Subdued debate inside Province House early Friday morning was counterbalanced by noisy protesters outside as public school teachers began their first strike in Nova Scotia history.
MLAs have been in the legislature almost around the clock this week debating Bill 75, which will impose a contract on teachers. The legislation follows three rejected tentative agreements by union members in the last 15 months.
Premier Stephen McNeil has said the bill is about ending work-to-rule job action. But the theme that's emerged through the week at Province House is teachers are frustrated and have lost patience with government.
A chance to be heard
Teachers union president Liette Doucet said the purpose of the one-day strike is for government to hear from teachers. A rally was scheduled today from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. at Province House as debate on the bill wraps up for the week.
Doucet confirmed teachers would be back to work on Tuesday, after the long weekend.
During 15 hours of presentations at the law amendments committee since Wednesday, teacher after teacher talked about the unmanageable demands in the classroom and said more resources are needed to help students with increasingly challenging needs.
Despite long hours for the committee, hundreds of people who wanted to appear did not get the chance. And while both government and opposition MLAs proposed ways to accommodate more people, in the end no agreement could be reached, which gave way to finger pointing on both sides.
'We want to hear from them'
Premier Stephen McNeil said late Thursday night the teachers' concerns are coming through loud and clear. It's why the legislation includes a workplace conditions committee, which would include classroom teachers, and a committee to review inclusion, he said.
The bill is structured to allow teachers to talk to government directly in order to fix things, said McNeil.
"This [frustration by teachers] has been decades in the making and we're looking to hear from them so we can respond and make those investments."
The premier said his government is prepared to do what is required to address teachers' concerns.
"We're giving teachers a direct access in," he said. "We want to hear from them."
Time for action
But many teachers who presented at law amendments said the measures in the bill fall short of what's needed and won't have immediate impact.
"I beg you, please, no more commission, no more groups," said Basinview Drive Community School principal Ken Marchand during law amendments on Thursday.
"Take that away. We need to make change now."
Doucet would not rule out extending the strike to Tuesday.
One consequence of the strike is its potential effect on long-term substitute teachers, whose pay could sharply decline if their consecutive service is affected.
A union request that the province accommodate those teachers was not accepted as of late Thursday night.
Bill 75 is expected to pass some time Tuesday.