Nova Scotia

Contentious bill that imposed contract on teachers struck down

The Nova Scotia Supreme Court has struck down the controversial Bill 75. Nova Scotia's school teachers protested the legislation in 2017.

Justice John A. Keith called Bill 75 'vengeful,' 'terribly wrong' and ultimately unconstitutional

Nova Scotia teachers protest Bill 75 outside Province House in Halifax in February 2017. The law was struck down this week. (CBC)

The Nova Scotia Scotia Supreme Court has struck down a controversial piece of legislation that imposed a contract on Nova Scotia's 9,300 public school teachers.

Justice John A. Keith called the law, known as Bill 75, "vengeful," "terribly wrong" and ultimately unconstitutional in a ruling released Tuesday.

In February 2017, the previous Liberal Government under Stephen McNeil passed Bill 75, to bring an end to more than a year of failed contract negotiations between the province and the Nova Scotia Teachers Union (NSTU).

When it was eventually enacted, it stripped the union of its right to strike and imposed a four-year collective agreement along with a three per cent salary increase. Hundreds of teachers protested outside the legislature while it was debated.

The former Liberal government created the legislation to bring an end to more than a year of failed contract negotiations between the province and the Nova Scotia Teachers Union. (Steve Lawrence/CBC)

Lawyers for the province argued Bill 75 was essential because three tentative agreements reached between the NSTU's bargaining team and the province were all voted down by the union's membership — even though each agreement was recommended for approval by the NSTU. It was after the third failed agreement that the McNeil Liberals introduced Bill 75.

"The terms of the collective agreement imposed by Bill 75 were significantly inconsistent with and worse than the third and final tentative agreement that the province said was the byproduct of good faith bargaining," wrote Justice Keith.

"At best," he went on, "Bill 75 was an overzealous but misguided attempt at fiscal responsibility. At worst, Bill 75 was punitive or a vengeful attempt to gain some unrelated, collateral benefit related to ongoing negotiations with other public service unions at the expense of NSTU."

The president of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union Paul Wozney said his union will meet with its legal counsel to discuss any fallout from the ruling. For now, he said the union feels vindicated.

"The imposition of Bill 75 by the McNeil Government facilitated the only province-wide teachers strike in the history of Nova Scotia, and today's ruling justifies the unprecedented actions educators took at the time to defend their collective rights and public education," said Wozney. "Even today, five years later, the impacts of Bill 75 on teacher morale are still being felt. Hopefully this will help provide some additional closure."

Justice Keith said the NSTU is entitled to costs.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Preston Mulligan has been a reporter in the Maritimes for more than 20 years. Along with his reporting gig, he also hosts CBC Radio's Sunday phone-in show, Maritime Connection.

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