Bill 75, legislating a contract on Nova Scotia’s 9,300 public school teachers was passed into law Tuesday afternoon.
All Liberal MLAs voted in favour of the bill, which passed 33 for and 17 against, following a marathon debate that resumed at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday for the third and final reading of the controversial legislation.
The legislation is necessary, according to Premier Stephen McNeil, to have classrooms return to normal by bringing an end to teachers’ work-to-rule.
“We were hoping to get an agreement at the bargaining table, as I’ve said so many times,” McNeil said. “There is no question it (work-to-rule) has had an impact on students … we had to move so this contract would be in place and work-to-rule would end.”
NSTU President Liette Doucet said in a release Tuesday afternoon that the passing of the bill marked 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,” she said.
She went on to say that Premier Stephen McNeil’s government has “betrayed teachers over and over” through the course of the 15-month dispute.
“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.”
On Friday, teachers held the province’s first ever strike, holding a rally that saw thousands of teachers and supporters marching outside Province House to oppose the bill.
According McNeil, the government saved about $34 million because of the one-day strike, money he says will be handed out as grants for students across the province.
Despite efforts by the opposition to reset the clock on the legislation, Bill 75 is expected to be proclaimed as law once debate wraps up either Tuesday afternoon or evening.
Teachers ‘extremely upset’ by legislation
According to union president Liette Doucette, teachers are “extremely upset” by the legislated contract.
“They hope that the citizens of this province realize that we have a broken system and that something needs to be done and pressure needs to remain on the government to make those changes,” Doucet said.
Doucet said once the law has been passed, the union won’t force teachers to do activities outside their contract, like coaching outside school hours. Those are things, however, which Doucet says teachers love do to.
“If teachers make decisions not to do those things – those will be very hard decisions for our teachers.”
The teachers union has vowed to launch a Supreme Court challenge against Bill 75, which Progressive Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie has asked if the government is setting aside funds for.
“By his reckless actions, the premier has committed the taxpayers of Nova Scotia to years of legal challenges and millions of dollars in legal costs,” Baillie said.
NDP amendment accepted
During the debate early Tuesday morning, the McNeil government accepted an amendment proposed by the NDP, allowing an arbitrator to intervene should members of the Council to Improve Classroom Conditions find themselves at an impasse. That consideration was included in the third tentative agreement voted down by Nova Scotia Teachers Union membership.
McNeil said in a release after the bill was passed that the government was still committed to the council.
In an interview, NDP Leader Gary Burrill said his party supported the “minor improvement” in what he described as an otherwise terrible bill.
Burrill was asked whether there was any way forward after the legislation is passed given the mistrust between the sides.
“I think we can straighten it out with the new broom that we’ll have in an election,” he said. “I don’t see any other way forward.”
No other amendments are expected to be made to the bill.
Teachers will continue protesting the legislation until the final hour, the union says, and another rally outside Province House is planned to get underway at 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, after school wraps up for the day.
— With files from The Canadian Press.