University of Kings College. Classes were cancelled Monday and Tuesday, and today they were cancelled again and I just went ahead and held a Google hangout with my students because I figured we have to cover the material.
Bousquet: Tailleur, in that snowstorm – or the ice storms of 2015, it was very noticeable that the Dal campus was ice-free and the rest of the city was not. The people who cleared Dal did an excellent job. I did a whole photo essay showing the clear sidewalks on Dal. Have you been to campus this week?
Tailleur: No, I actually was on… Actually no, I was on campus yesterday, but really didn’t walk around a lot, no. So… I mean they have to. Think of all… You have a mini city here.
Bousquet: It was just noticeable in that year from hell that whoever is responsible – the landscaper and grounds keeping people at Dal and their contractors managed to figure out what no one else in the city could figure out, which is how to keep the sidewalks clear.
Gragg: And just as a final addendum on the snow subject, I would just like to give a shout-out to Stephanie Domet, a former host of Main Street on CBC, for coining the term, ‘storm chips’, but forgetting to copyright it.
Tailleur: That’s right.
Gragg: It’s even at the point now where… Is it the Covered Bridge brand of potato chips actually has a flavour called ‘Storm Chips’?
Gragg: I wonder how much she’s getting for that.
Tailleur: So let’s just take a little bit of a break here and we’ll come back with Graham Steele. You’re listening to Examineradio.
Bousquet: Ok, we’re back and we have Graham Steele hovering in the background here, but first Terra you’re going to give us a quick recap about where we’re at with teachers.
Tailleur: Yah, I think in order to understand where we are right now we need to figure out what happened and kind of talk about a what happened in the last week, right? So if you remember on February 9th – a week ago today – the teachers voted against the collective agreement. And remember, this was the third tentative agreement – so this was the third NSTU executive had reached a tentative agreement with the province and it was the third time that the membership voted it down. And this rejection, this was a 78.5 per cent rejection rate, right? So more than two-thirds of the NSTU members who voted on this rejected this.
Bousquet: More than three-quarters.
Tailleur: More than three-quarters, right. So this was last Thursday. Let’s flash forward to this Tuesday – so just a few days ago when the McNeil Government said – you know what, gotta introduce Bill No. 75 because we need to impose a contract on these teachers so we can be done with this. You know, the next day it’s on into Law Amendments where you have witnesses coming forward, including many teachers who are speaking out against this Bill No. 75 and coming up with – saying many things, including what a hardship this could be, potentially, and describing some of the situations and some of the challenging situations that they’re facing in their classrooms and at their schools. And this continues to Thursday where we are today where we have another – well we have 12 hours of witnesses who are talking about what Bill No. 75 could mean for them, and let’s talk about tomorrow, Friday, where the teachers have said – ‘you know what, we’re walking out, it’s a strike, a one-day strike’.
Bousquet: Okay, and that’s where we stand. Graham Steele, hi.
Steele: How are you?
Bousquet: Good, thanks for coming back.
Steele: I waited for the Examineradio limo to come like it usually does, but…
Bousquet: The limo is a bus – it’s a Bobcat, I guess. We asked you because you know all about Province House.
Steele: I spent a long time down there – 15 years of my life down there every day. I think I understand the place. People seem to find it helpful to have a guide who is not totally connected to one side or the other, either politically or otherwise, so that’s kind of the role I’ve taken on, Tim – it’s like helping people to understand how the place works.
Bousquet: It’s so funny – whenever I see one of your CBC columns or whenever you’ve been on Examineradio, I get a whole wide range of opinion going from ‘He’s an NDP Stooge’ to ‘What does he know? When he was in government he should have done…’ to whatever… But no one has ever said that – that I’m aware of – that you get the process wrong or… And I for one appreciate your analysis.
Steele: One of the things I worry about, Tim, is when somebody has been involved in politics there is a whole swath of people who just sort of write them off. Like nothing they can say is ever valuable ever again because at one point they wore a Party hat, and I’d like to see a lot of it get past that, but sometimes it’s only the ex-politicians who can speak the truth, you know? Because we don’t have a dog in the hunt anymore – most of us don’t anyway.
