It would be helpful if all Nova Scotians and their government had to concern themselves with is education.
In reality, the Liberal government of Premier Stephen McNeil cannot focus on resolving its labour dispute with school teachers, in isolation from other issues. But the government needs to speak and act in a way that conveys to Nova Scotians that is doing its best under trying circumstances.
McNeil and Education Minister Karen Casey utter before most people ask them that they put more than $60 million in extra funding into education after it formed government in 2013. If they allotted that much more to address teachers’ concerns beyond wages, we would not have witnessed work-to-rule in schools over the past week or so. They would be treading the common ground that has eluded both sides of this impasse.
On the one hand, the government is not doing enough. Successive governments have not allotted the funding required for special education. The Chignecto-Central Regional School Board, for example, has found ways to budget thousands of dollars more for many years of special education than successive governments gave the board to spend on that one envelope.
On the other hand, provincial governments do not receive federal funding for education in schools in a way that it does for health care. Again, if Nova Scotia had spending for drugs lifted off its plate by a federal government bold enough to achieve a long-standing goal and establish a national pharmacare program, that’s a saving that could be passed on elsewhere.
That’s not how it is. Besides, this government has preached a fiscal rectitude since being elected. It has stood for no wage increases for members of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union and other unions poised to wage a battle similar to teachers.
When teachers led their recent protest in New Glasgow, one could see the members of the Nova Scotia Government Employees Union (NSGEU) and Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) marching with them.
Protests by teachers and students and others in support of them have been relatively respectful. But resolution of the teachers’ dispute will trigger contract negotiations with other union groups that could become more volatile.
The government risks being seen as waffling on no-wage increases. Its credibility is at stake.
There is a third way for the government to go in the teachers contract file. It can just find the money. Governments find it for other things. As previously stated, the impasse with teachers never should have lasted this long. The government frittered away time and political capital over this.
It now appears that work-to-rule will last until the holiday break, which will be either a recess or a time for serious discussions about the future of education in Nova Scotia.
That’s the deal.