Premier no friend of organized labour

Mr. Premier – we wanted to be part of the solution.

I watched Premier McNeil on T.V. announcing his departure and again offering a few statements on how the union leaders in N.S. need to act differently and be part of the solution. Most of these statements were, however, lacking any productive details. Details like, union leaders have a legal responsibility to look after their members. Unions have a legal obligation to bargain on their members’ behalf. He knows full well that our unions have wanted to work with them, but to no avail. The good Premier has been a one-person show, who dictated his terms, and when those were not acceptable, legislated his way to get what he wanted.

Since he came to the Premier’s office, he has imposed more anti-worker legislated pieces than any other government in N.S. history to get his way. He was the boss, and he took matters into his own hands; his way or the highway kind of Premier. Since 2013, he has attacked workers’ rights. Rights enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. They were not elected on a mandate to attack the labour movement or circumvent the collective bargaining process. The Premier chose to legislate rather than engage in the legal processes of collective bargaining to achieve positive change. The Premier liked to portray unions and union leaders as greedy – painting unions as obstacles, only concerned for themselves and leaders who oppose everything. He is a man who justifies in his head what he sees as being right, and in the case of collective bargaining, he went as far as to violate the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

They said they were, and would be, the most transparent and accountable government we had ever seen. He promised to open the electricity market and break Nova Scotia Power’s monopoly. His plan to amalgamate nine regional health authorities into the Nova Scotia Health Authority, and to put some union members into different unions, didn’t work. That idea took away local autonomy and had little to no savings for tax-payers. Then, they moved to eliminate local school boards three years later. Both moves gave the government more control – control was his end game. Handing over the section of the Trans-Canada highway to a private developer will no doubt prove to be another costly mistake.

He has been a premier who would rather have surpluses, no matter the cost. It was through cuts in budgets for health care, education, long term care, and other departments that created surpluses. Funding to women’s groups was also cut. He froze public sector wages for two years and stymied the long service award. The lack of treating workers with respect, not just at the bargaining table but elsewhere, seemed to be a badge of pride. His statements of being openly accountable and transparent have been far from the truth of how things have happened under his leadership.

There is one sad reality in his legacy, and that’s poverty. Child and family poverty in our province has been on the climb, and he and others sat by and watched it get worse while thousands of Nova Scotian children went, and continue to go hungry. But don’t worry, the budget was balanced. Although, corporations saw tax cuts – in February 2020, those tax cuts meant some $80 million less in revenue, while children suffer in poverty.

The long-term care and health care systems were broken well before the COVID pandemic, and he would not, and still has not, admitted it was a crisis.

The tragedy at Northwood: the government knew it was a problem and had refused requests for more funding. He contends that we do not need a full enquiry, and that a review is good enough. Additionally, we still have a doctor shortage, and privatization is merely lining the pockets of corporate friends with taxpayers’ dollars.

Now he is out the door, so to speak, and taxpayers need to ask, who will be left to pay all the legal wrangling when there was no need to impose heavy-handed tactics on the collective bargaining process? We have a legal right to collective bargaining, and we need to exercise that right. If he, as the boss, really wanted that harmonious labour relations climate, he could have had it. He made the choices, not the unions. Let’s be clear; union members did not create the fiscal mess. We were always ready and willing to work with them. Now he wants to make it seem like the unions were not willing players, without him bearing any responsibility. Most would agree that he was a one-person show. That’s what it was as he removed Minister after Minister from speaking for or on their portfolios. Health Minister Leo Glavine, Churchill, MacLellan and the others – all of them kept away with the Premier taking the reins more often than not. The next Liberal leader is guaranteed to be a fall guy – left taking on the wrongdoings and mistakes of McNeil’s legacy.

Whomever that is and to the other parties, let us be clear: we are here to work with you. That needs to happen in an open and accountable way that is reasonable, balanced and proactive. I am not sure what happened to Premier McNeil’s sentiment in March, as COVID took hold, when he said “we are all in this together”. To throw union leaders and their members under the bus now is disingenuous. Doing the same old things and expecting a different result – well, we know how the story ends. We have been watching that story for a while as things get worse year after year for most of us, while the wealthy continue to bilk millions in tax schemas and offshore tax havens. It’s time for everyone to pay their fair share.

Danny Cavanagh

President, Nova Scotia Federation of Labour