Bousquet: Teachers. We just heard Terra’s recap. Is that mostly right?
Steele: Yah, I mean, this is a very interesting and long story going back… well, you could start the story 20 years ago if you want to and the slow deterioration in classroom conditions, but the more recent story of course is not one, not two, but three rejections at tentative agreements reached between the union and the government. That is absolutely unprecedented in the Nova Scotia public sector and events, if you’ll pardon the pun, have snowballed from there.
Bousquet: Yah. Stephen McNeil – now you’ve kind of… they placed a headline on your CBC column that was perhaps a little bit past where your opinion was.
Steele: That happens.
Bousquet: Yah, when I read your column without the headline I saw you were saying that he – yah, there’s a bunch of protests out there, but he still has the wide support of the electorate. Is that your sense?
Steele: Yah, that’s not exactly what I was getting at, but it is that he believes sincerely that he is doing the right thing. He believes that he’s taking a stand that previous governments should have taken and did not.
Bousquet: Your government.
Steele: Yah, and the one before that, and the one before that. So you know, we’ve gone around in a circle – Liberal, [Progressive] Conservative, NDP and back to Liberal so yah, it all goes around in a circle, but he is taking the long view, but at this point he cannot be sure whether he’s bringing the public with him. He believes he is, and the polls would tend to back him up, but he cannot know for sure that when it comes time for people to mark their ballots, probably later this year, that the people will still be with him.
Bousquet: Are you seeing an election in the Fall?
Steele: Yah, I’ve been saying Summer. There’s some advantage. The conventional wisdom is that a summer election… Well conventional wisdom is that a depressed turnout favours the government, and so if the government wants a lower than usual turnout, my best bet is mid to late Summer, but it could be in the Fall and it could even be into 2018.
Bousquet: Okay, so there’s nothing prescribed in that – it’s just Stephen McNeil’s judgment.
Steele: There’s one person who makes the decision. It’s the Premier and he can go no later than October 2018, but within that constitutional limitation it is completely his decision.
Bousquet: I guess it’s just divining tea leaves, but if he’s got a big fight with the teachers maybe he figures, well, memories are short and so the longer he waits to have an election…
Steele: It’s true in politics. It’s something that took me a while to learn and it really took me aback how really short memories are. You can have issues that are white-hot, then they get resolved – whether it’s labour relations or something else – and it is incredible how quickly people forget. Now, there’s a phrase that I’ve been using, ‘broken glass voters’. You might have seen me use that, and it’s an expression I picked up from a former Premier of another province, but it refers to people who never forgive, never forget – they would crawl over broken glass to vote against the government. But there aren’t that many true broken glass voters and people – especially in the midst of a white-hot issue like we have right now – people think that there will be thousands and thousands of people turning out to vote against the Liberals and that’s just not the case. The question though is how many of those broken glass voters are there and are there enough of the swing voters to turn the tide against the Liberal Party.
Bousquet: Between this and the election, some other issue could come forward.
Steele: When government introduced the bill, one of the very first things I was looking for was whether the bill would in some way apply to other public sector unions, because let’s not forget, Tim, that no other major public sector union has agreed to the wage pattern the government wants to impose. So because of happenstance that teachers ended up being at the pointy end of this issue, but right behind them are the health care workers and right behind them are the other civil servants. It’s like once Stephen McNeil and his government have imposed a contract on the teachers, there’s another great big union coming up right behind them, and another great big one coming up right behind that. He needs to find a resolution to this before he calls the election. I expected this bill would deal with all the unions and it does not – but he’s got to find a way of resolving it so that people forget or other things have become more prominent by the time it comes to time to mark their ballot.
Bousquet: I want to very quickly get into the process issue here. As someone who grew up in the United States, I’m fascinated by this particular parliamentary system that we have in Nova Scotia. We have, what, a four-step process?
Steele: Five steps to make a law, yes.
