Nova Scotia teachers will walk off the job Friday, for a one-day strike, in protest of Liberal government legislation to impose a contract on them.
The president of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union said it's the first time teachers have gone out on strike in the 122-year history of the union.
"Our members have never faced a more anti-education premier than Stephen McNeil," Liette Doucet said Wednesday morning in a statement.
The legislation being debated this week limits teachers' right to strike, erodes their ability to negotiate a contract and prevents them from advocating for education reforms, she said.
"We believe this legislation is unconstitutional," Doucet added.
Government House leader Michel Samson said Bill 75 is necessary, given teachers voted down three tentative agreements over the last 16 months that were recommended by their union's executive.
"We're here today in the legislature to put an end to this in order to put the priority on kids and … get them back to normal conditions in those classrooms," he said.
Nova Scotia 9,300 public school teachers began work-to-rule job action Dec. 5 and have limited what tasks they do outside their immediate classroom duties.
The four-year contract being legislated is a combination of the three tentative agreements. It includes a committee to examine workplace conditions that will get $20 million over two years. There will also be a review of the inclusion policy.
Teachers from all over the province will convene at Province House Friday, Doucet said. They will be letting MLAs know how the government's actions will impact the province's public education system and public sector workers.
"The point is to have teachers come into the city to show that they are not happy. They are furious, they are angry," Doucet said.
She said teachers believe they have been "disrespected through this entire process" and that McNeil "is completely anti-education and anti-teacher."
But Samson said the government is receiving support from some teachers.
"We are hearing from teachers who are saying that they're sick and tired of work-to-rule, they want an end to this and they are supporting the government's efforts," he said.
Samson expressed concern the strike means students will lose a day of class, noting schools were already closed two days this week due to the blizzard and will be shut again Monday for a statutory holiday.
Teachers frustrated, says Baillie
The Liberals introduced Bill 75 at 8 p.m. Tuesday and MLAs have been debating it ever since, sitting overnight.
Progressive Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie put the blame for the walkout squarely on McNeil.
"If this is the new normal under his government, we are in big trouble," he said.
He said he understands the teachers' reasons behind the strike, and that many are so frustrated with conditions in the classroom they feel they have no choice.
Registering their revulsion
The one-day strike is "entirely justified," said NDP Leader Gary Burrill. "They have chosen this as a means of registering their revulsion with the government's path. It's no surprise the teachers would wish to do this. What else could they do?"
The legislature continues to sit Wednesday and the bill will likely move to the law amendments committee on Thursday, where the public has the opportunity to make presentations to MLAs.
Doucet hinted Tuesday night a strike was an option the union was seriously considering.