1,565 QP Qs by the NSLP and NSPC

Two distinct strategies suggest themselves in a review of the one thousand five-hundred and sixty-five questions asked by the Liberals and Conservatives in 2012.

The Liberals used a spray-paint or roller technique to try to colour the government on broad topics, while the Conservatives used a smaller brush to give detailed work to delicate issues.

Credit must be given to the Conservatives for getting stories like Talbot House (50 questions) and the Home for Coloured Children (21 questions) into the press. Spending a lot of time on a few stories can make a difference. But there is risk in this approach as well. Asking no questions on universities, agriculture, doctors, crime rates, or rural roads, but 22 questions on First Contract Arbitration legislation, suggest this focused attack can result in forgetting other core values.

A word of caution: as the Official Opposition, the Liberals ask approximately 60% of the questions. It would be unfair to suggest that because they asked two questions on Immigration in 2012, and the Conservatives did not ask any, that they care about that issue more than the PCs. With 313 more questions, the Liberals could hit more targets.

For the NDP, it is worth noting that the topics their supporters seem most interested in – universal health care, climate change, income assistance, root causes of crime, and the minimum wage – received no questions from either the Liberals or the Tories.

Digging down into the numbers on health also yields a point of interest. Instead of wait times (9 questions total) and ER closures (15 questions total) dominating the discussion as they did under previous Liberal and PC governments, the number one health issue raised in Question Period in 2012 was the NSGEU and Collective Bargaining (57 questions).

Write to us with your observations at pictoubee@gmail.com

The Question Period Priorities of the Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative Party and Liberal Party.

The Question Period Priorities of the Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative Party and Liberal Party.

A Tale of Two Unions

Man has lost the basic skill of the ape, the ability to scratch its back. Which gave it extraordinary independence, and the liberty to associate for reasons other than the need for mutual back-scratching. – Jean Baudrillard

Nova Scotia has an NDP government. And the NDP have an historic and familial relationship with the labour movement. That’s reality.

While the Tories and Liberals like to blow hard about good labour legislation including First Contract Arbitration, a real important question is how each of the two long-time friends – the NDP and the labour movement – are evolving now that the NDP is the governing party.

In fact, let’s look at First Contract with that question in mind. Labour wanted it. And passing the legislation wasn’t so much “payback,” as it was pay-forward to Labour. It was about the future. In return, Labour would behave responsibly (and strategically) in contract negotiations leading up to the next election. That is what the NDP were trying to “fix” – the divisive, bitter and unstable labour environment under Conservative and Liberal governments of the last 20 years. More specifically, the NDP was  saying “this is the kind of progressive legislation you can expect from an NDP government.” But, to continue to get this kind of progressive action from the NDP, they need to be in power. And for that to happen, Labour needs to evolve beyond short term demands for wage hikes that the province cannot yet afford.

So far, the evidence suggests the NDP has evolved into the kind of pragmatic, responsible government that builds the economy and creates jobs – much like Romanow and Doer did out west. Neither of those successful NDP governments had serious showdowns with Labour. So, what about Labour? Have they evolved? Or are they still treating the government as if an anti-labour party were in power?

Last week, we saw evidence suggesting that one union’s leadership – the NSGEU – has evolved, while another union’s leadership, the NSTU – is acting neither strategically nor responsibly.

The NSGEU  bargained in good faith, did not break the media blackout, and did not strike. They received a good contract that keeps wages in line with cost-of-living increases. Imagine if Jessome and the NSGEU had behaved with the hostility of Alexis Allen of the NSTU? It would have been chaos.

The NSTU isn’t even negotiating a new contract for our teachers yet, and they are already poisoning their own well with their ad assault on the government and their antics as visitors to the legislature of late. It is a shame. Our teachers deserve cool-headed, thoughtful, and responsible labour strategies from their union reps – that’s the way to negotiate with the NDP government.

Congratulations to Local 42 on your new contract. The NSTU should evolve and learn from you.

The FCA Cup Finals – Manitoba vs Nova Scotia

Liberals and Tories traded talking-points back and forth during their fear-mongering debate on First Contract Arbitration. Both parties made particular mention of Manitoba and that province’s FCA legislation.

