Liberals polling about banning strikes?

Stephen-McNeil-LiberalNova Scotia’s Liberals have a history of flashing left and turning right. An opinion poll run by Gandolf Group suggests a few paths Stephen McNeil would drive down if given the chance.

The following is a list of possible policies and initiatives that a provincial government could undertake in Nova Scotia. Please tell us whether you would strongly support, somewhat support, somewhat oppose or strongly oppose each.

  • Breaking Nova Scotia Power’s monopoly.
  • Banning healthcare strikes.
  • Accelerating development of Nova Scotia’s natural gas deposits for export.

The first potential Liberal policy seems to be more of a commercial than an energy policy. The latter policy option seems to be testing the waters for a fracking boom should the Liberals ever get elected to government. It is the middle option that Nova Scotians should be concerned about the most.

The last time the Liberals were in power saw the worst period of labour unrest in Nova Scotia’s recent history.

  • Angry nurses suggested wildcat strikes after the Liberal government refused to give the chief negotiator a mandate to resume talks.
  • Nova Scotia’s 60,000 public-sector workers said they’d walk off the job if the Liberal government didn’t restore collective bargaining.
  • Nova Scotia’s teachers agreed to support the general strike over a 3% rollback in wages and benefits by the Liberals and a three-year salary freeze.
  • All police forces in the province outside of Halifax signed on to take part in a wide-scale walkout against the Liberal government.

“Collective bargaining has not been abolished,” Liberal Human Resources Minister Eleanor Norrie said in the legislature at the time. “Collective bargaining has been suspended.”

Nurses, public sector workers, teachers and cops would do well to remember those savage days in Nova Scotia. The Liberals flash left, but turn right, causing quite the spectacular crash.

Solidarity Forever

Hiring 45 new elementary school teachers and capping class sizes for the youngest children at 25 – the lowest in a generation – brought the NDP praise from parents.  And good press.

One thing overlooked was the apparent change in attitude by the Nova Scotia Teachers’ Union. The union recently voted for a new president, Shelley Morse, and seems to have a new tone, at least so far.  Instead of the constant criticism and caustic commentary of former president Alexis Allen, Morse’s early tone suggests the NSTU is at long last behaving like a more modern union.

Ramona Jennex: I talked to parents, teachers, and met with the new teachers’ union president. Together we were able to identify where support was needed.

Shelley Moore: We are pleased that Minister Jennex has listened to teachers and parents about the concerns with class-size caps in the lower elementary grades.

It is a quantum leap for the NSTU.

Under Allen, the union was unwilling to even try to find anything resembling a reasonable dialogue with government.

  • When the Education Department announced high school students could receive a course credit by taking part in 4 H or cadets, Allen called the move “exclusionary and elitist.”
  • When the NDP announced they would be addressing poor math scores by adopting the country’s strongest curriculum – from Alberta – Allen automatically dismissed the move.
  • When Education Minister Ramona Jennex announced the NDP would examine teachers’ academic backgrounds to ensure they are teaching their strengths, Allen said she was not aware of a widespread mismatch, despite plenty of evidence to the contrary.

Under Alexis Allen, the NSTU acted neither strategically nor responsibly – to the detriment of NSTU members and students. 

We hope that has changed.

Teachers (and students) deserve cool-headed, thoughtful, and responsible leadership from the province’s teacher union leaders. The NSTU has a great opportunity to to show that it has matured, in advance of contract negotiations with the province. It should keep in mind that the NDP is the only party that supports collective bargaining. The opposition does not.

Wouldn’t they rather negotiate in good faith with their allies instead of going up against a government that would strip labour of hard-earned rights? Time will tell.

Dear Editor

The editors of The Chronicle Herald calls this past legislative session as it sees it, giving good marks to the NDP, saying:

Graham Steele has the deficit falling ahead of the four-year plan. He’s kept a lid on spending, with some leeway where needed, like home and nursing care, emergency centres, mental health and drug coverage. There’s enough progress to cut small business taxes next year. To cement the idea of more to come, the NDP legislated a two-stage rollback, in 2014 and 2015, of the unpopular hike in the HST.

The Herald editors understand the simple cost-benefit equation of the $25 billion ship-building contract. They also value the investments in forestry, investments that support an essential industry in rural Nova Scotia and save workers’ jobs. We agree. Where we disagree is on the Herald’s notion that health care workers don’t have the right to negotiate.

The problem with the argument is that making strikes illegal doesn’t get rid of strikes. Indeed, it often leads to wild-catting, e.g Alberta (four times recently). When you strip workers of their rights, negotiations become impossible and strikes, illegal or not, happen anyway. As seen recently in Saskatchewan, legislating away strikes simply leads to expensive court battles where the government loses (the SK court struck down essential services legislation, saying that while the right to strike can be restricted, the legislation effectively took away employees’ right to strike, against their constitutional right).

It’s ironic, of course, to point out that such a scenario (where “tough” governments make strikes “illegal,” but they occur anyway) is pretty much the worst possible one for patients. No preparation. No planning. No contingencies. Total chaos. 

The solution? Bargain in good faith. Negotiate.

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.