Bousquet: And those are: first reading, which is just a…
Bousquet: No debate, no…
Steele: It is literally introducing the bill. Second reading, which is debate in principle. The Law Amendments Committee is step three – and that’s hearing from the public. Committee of the Whole House, which is so-called clause by clause examination of the bill, then getting down to the nitty-gritty and making any amendments that need to be made. And finally third reading , which is the final speech is the formalities. And once the bill has passed those five stages it’s simply needs to be signed by the Lieutenant-Governor to become law.
Bousquet: Right, so we’re speaking on Thursday afternoon. First reading was Tuesday after an aborted session on Monday because of the storm.
Bousquet: I thought that McNeil even calling the Legislature in during that blizzard was kind of bone-headed.
Steele: He called the Legislature back in before he knew for sure that the weather was going to be so bad.
Bousquet: Oh come on – the forecasts were all there. They were all there
Steele: Yah, I think politically he was looking at it and saying I don’t care because of course the way our system works, all of his MLAs were in town. He would have made sure they came in on the Sunday. Bad weather keeps protestors away. I know how politicians think.
Bousquet: Yah, but he gave all the MLAs downtown hotel rooms on the government dime, and all the support workers had to drive in or fly in or however they could get here…
Steele: Some of them did, some of them didn’t, and he would have been thinking, ‘I want this bill to get through’. But here’s the thing – the really interesting thing is it’s not the Premier’s decision about whether the House sits. It belongs to the Speaker. Now the Speaker of the House is a member of his caucus but in my experience, Tim, Speakers have taken their role seriously as guardians of the House. I would have loved to have heard the conversations on Monday during the blizzard between the Premier and the Speaker. Don’t just assume that the Speaker would do whatever the Premier tells him to do, but in the end the right decision was made – if there is any argument it’s that it took too long to make the right decision.
Bousquet: Well yah. At any event, so first reading happened Monday which was sort of anticlimactic. I mean, I guess we got the text of the bill.
Steele: Yah, that’s what first reading is for.
Bousquet: And Tuesday was second reading and I thought Law Amendments had to be on a different calendar day.
Steele: Yah, I did too, and I’m still scratching my head over that one but regardless, they didn’t try to finish it on the same day. So I’m going to go back and sort of hunt through the rule book and see what happened because I had a misunderstanding.
Bousquet: Okay, so…
Steele: But anyway, second reading finished, which is debate in principle, and of course all Liberals voted for and all the Opposition members voted against, and now it’s moved on to the public hearings.
Bousquet: Before we get into that, there are 17 Opposition MLAs and they were each limited to an hour? Is that how it works?
Steele: Yah, each limited to an hour so that really in effect is the limitation on debate. We don’t have true filibusters here in Nova Scotia in the sense that one member can speak for a very long time, but there are… there’s a whole bag of procedural tricks that people can pull. If they really want to go to the wall to delay the bill as long as possible – ‘cause let’s not forget, Tim, the only power the Opposition has is delay. They can’t stop the bill, they can’t amend the bill if the government doesn’t want to amend it. They can only delay it. And the Opposition’s purpose in delaying it is to make the passage of the bill as painful as possible for the government. And so that’s what was going on. Now, the Opposition could have taken even longer, but that becomes a kind of inside baseball thing where you say, well, they could have forced debate for – I don’t know – like, 23 hours instead of 17 hours, and it’s possible they could have forced the government to wait another day or two for the bill to become law, but at a certain point you have to say…
Bousquet: So we’re at that third stage now, which is Law Amendments, which is basically public hearings. Now, reporter Jennifer Henderson who is working for the Halifax Examiner right now, she’s at Province House right now and she just told me that they have limited the number of people in the public who can speak. Is that unprecedented?
Steele: No, it’s not unprecedented. It’s a fairly recent innovation. So I was first elected in 2001 – I’ve sat through hundreds of Law Amendment Committee meetings. When I was first elected, the committee did hear from everybody who signed up, and that meant the proceedings could go on for days. It meant that people – their turn to speak might come at 2:30 in the morning, but everybody was heard. But the Legislature is not a static place – the rules evolve and bit by bit, step by step the rule’s revolving to the point where it is now considered acceptable to set a hard time limit on hearings – a hard cut-off and anybody who’s after the cut-off simply won’t be heard. So it’s not unprecedented, but it’s a relatively new thing for our Legislature.
