Spring session at Nova Scotia Legislature opens amid protests
Minor legislation introduced, smaller-than-expected protests held outside
In what is promising to be one of the longest sessions of the Nova Scotia Legislature in recent memory, the spring session at Province House opened with the introduction of only minor legislation inside and smaller-than-expected protests outside.
The anticipated changes to the Education Act were not introduced, as the government and Nova Scotia Teachers Union continue to meet about proposed recommendations in the Glaze Report that would bring sweeping change to the administration of the public education system.
Education Minister Zach Churchill told reporters a date has not yet been set for another meeting between the two sides, but he said he believes some of the union's concerns can be addressed while the government moves forward with its agenda.
Churchill said he's had meaningful meetings with teachers across the province and "their feedback has influenced our thinking."
While some have expressed concern that the proposed education changes are coming before next month's release of a report on inclusion, Churchill said there's no need to wait.
"If we streamline the administrative system, we're going to have a way better chance of successfully implementing our model of inclusion," he said.
'Coming a little late'
Interim Tory leader Karla MacFarlane said she took it as an encouraging sign the government and union will continue to meet.
"This is our opportunity to collectively come together and make this work for the betterment of the students and the teachers," she said. "It's coming a little late, but as long as they take their time and they start this dialogue, I'm endorsing that. I'm happy about that."
The only bill the government introduced Tuesday was for amendments to the Psychologists Act.
Wednesday's sitting will begin with second reading of the NDP's bill that would require meetings of the Nova Scotia Health Authority to be open to the public and the minutes to be made publicly available. Premier Stephen McNeil and Health Minister Randy Delorey both said the government is looking at ways to improve access.
NDP Leader Gary Burrill said there's a much faster path to openness: passing his party's bill.
"If the government is serious about moving forward on this, [Wednesday] is their day."
Outside the House, MLAs were greeted by protesters, as they have with almost every opening during the McNeil Liberals' tenure.
Protesters speak out
About 120 demonstrators were there to draw attention to a wide range of issues, including education, First Nations rights, forestry management, the Northern Pulp mill, environmental racism and health-care concerns.
Sue Wilbur and Helen Anderson, both retired teachers, came to support teachers and protest the Glaze Report.
"The morale in schools have got to be terrible right now and I think it's a poorly timed move," said Wilbur.
Wilbur said she doesn't understand why the province has made it a priority to remove administrators, abolish school boards and set up a college of teachers.
"There are so many other things that need priorities. We need more resources," said Wilbur. "I think they need to listen to what teachers want."
Anderson said she believes some changes are needed in the education system but doesn't believe the province is doing it the right way.
"I do believe you need someone with an educational background to stand up and speak out. There are so many students with so many needs and I don't think that message is being heard," said Anderson.
"The teachers are trying to help students as much as they can but with limited resources, it's difficult."
Hugh Chisholm, who carried a sign that read "Stop Beating our Forest to a Pulp," came to protest clear-cutting.
"I'm a nature lover, I'm an animal lover, I'm a photographer. I like to go out and enjoy what's going on in our province and it's getting harder and harder to find places that are untouched by human hands," said Chisholm.
"The way that our forests are being mismanaged concerns me. If we wait until it's too late, we can't fix the problem."
Chisholm said it seems like lands and forests are run by industry.
"Nova Scotia is supposed to be for Nova Scotians and our forests are being chopped down and shipped away," he said. "We're a small province. We just can't keep shipping away trees for other places."
Stephen MacKenzie, who wore a black tuque with #nopipe embroidered on it, said he travelled from Pictou to protest what he called the fast-tracking of Northern Pulp's proposed effluent pipe.
"No pipe in Northumberland Strait is the only answer," MacKenzie said.
"Impact from the mill itself? The emissions are a daily routine of smog, unbelievable pollution, the clear-cutting, the stripping of our forest, the water they get for pennies."
MacKenzie said the provincial government needs to step in and make Northern Pulp take responsibility.