Tensions between Nova Scotia premier, teachers union over alleged program cuts
THE CANADIAN PRESS
Published Thursday, May 16, 2019 5:15PM ADT
Last Updated Thursday, May 16, 2019 10:15PM ADT
HALIFAX -- The relationship between Nova Scotia's governing Liberals and the province's teachers union is once again looking sour after the premier accused the union's president of "misrepresenting the facts" about cuts to programs.
Stephen McNeil, fresh from a trip to Europe and China, criticized the union Thursday for alleging cuts to the so-called "options and opportunities program," a co-op program which provides skills and courses to help students choose a career path and post-secondary education.
Paul Wozney, the president of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union has said there's also cuts to guidance, resource and other specialist programs in schools.
However, both McNeil and Education Minister Zach Churchill say while individual schools may be seeing a drop in resources for the "options and opportunities" program, overall the funding hasn't been reduced in various programs for specialists in schools.
Both argue the union needs to recognize the Liberal government has added millions of dollars to the education budget since it came into power.
McNeil characterizes the union's stance in regards to facts around the provincial budget as "not helpful."
"The leader of the union was absolutely false about accusations he was making about cuts to programs," McNeil said.
As labour talks get underway between the union and the province, NDP leader Gary Burrill said McNeil's angry comments are once again stoking unnecessary conflict with the province's 10,700 teachers.
"The premier has been making this mistake for some years," said Burrill. "When concerns are raised about education in Nova Scotia his default is to take to a defensive posture and to attack teachers."
Burrill said it makes it hard to repair the soured relationship between the government and teachers that's developed in recent years.
The Liberals introduced major reforms to the school system last spring, eliminating all school boards and removing senior supervisory staff from the union.
This prompted the union to vote in favour of illegal job action, though it decided against the move after a series of last-minute talks.
The changes brought in by McNeil's government also followed labour tensions in 2017 which was settled by legislation that set wages and working conditions.
Paul Wozney, the president of the union, sent McNeil an open letter Thursday saying, "I appreciate that you may have been out of the country in recent weeks and may not be aware of the current situation."
He said he is hearing directly from teachers and specialists about cuts to a variety of positions at individual schools across the province.
"In particular, I've heard first-hand about cuts to early literacy support positions ... along with reductions to guidance counselling and resource teaching positions as well as overall funding and staffing allocations for options and opportunities programs," he wrote.
There's also concern from the Nova Scotia Teachers Union about government's decision to bring in two Ontario professors to evaluate the implementation of inclusive education in the province.
“We've got two highly paid Ontario folks coming in, to kind of tell us what we're doing and really ignoring the people on the ground in Nova Scotia who are in a position to evaluate what's happening,” Wozney said.
Government says the decision comes down to money.
“The union is looking for an institute on inclusive education to do this oversight,” said Nova Scotia Education Minister Zach Churchill. “The cost of that, we've estimated would be close to a million dollars. That's a year. This option is much cheaper.”
With files from CTV Atlantic's Natasha Pace.