Bousquet: What do you think about that?
Steele: It’s not ideal, but I also believe governments have to govern. A majority government needs to be able to conduct the people’s business. If there’s a bill the majority want to pass, they need to be able to pass it. I understand the need for limits on the legislative process. In an ideal world, every citizen who wanted to be heard would be heard, but that’s – we don’t necessarily live in an ideal world.
Bousquet: I don’t see a problem with that. If it takes two weeks for everyone to say something, it takes two weeks. That’s…
Steele: I sort of agree with you and sort of don’t, but in this case there is nothing urgent – except for one thing. There is nothing urgent where it truly matters whether the bill passes next Tuesday or next Thursday or the following Tuesday. And the one thing that does matter is of course the teacher’s union is on strike on Friday. They’ve said it’s a one-day strike but they won’t commit to it being only a single day, so now suddenly the NSTU has handed to the government a reason to push the bill through as quickly as the rules allow.
Bousquet: Let’s deal with the strike situation. Does this legislation remove the right to strike?
Steele: Technically no, Tim. There’s another Act called the Teachers Collective Bargaining Act, which says that as long as there is a valid professional agreement is in force, no strike is allowed. That’s pretty normal. That’s been in place for a long time. So what Bill No. 75 does is impose a professional agreement, and it’s because of that other Act – the one that says once there’s a valid agreement in place – that’s a bit of an oxymoron…
Bousquet: Right, so it’s not an agreement…
Steele: It’s not an agreement. It’s an imposed contract. Once it’s in place there can be no strike. That’s why as soon as Bill No. 75 received royal assent, any strike action becomes illegal. Not because of Bill No. 75, but because of the Teachers Collective Bargaining Act.
Bousquet: I understand that. Is there a term for this contract?
Steele: Yes, four years. The last contract – or I should say the existing contract expired July 31st, 2015. The imposed contract will run to July 31st, 2019.
Bousquet: Any chance, do you think – I mean… I know it would be a guess. Any chance of any sort of wildcat action?
Steele: You mean from the teachers?
Steele: No. Let me be frank with you, I am totally against illegal strikes. There’s no benefit to it. We have labour laws for a reason, and I as a former law maker believe those laws need to be obeyed. I would not encourage anybody individually or collectively to engage in illegal strike action. Once the law is imposed, strike action becomes illegal and the repercussions from then on would be political consequences. There is an election coming up fairly soon and if the People of Nova Scotia don’t like what their government has done, well they have an easy remedy and that’s throw them out in the next election.
Bousquet: I haven’t seen the kind of support – and I guess I don’t know what that would look like – but I haven’t seen a crazy amount of support coming from the other public employee unions.
Steele: They’re there. They’re kind of in the background, but I agree. They haven’t necessarily been as vocal as you might expect, but they’re there. They’re there. I mean, it’s not like they don’t support it. And the important thing – the main reason, in my view, why they are paying such close attention is because whatever is imposed on the teachers will sooner or later be imposed on them. So they have an interest in making sure the teachers push it as far as they possibly can.
Bousquet: Earlier when the weather was better, the film folks were out and supported the teachers too. Perhaps they’ll be there tomorrow at the demonstrations – I don’t know.
Steele: I’m expecting a pretty big crowd. I mean, if 9,300 public school teachers – and let’s not forget it’s just not teachers, it’s other members of the NSTU, other in-school support workers.
Bousquet: And also their families and students and…
Steele: Yah and supporters and other labour unions. If they all descend on Province House, it’ll be massive. It’ll be one of the biggest demonstrations the place has seen. Of course, in the Winter, in February – not everybody can travel from everywhere in the province, but depending on the weather it could quite a sight on Friday.
Bousquet: By the time this show airs we’ll know and I’ll certainly be around tomorrow with my cameras and microphones and seeing what’s going on.
Steele: That’ll be the place to be in Halifax tomorrow, that’s for sure.
