Nova Scotia·Analysis

How the Liberals will likely impose a contract on teachers this week

MLAs are returning to Province House this week to debate legislation to bring in a new contract for teachers. Here's how the week will likely play out.

Government's bill to bring in a new contract for teachers will take all week, if not longer

The legislation that the Liberals will be imposing will end work-to-rule because with a contract in place, teachers are prohibited from job action. (Jean Laroche/CBC)

It's déjà vu all over again at Province House.

On Monday, the Liberals will introduce legislation to end the contract dispute between their government and the Nova Scotia Teachers Union, which has stretched on for more than a year and seen teachers vote down three successive contract offers their own union recommended.

The legislation will end work-to-rule because with a contract in place, teachers are prohibited from job action.

Premier Stephen McNeil announced Saturday evening he was recalling the legislature to address the contract impasse with the teachers union. (CBC)

Premier Stephen McNeil said in a news release Saturday the two sides were at a clear impasse, job action had gone on for too long and was causing harm to too many people. It's time to get back to the normal routine for students, he said.

The union countered with a news release of its own, with president Liette Doucet saying the move displayed contempt for collective bargaining, further undermined trust between the two sides and would not fix the issues teachers say have broken the system.

Large groups of teachers and supporters have rallied outside Province House in the past and that's likely to happen again this week. A demonstration is planned for 7:30 p.m. Monday, although a looming blizzard could blow those plans away.

Nova Scotia Teachers Union president Liette Doucet says legislating a contract won't fix what's broken with the education system. (CBC)

There are questions that remain, including what this means for the court action by universities trying to get their education students back into classrooms and whether the union, as a final protest, launches a full-blown strike until the bill is passed. The latter would seem unlikely, but the union executive will meet Monday and this could be a topic of discussion.

How will this week play out?

In the meantime, here's what we can expect to happen this week:

Monday, 8 p.m.

A minister with the government, likely Education Minister Karen Casey but possibly Labour Minister Kelly Regan or someone else, will stand in the House and introduce the bill for first reading.

At that point we will know the contents of the bill — whether it's the most recent contract teachers voted down, a previous bill the government was going to introduce in December before reversing course or something else.

Because there's no debate with first reading, there won't be much else happening at the House until Tuesday.

Tuesday, 12:01 a.m.

The minute the calendar rolls into the next day, second reading of the bill can happen and that will trigger the first round of debate. This is where opposition MLAs will do what they can — each is permitted to speak for up to an hour — to delay the bill from moving to the next stage. It's unlikely, but not impossible, that second reading will stretch beyond Tuesday.

Wednesday

When second reading is complete, a bill moves to the law amendments committee, where, in a process unique to Nova Scotia, any citizen who wants to and can get to Province House can address MLAs with their thoughts on a piece of legislation (people can also submit written statements). Typically, presenters get between five and 10 minutes to address the committee.

If it didn't start late Tuesday night, the committee will start today.

Depending on the level of interest, the committee can go beyond one day, but for a bill to reach the next step, the committee must report back to the House before Thursday.

Thursday

If the law amendments committee was able to report back on Wednesday, the process moves to committee of the whole and another round of debate.

But if the committee wasn't able to get back in time, Thursday becomes a burned day for the government.

Friday

If committee of the whole didn't happen Thursday, it would happen today. If it did, the bill moves to third and final reading and then goes to a vote.

The Liberals have a majority in the House, so barring a mass exodus of votes from the government side, teachers will most likely have a new contract — and work-to-rule will end — on this day.

But if the Law Amendments committee wasn't able to report back to the House on Wednesday, everything is pushed forward a day, meaning third reading wouldn't happen until next week. It's possible, but unlikely.

About the Author

Michael Gorman is a reporter in Nova Scotia whose coverage areas include Province House, rural communities, and health care. Contact him with story ideas at michael.gorman@cbc.ca

now