Nova Scotia premier promises to ‘bring an end’ to teachers dispute

NS legislature recalled to deal with teachers

HALIFAX — Nova Scotia’s premier is turning again to a legislative hammer to try to settle the ongoing contract dispute with the province’s 9,300 public school teachers, but the union’s president warns the move will only escalate tensions.  

Premier Stephen McNeil has recalled the legislature for an emergency session on Monday “to bring an end” to the long-simmering standoff between the province and the Nova Scotia Teachers Union.

After three failed tentative agreements it is clear that negotiations have reached “an impasse,” McNeil said in a statement Saturday.

“I want to assure Nova Scotians that I have done considerable soul searching,” McNeil said in the statement. “We will table legislation that will bring an end to this dispute as soon as possible.”

The move comes two days after the teachers rejected another contract offer on Thursday.

Union president Liette Doucet said in a statement Saturday that the premier’s announcement showed his consistent “lack of respect” for collective bargaining rights.

“It’s clear that Premier McNeil knows the cost of everything and the value of nothing,” Doucet said. “A legislated contract will do nothing to improve the state of our schools and will only further erode the trust between teachers and this government.”

It’s not the first time the government has flexed its muscles to try to end the impasse.

In early December, the government closed schools on two days’ notice as it called an emergency session of the legislature to impose a contract as the teachers started a work to rule campaign. Opposition politicians said at the time that the legislative manoeuvre was scuttled by internal dissent within the Liberal caucus. The government reversed itself and said the union had addressed its safety concerns amid a disagreement over exactly what had been discussed.

Leaders of both provincial opposition parties issued statements Saturday condemning McNeil for his handling of the matter.

“Recalling the legislature is an admission of failure by Premier McNeil,” Progressive Conservative Jamie Baillie said. “Students, parents and teachers are fed up with his willful blindness to the needs of modern classrooms. They no longer trust Stephen McNeil to manage our children’s futures.”

All parties involved in the union-government melee have said they’re acting in the best interest of students. The premier said that the union’s job action has taken a toll on children and their families, while Doucet said the province is ignoring teachers’ concerns about classrooms conditions.

The union’s work-to-rule edict stipulates teachers should only report for work 20 minutes before class starts and leave 20 minutes after the school day ends.

The job action has been controversial for many parents and students, given the fact that field trips, Christmas concerts and sporting events had to be cancelled.

When the latest tentative contract was reached Jan. 20, the teachers suspended the work-to-rule campaign. Doucet said it is set to resume Monday, but it remains unclear what form it will take.

Doucet said Friday the union would have to review whatever legislation the government brings forward before deciding whether to turn to the courts.

The teachers most recent contract expired in July, 2015 and negotiations have dragged on for more than a year. The teachers have been in a legal strike position since Dec. 5, after voting 96 per cent in favour of strike action.

Adina Bresge, The Canadian Press