I had a column all ready to submit tonight for the publishing deadline, but then today happened. I am sitting on my couch with my jaw hanging open.
It’s no secret that I am in favour of a complete overhaul of the current, failing education system. It is also no secret that I give Stephen McNeil’s Liberal government a hearty thumbs down in how they have treated teachers, students, parents, and interested constituents. Unbelievably, the affront to the public by the government over the past few days has gone far beyond the issue of a labour contract.
I wish you could have seen the look on my face as I watched video of the legislature all week. With the amount of time I spend watching national and international news programs, I never thought I’d see my first complete obliteration of democracy on Nova Scotia Legislature TV.
I have watched legislative proceedings before, so I am familiar with the posturing and procedure that goes on when members are conducting business of the House. Even with that knowledge, I was unprepared for the display of theatrics by the Liberals in how they defended their position under scrutiny by an incredulous Opposition. The Premier’s default answer to every question posed to him (a version of “we have negotiated three tentative agreements with two different executives”) was repeated ad nauseam. And I do mean ad nauseam – I’d be willing to bet he said it 50 times over the past 48 hours. They even unsuccessfully tried to fast-track the bill (I’m looking at you, Michel Samson) to prevent the teachers from going through with a one-day strike announced for last Friday.
Perhaps the most disheartening, shocking circumstances have surrounded the Law Amendments Committee, where members of the public are able to speak to a panel of MLAs about a tabled bill. Not only did the government try to prevent this step from taking place, after finding out that hundreds and hundreds of people had signed up to speak, they also tried to split the committee into two separate committees in order to fast track this step of the process. While that motion was defeated and the original committee procedure was maintained, the Liberals continued their democratic siege by not only limiting the number of speakers allowed to present, but by mismanaging the scheduling of the process so as to deny literally hundreds of Nova Scotians, some of whom travelled great distances in bad weather for their opportunity, their right to speak before the committee to voice their opposition to the pending legislation.
I watched. Liberal MLAs filed in and out of the Law Amendments Committee all day, and I witnessed some of the most ignorant behaviour I have ever seen from adults. Teachers speaking to the panel about their concerns were met with inattentive, dismissive behavior, MLAs checking their phones and chatting amongst themselves, and even, in some cases (I’m looking at you, Randy Delorey), responses in a tone ignorant enough to border on offensive. It was all very unsettling to watch.
To add insult to injury, despite having heard impassioned, emotional pleas from teachers who presented, the government unanimously agreed to advance the bill without a single amendment.
By the time you read this, I’m sure much more will have happened with respect to this labour dispute. As I type this, there are hundreds of people actively protesting outside Province House, having made it to the city in bad weather, to stand outside in freezing temperatures at almost midnight to voice their opposition to the passage of Bill 75 and the current state of our education system. Will that change anything? Likely not, and I expect the bill will have passed by the time this is published.
But know these three things.
First, our local Liberal representatives, Mr. Samson and Mr. Delorey, should be giving a big shout-out to the weather gods who made it so that my husband’s meeting in the city was cancelled and I ended up being unable to speak at the Law Amendments committee, like I was supposed to. I would not have been kind.
Secondly, and in that same vein, I truly hope voters in the quad counties remember the actions of sitting MLAs once election time rolls around. It’s easy to tow the party line, but it’s not as easy to win back the confidence of people you deliberately misrepresented.
And last, in 37 years, I have not seen the kind of uprising I have seen since the government decided to take action against the province’s teachers, and I strongly suspect even the passing of Bill 75 will do little to silence a very passionate, very vocal, very determined resistance.