Bousquet: Yah, are we missing anything?
Steele: It’s not going to change the government’s mind. Bill No. 75 is going to pass, but I can tell you, having sat in the Legislature on the Opposition and the government’s side, it has an impact on the people inside. Now, you and I have talked before about the fact that the real impact is at the constituency level. It’s those visits, those phone calls in the constituency, in the grocery store, at the coffee shop. That’s what really has an impact on MLAs. But when there is a crowd, several thousand strong around the building chanting, and to leave the building they have to look their constituents in the eye, that has an impact.
Bousquet: I know you wrote that it’s utterly impossible that there would be enough people abandoning the Liberals – enough MLAs – to affect this, but I’m seeing on the MLAs I follow Facebook page, I’m seeing people say, ‘Hey, I voted for you and I don’t like this at all.’ Do you think we’ll see some people crossing the floor?
Steele: Yah, I said in order to be sure to defeat Bill No. 75 there would need to be nine MLAs – Liberal MLAs – who show up and vote no, as opposed to taking a walk around the block and just not voting. That is inconceivable. That will not happen. Is it possible that one will – and is willing to take the consequences? Possibly. That puts a lot of pressure on the others ‘cause it shows a different choice was possible. But the reality in our system of government, Tim, is we have among the tightest Party discipline in the world in Canada. And it is possible but very unlikely that somebody will separate themselves from the herd. This is like gazelles on the Savannah, and one gazelle may think he can outrun the pack of lions, but it’s the one who splits off from the herd that gets eaten, and that’s the psychology. That’s exactly the psychology that’s going on in the Liberal caucus right now.
Bousquet: I haven’t seen – and perhaps I’ll be surprised – I haven’t seen the Opposition Parties have the organizational strength yet to offer their goodies to the people across the floor.
Steele: You know what would make the big difference is if members of the Liberal caucus truly believed that Jamie Baillie and the [Progressive] Conservatives were going to win the next election. They do not believe that. They believe at the moment that the best bet to continue to punch their meal ticket is an MLA – it’s to stick with Stephen McNeil.
Bousquet: We have to understand, Karen Casey, the Education Minister left the PC Party.
Steele: And they’ve never forgiven her for that. Shortly after she ran for leader of the Party and lost, she – or she was the interim leader… Did she run for leader or she wanted to, but I don’t think she did. But at any rate then she said she couldn’t work with Jamie Baillie. And she’s not the only one – Chuck Porter, remember, from the Windsor area left the [Progressive] Conservatives ‘cause he couldn’t get along with Jamie Baillie – sat as an Independent for a while – now is a Liberal. But if people in the Liberal caucus believed the ship was going down, the pressure around Bill No. 75 might be enough to get one or two of them to jump, but I just don’t see it happening. And I know there’s rumours and people share stuff on social media, and I just have to say it’s possible, but it’s really not very likely.
Bousquet: We’re already talking longer than I’d allocated here. Are we missing anything?
Steele: Bill No 75 will pass. Stephen McNeil believes he needs to do it this way and he needs to do it now in order to be ready for an election. He can’t know for sure whether he can carry people with him, but he believes that he can.
Bousquet: Okay, let’s leave it at that. Thanks for coming in again.
Steele: It’s my pleasure. Happy Anniversary or Happy Centennial – whatever the appropriate word is. Could you send the limo around this time, please?
Bousquet: I’ll come get you personally. I’ve been speaking with Graham Steele who is a CBC commentator, a former Cabinet Minister, MLA and current whatever he’s doing. Thanks for coming in and we’ll be back right after this.
Bousquet: That’s a wrap for this week’s Examineradio – the weekly podcast and radio show produced by the Halifax Examiner. I’m Tim Bousquet.
Tailleur: And I’m Terra Tailleur.
Gragg: And I’m Russell Grag. As always, we’d love to know what you think. If you have comments on what you’ve heard or story suggestions for future episodes, please send us an email to: [email protected]alifaxexaminer.ca
Bousquet: Until next week, your word is ‘centennial’.