Nova Scotia Liberals hand over decision-making in education to private interests | KEVIN CORKILL*
The Nova Scotia Liberal government is using Bill 72, the Education Reform Act, to legalize turning education over to private interests and by doing so destroying existing arrangements including the right of teachers and education workers, organized into unions, to negotiate their wages and conditions of work. The McNeil government is focused on imposing arbitrariness in decision-making and destroying prior arrangements on conditions of employment and the role of community members in public education. The government is pushing these changes without the say or consent of those directly engaged in education or generally from the people it purports to govern. Nova Scotians are persisting in speaking up against this and fighting for their rights and the right of the polity to public education.
Bill 72 was sent to the Law Amendments Committee after second reading on March 2. On March 5, the committee heard interventions from more than 60 people condemning the bill. Teachers, counsellors, parents and union representatives of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union (NSTU), Nova Scotia General and Government Employees Union and the Canadian Union of Public Employees all said No! to the bill. They called on the McNeil Liberals to halt their imposition of this bill to so-call reform the Nova Scotia education system, a bill which they insist ignores the concerns of all those who work in education.
Bill 72 imposes numerous recommendations made by Dr. Avis Glaze, the CEO of Edu-Quest International Inc., a private education company headquartered in Delta, BC. The McNeil Liberals commissioned this private enterprise to deliver a report with instructions to change the structure of the education system in Nova Scotia. To add insult to injury, they have consistently ignored, some say snubbed, the views and proposals of those who work in the Nova Scotia education system.
One of the main proposals accepted in Bill 72 is the removal of principals, vice-principals and administrators from the NSTU, a measure that has nothing to do with improving public education with increased investments. NSTU President Liette Doucet commented, “This is punishment, pure and simple, for the strong role that principals, vice-principals and administrators have played in the NSTU since its inception, up to and including work-to-rule last year and the first province-wide strike of the NSTU.”
Another important measure is the dissolution of the elected school boards and their reorganization as “regional education centres.” At first glance this move looks like posturing, making it appear as if something decisive is being done which is favourable. In fact power over the education system is being centralized in the hands of the provincial cabinet which is an executive power. The move sets precedents in terms of depriving the teachers and workers of the right to determine their working conditions and the right of local community members to be a part of determining the direction of the education system and choosing those whom they would like to lead.
A most obnoxious aspect of the proposed legislation is continuous declarations of imposing the Glaze recommendations, as though they are a gospel from on high. Minister Zach Churchill could not reiterate his veneration enough while introducing the legislation at Province House: “As Dr. Glaze told us to do…. [We will be] achieving goals and objectives Dr. Glaze set out for us…. Dr. Glaze has challenged us to take a hard look … and move forward in a way that is challenging and that is disruptive to the status quo.”
One has to wonder how Dr. Glaze gained so much influence over the government of Nova Scotia. Does she live in Nova Scotia, work in Nova Scotia, work in the education system in Nova Scotia? No, she does not. How is it that this private corporation has bent the ear of the McNeil Liberals so much so that they are implementing the CEO’s “recommendations” without regard for the well-known concerns of the people of Nova Scotia? Good ideas or bad, this government is so set on imposing the private control of education that it has lost all sense of shame. It can no longer be entrusted with the duty to the people to recognize the rights of workers to determine their conditions of work, the right to collective bargaining and the right of Nova Scotians to have a say over the education system of their children and youth.
Those involved in education here want to develop it and make it better. To ignore the need of the polity to lay the claims which they must is unacceptable. The opposition to Bill 72 is significant. It expresses the people’s defiance which will give them the experience they need to go further.
It shows those private interests are determined to enforce their dictate over every conceivable aspect of public policy, including education, through their grip on the state apparatus in order to ensure that every social measure taken by the government will benefit their private gain.
Similarly, the government’s apparent desire for retribution shows is that the private interests that control the state will never reconcile themselves to any concession won by working people if it means even the slightest infringement on what they consider to be their absolute right to plunder the public treasury and ensure the payment of the public debt. When some advance is made, the private interests do not concede that the matter has gone beyond their control. Instead, they resolve to renew the battle to impose their dictate over state policy at the next available opportunity and thereby restore their dominance over state fiscal policy so that every measure serves their maximum benefit.
Criminalizing workers and unions for upholding rights is a pyrrhic victory. So long as the workers find ways to resist, it cannot succeed. No government which rules without the consent of the governed can succeed for long. Shame on the Liberals! Nova Scotians will continue to speak out!
*Kevin Corkill can be reached through firstname.lastname@example.org.
Worker’s Forum, March 8, 2018