We would like to point out two things.

First, take a look at the record of workplaces in Manitoba where it was necessary to use First Contract Arbitration legislation (chart from the Economic Policy Institute):

First Contract Arbitration

The sky isn't falling.

The Economic Policy Institute points out what this review means:

The 87.5% multi-year survival rate for the small group of businesses that underwent FCA over the course of eight years during a turbulent business cycle is actually better than the 86.2% one-year survival rate of businesses in Canada between 2005 and 2006, near the peak of the business cycle, when survival rates should be highest.

Secondly, what if Nova Scotia was more like Manitoba in general? What might Nova Scotia look like if it had been governed better over the last 20 years?

The short answer is that it would look better than the Nova Scotia that Premier Dexter inherited on June 2009 in key economic categories:

• Manitoba had Canada’s best-performing provincial economy, 2005-2010
• Manitoba had the lowest unemployment rate in the country, 2005-2010
• Manitoba had Capital investment rates double the national average

Darrell Dexter - First Contract Arbitration

At long last, Nova Scotia catches up to last century's Canadian labour standards.

Instead of inheriting a province with these performance metrics, Premier Dexter and his team inherited a province with the worst economic performance in the country over the last 20 years and a structural deficit of $1.4 Billion.

What many people have missed in this debate is that it’s not simply about unions and labour stability. It’s about economic development in the 21st century. It was almost painful to watch the NDP explain FCA legislation again and again to the opposition parties last week. Having exhausted common sense, statistics and a thorough explanation of how the legislation works, Dexter was left with nothing but to ask that Nova Scotia join the rest of the country with a modern labour law.

Dear Editor

The Herald’s editorial team has come out against First Contract Arbitration. Their journalists will likely remain on the fence.

The Editors claim the legislation is fixing non-existent problems, a wasteful diversion, irresponsible, and possibly reckless. If that were true, why have both Jamie Baillie and Stephen McNeil admitted they would not repeal the law if they formed government?

We don’t expect to change the Editors’ view with this letter, but hope to counter the spin by corporate lobbyists and the back-room boys in the Conservative Party.

• FCA will be used rarely – that doesn’t mean it’s fixing non-existent problems. Some first contracts in Nova Scotia have taken several years to settle. Negotiations should not drag on that long. When something is not right, why count how many people are affected by the problem, instead of just fixing the problem?

• Bill 102 is only a “wasteful diversion” because the opposition have spent all their efforts on this one bill at the expense of all other issues. And they only do that because they are getting media coverage.

• First Contract Arbitration isn’t seen as being “reckless” by everyone. Read the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives’ review of FCA: Facts and Evidence versus Threats and Hyperbole: Dissecting Business’ Case Against First Contract Arbitration

You can also download the CCPA submission to the law amendments committee as a PDF. Why not give equal airtime to the supporters of the bill?

• The FCA process is reasonable:

A. Within two weeks of union certification – before negotiations begin — both parties will be contacted by a conciliator and offered information and training in the area of negotiating a first collective agreement.

B. If negotiations break down, either side can apply for a conciliator, a process that is mandatory for subsequent contract negotiations when the parties cannot resolve their differences.

C. If conciliation fails to broker an agreement, the conciliator will file a report with the Labour Board. At that point, a 14-day cooling off period begins.

The Labour Minister at a socialist library. Proof she hates capitalist booksellers?


D. Then, if there is still no agreement, either side can apply to the Labour Board for arbitration.

E. At this point, the employer and union can jointly select an arbitrator, who will work with the parties for up to 60 days to try and reach an agreement.

F: If the two sides can’t agree on an arbitrator within 60 days, the Labour Board will provide the parties with a contract in three days.

G. Alternately, the Labour Board could tell the two parties to resume negotiations – with or without a conciliator – for another 30 days.

H. If there’s still no agreement after 30 days, the Board will provide them with a one-year contract.

The effect of FCA legislation in Nova Scotia will be the same as in all other provinces – it will mean fewer lockouts and strikes. And labour stability is a good thing.