Nova Scotia

Premier accuses teachers union of spreading misinformation

As Stephen McNeil accuses the union of spreading false information about budget cuts, the teachers union president invited the premier to tour schools with him to get a new perspective.

Teachers union president invites Stephen McNeil to tour province's schools with him

Premier Stephen McNeil says the teachers union is misrepresenting facts about the budget. (CBC)

Premier Stephen McNeil unloaded on the Nova Scotia Teachers Union leadership after what he says have been several weeks of the union spreading misinformation about the government's education budget.

McNeil made the comments Thursday, less than 24 hours after returning from a three-week trade mission. He pointed to recent news releases from the union and opposition parties that accused the government of cutting resources for several student support programs, including early literacy and the options and opportunities program.

"It's not helpful that we have the union going around misrepresenting the facts about the budget," McNeil told reporters following a cabinet meeting in Halifax.

"The leader of the union was completely false in the accusations he was making about cuts to programs — couldn't have been further wrong. I wish he would focus on the No. 1 issue facing a lot of teachers today: their retirement."

Several hours after McNeil spoke to reporters, teachers union president Paul Wozney released a letter inviting the premier to tour schools with him.

Paul Wozney, the president of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union, invited McNeil to tour schools with him. (CBC)

"I believe a fresh, first-hand perspective on recent cuts would give you a better understanding of their impact," Wozney writes in the letter, which was emailed to reporters.

Wozney writes that his "recent advocacy reflects what I am hearing directly from teachers and specialists about cuts to a variety of positions at individual schools across the province."

Defining 'cuts'

Whether cuts are happening essentially depends on one's definition of cuts.

While some schools are seeing reductions in staffing levels, Education Minister Zach Churchill said that's because those numbers are based on enrolment numbers. Churchill said those annual adjustments don't automatically mean there will be fewer services for students in a given school.

"If you're looking at the teacher-to-student ratio, that's improved. If you're looking at the guidance counsellor-to-student ratio, these things are improving."

Churchill said the government has increased the education budget "unlike any government in recent memory," noting it's gone up each year they've been in power since 2013.

The minister said that's also translated into smaller classroom sizes and more student support services and teachers hired. He said the approach from the union "creates unnecessary anxiety for parents and for kids and for professionals on the front lines."

Education Minister Zach Churchill defended the government's record on education, saying the department's budget has increased each year the Liberals have been in power.

McNeil repeated his view that the teachers' pension plan needs to be discussed during contract talks.

Although the two sides have brought in an outside expert to try to address the $1.6-billion shortfall, the premier said that won't prevent it from being discussed at the bargaining table.

"How do I ensure that the men and women who are standing in classrooms in my riding — whether they've got 10 years in, 20 years in, or five years in — can look forward to retirement and to a pension that will be solid? I wish the union would focus on that, instead of misrepresenting our budget."