Storm delays legislation to impose contract on Nova Scotia's teachers
Controversial legislation will likely not be passed this week
A massive blizzard has slowed the Liberal government's plans to impose a new contract on Nova Scotia's teachers as the Speaker delayed resuming the legislature until tomorrow.
Instead of starting on Monday night as originally planned, the provincial legislature will sit at 8 p.m. on Tuesday and the first step in drafting a bill to end the contract dispute between teachers and the province will begin.
"We have closely monitored the storm and it is clear now that conditions will not improve before this evening's sitting of the legislature," Premier Stephen McNeil said in a statement Monday afternoon.
"It is clear the Speaker cannot ask staff to report to the legislature this evening. I fully support this decision."
Earlier on Monday, McNeil had faced criticism from the opposition parties about resuming the House of Assembly during a storm that caused Halifax Transit to pull its fleet of buses and keep its ferries tied up.
The move makes it all but certain the controversial legislation will not be passed this week, instead stretching until at least next Tuesday. The House cannot sit on weekends without unanimous consent — something opposition members will not give — and Monday is a provincial holiday.
Legislation to include inclusion program review
McNeil has said the legislation will include a review of the inclusion program in classrooms, which sees students of varying learning capabilities being taught in one classroom. Some teachers have said it is difficult to instruct a class where students have such differing ability levels.
The premier said the contract also puts in place a committee to review teachers' workplace concerns.
As for wages, McNeil said: "We will be putting a wage pattern forward that reflects what we had talked about with the union before."
Members of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union voted down the latest tentative contract agreement last week, marking the third time union executives have recommended a contract that teachers dismissed. Teachers have been without a contract since July 2015.
'I couldn't see a path forward'
McNeil said imposing the contract will allow life for students and parents to return to normal.
"There was no path forward. I couldn't see a path forward to be able to get an agreement," said McNeil. "This is now impacting kids' futures and this was the only option left to me really."
Since early December, the province's 9,300 public school teachers have been working to rule, doing duties that are specifically laid out in their contract. That's meant no extra help for students after class, no coaching after-school sports and no running events such as dances.
"Many parents and kids are struggling with the idea that extra help on a math concept is not extra work; it's part of what teaching is about and teachers feel that," said McNeil, "We're in a climate right now that unfortunately is not allowing that to happen."
Work-to-rule coming to an end
Union president Liette Doucet said work-to-rule will end if a contract is imposed because it can only be enacted while the union is in a legal strike position.
The union's executive is meeting soon to decide exactly what its next move will be.
The NSTU sent out a news release Monday calling on teachers to send messages to McNeil and his government via social media about the "mistreatment" they have received from the government. They want workers to use the hashtag #underappreciated. The union said it's starting this campaign in honour of teacher and staff appreciation week, which began on Sunday.
The teachers' union said the province has a lack of respect for collective bargaining and is not willing to invest in education.
The union has said teachers want improved classroom conditions included in their contract — something it said the province has refused to do, despite McNeil's promises.
"At this point the teachers have no trust in Premier McNeil and no trust in the government as a whole," said Doucet in an interview with CBC News on Saturday.
She had hoped that the union and government could continue to talk until an agreement was reached that teachers could accept.
With files from Information Morning