Well, that just about wraps that up.
After 16 months, myriads of media stories, dozens of protests, and literally countless hundreds of e-mails, letters and Facebook posts demanding, asking and begging the Nova Scotia Liberals to give the teachers of this province help for their classrooms and respect for their profession, the hammer has fallen.
Last Tuesday, with the declaration of Bill 75, the McNeil Liberals have again, with their majority stranglehold on the legislature, imposed their will on the people.
Not that anyone should have been surprised at the ultimate outcome. We saw the Premier take much this same approach with seniors, nurses and with the film tax credit. Once McNeil has an idea in his head, that, as they say, is that. Whether this can be attributed to strong leadership or blind pig-headedness depends, I suppose, on which side of the fence one sits. At the end of the day, however, regardless of where one’s posterior is politically positioned, McNeil has gotten his way.
I know this may sound like sour grapes, and I will freely admit that I am completely on the other side from the Liberals on this one. As an avid unionist and teacher advocate, I have made no secret of that. And, admittedly, when I separate myself from my politics, I can even see some justification for the legislation. If one buys the argument that the province is broke, then imposing a wage package on the public sector could be considered by some to be a good move.
It wasn’t just the decision itself, however, that causes me so much consternation (although I am here to tell you, my consternation is considerable). Rather it was the overall tone of the affair that has, upon reflection, given me a great deal of pause.
You see, there were a number of moves that the Liberal government made over the last few weeks that smacked more of dictatorship than democracy. That may sound unduly harsh, but hear me out for a moment. For one thing, the imposition of a contract on teachers rather than making another go at bargaining seems to be of that realm. McNeil may not have been getting his way at the table, but he is fairly soundly on record as supporting fair collective bargaining. One would think that legislation would be the furthest thing from his mind, even when bargaining was becoming particularly cumbersome.
Then there was the Law Amendments debacle. For those of you who may not know, the Law Amendments committee is set up so that regular Nova Scotians can appear before a committee of the government to express their views on bills which are to become law. In the case of Bill 75, hundreds of Nova Scotians (arguably, mostly teachers or teacher supporters) signed up to make presentations. The time allotted for this important civil liberty is determined by the government, and was, this time, of insufficient length. A great number of people who had prepared presentations were not permitted to speak.
Now, I do understand that the message was perhaps getting repetitive, but not allowing members of the public, regardless of their political stripe or motivation, to speak to a Bill seems to rather fly in the face of the democratic process. Not to mention the disdain with which some of the MLA’s reportedly treated the presenters who, again, they ultimately represent.
Then there was the gallery issue. The gallery of the legislature is a place where regular folks like you and I can sit and watch the proceedings of the house on a first come, first served basis, at least according to the official NS legislature website. However, on the day Bill 75 was read into law, there was a line up of citizens on Hollis street who were not permitted to enter because the gallery was “full”.
I was actually in the gallery that day, and it most certainly was not full. In fact, I would estimate only half the seats were taken. That was, according to security, because the number of passes made available for the day had been limited by the Liberals. So while our duly elected government stood, one by one, to support Bill 75, regular Nova Scotia citizens, (yes, undoubtedly teacher supporters) stood on the sidewalk, prevented from entering the Provincial Legislature by the very people they had elected to represent them in the House.
And as I sat in the legislature on February 22nd, the room getting uncomfortably hot, the sound of the ever more voluminous, 11th hour, hopeful-that-the-government-would-listen-to-them chants wafting in from the barely open windows, I stared at those empty seats and considered if this was , in fact, what democracy should look like.
I suppose you can guess my answer.
But, here we are. Despite the protests, the outcry, and the knowledge that the impending legal challenge will cost Nova Scotia millions in fees and, quite possibly, restitution, the McNeil government chose to impose its will on the people.
So now what?
Well, if early social media cues are any indication, teachers are already pulling back from many of those traditional pro-bono services they have provided for years. That includes such things as volunteering to monitor students over the lunch hour and extra curricular events. For what it is worth, this is not about punishing the kids. This is about teachers feeling absolutely betrayed by their employer.
There is also a real sense that the job itself will feel a ripple effect. The work to rule campaign, as I have written before, cast a fairly bright light into some pretty dark corners of our system. Where teachers have traditionally accepted new initiatives and directives as part of the ever-changing nature of the job, I feel now they will be less accommodating. There was a time when only one or two teachers in any staff room would ask “Why are we doing this?” when faced with the next new thing. I would assume that, going forward, everyone will be doing so.
I also think that there will be a significant shift in what teachers are willing to tolerate as far as their classroom conditions are concerned. Teachers do have a number of ways to try and deal with these through the contract, including articles on both class climate and school climate. Although these devices are somewhat cumbersome, I would expect to see an uptick in their usage.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, teachers will undoubtedly become more politically active in their home ridings. Teachers are fairly well-educated and used to organizing events and people. One would assume that local constituency offices for both the NDP and Conservatives will be soon be hearing from teachers and their supporters, and will undoubtedly benefit from that experience. I also feel that there may be a movement amongst teachers to get actively involved in the Liberal party, which may, indeed, be their most effective strategy. I, for one, would certainly like to be a fly on the wall at the next Liberal AGM if the room were packed with teachers.
Regardless of how this all pans out, one does get the sense that this dispute is far from over. Undoubtedly, the story will certainly begin to move off the front page, but I believe that we will see it simmering under the surface for months to come.
And , with an election on the horizon, one would imagine that many Liberal MLA’s will find their feet held to the fire for toeing the party line and supporting Bill 75.
Perhaps then we will see what democracy should actually look like.