It was history in the making: a controversial bill has been passed into law.
Bill 75, the piece of legislation imposing a contract on more than 9,000 teachers across the province, passed its third and final reading in the Nova Scotia Legislature on Tuesday. It did not go quietly: teachers and supporters protested outside Province House on Friday as well as Tuesday and the legislature’s gallery was also filled with noisy protestors.
The new contract imposes a three per cent wage increase over four years and freezes the long-service award for teachers. Anyone hired since July 2015 is no longer eligible for the award.
Premier Stephen McNeil said the vote means the government will immediately move to take action and improve classroom conditions.
“This was challenging – for government, for teachers, and for parents,” said McNeil. “The bill passed and it is time to move beyond the impasse and start working with teachers to improve classroom conditions.”
The Teachers’ Professional Agreement and Classroom Improvement Act creates the Council to Improve Classroom Conditions. This body will give teachers direct input on how $20 million is invested to improve classrooms.
“This is a historic opportunity for our province’s teachers to shape the future of our education system,” said McNeil. “The council ensures classroom teachers can communicate directly with government – they are the experts and this will ensure we hear directly from them.”
The majority of the council’s members are teachers – nine teacher representatives and four representatives appointed by the education department. McNeil said a government amendment added an an arbitrator whose decisions would be binding.
“We have more than twice as many teachers as government reps on the council and an arbitrator can ensure decisions are binding.”
The act also creates a three-person Commission on Inclusive Education. Two experts in the field of inclusive education will be appointed, one by the minister and one by the union. They will appoint an appropriately qualified expert who will guide the commission. Their job will be to engage front-line teachers, parents, and students, and review best practices across Canada.
“The government’s bill contains strict timelines and ensures real action will be taken quickly,” said McNeil.
“The decision to pass this bill and create a new contract for teachers was not a decision we made lightly – but it was necessary,” said McNeil. “We can now focus on working with teachers to strengthen our classrooms – that’s what is in the best interest of our students.”
The teachers’ walkout on Friday has enable government to put an additional $3.4 million into Student Support Grants.
Student Support Grants were created in 2013 to allow school communities to tailor their services and programming to improve student success and create special student experiences. They also address fundraising pressures on families, parents and school communities.
To ensure Nova Scotia students benefit directly, any portion of the $3.4 million that is not spent in the 2016-17 school year will be carried over, in addition to the allotment for the 2017-18 school year.
The grant funds are used for initiatives a school would normally fundraise for, such as class trips, band, student competitions, uniforms for school sports teams or travel costs related to tournaments.
NSTU President Liette Doucet said the passage of Bill 75 marks a dark day for Nova Scotia’s education system.
“This legislation does nothing to improve classroom conditions, it does nothing to provide immediate supports for teachers and students, all it does is take away the right to a fair collective bargaining process for teachers,” said Doucet.
She said the McNeil government has betrayed the trust of teachers over and over again.
“This government’s main focus has been trying to diminish the hard work that teachers do every day. This government is not willing listen, it only wants to dictate, and as a result teachers have no trust in Stephen McNeil. I don’t think there is any way this government can repair the damage it has done with this legislation.”
Nevertheless she said NSTU members will remain focused on better education.
“There is no amount of legislation that can break the resolve of teachers. They are going to keep telling their stories and pushing for better classroom conditions until a government is willing to make needed reforms to improve the learning environment for students.”
Signs like these ones in Stellarton did little to halt the passage of Bill 75. Despite protests otherwise, the McNeil government passed the law on Tuesday. The vote followed party lines, with all Liberal MLAs voting in favour and all opposition MLAs voting against. (Jardine photo)