Though many were shocked and saddened to learn that Stephen McNeil’s days as premier are numbered, that wasn’t the case for those who represent Nova Scotia public sector workers.
Disputes with teachers and health-care workers, as well as the film and forestry industries will all play a role in defining McNeil’s time as premier.
He pushed through essential services legislation on health-care workers, limiting their ability to strike, and implemented back-to-work legislation on teachers.
“When it comes to labour, mutual respect, he’s failed miserably,” said CUPE Nova Scotia President Nan McFadgen.
“In fact, if anything, he’s made that relationship the worst it’s been in its history.”
McFadgen says even though she feels McNeil treated unions “unfairly and unkindly,” his time as premier wasn’t always contentious.
“I love the organ donation legislation, so I do think that he’s done good work and I have a respect for that,” she said. “But he treated (unions) like garbage and he grossly underfunded long-term care.”
Protests outside of the legislature were a common sight during McNeil’s seven-year reign as premier.
Paul Wozney, president of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union, says that wouldn’t have happened in the collective bargaining process was followed properly.
“Stephen McNeil singled teachers out for special treatment, treated them like a problem that he needed to fix,” said Wozney. “He’s a premier who refused to collaborate, he preferred to legislate.”
That’s also a sentiment shared by the Nova Scotia Federation of Labour, who says even though the premier was able to balance the budget year in and year out, it had a direct impact on the public sector.
“Every time you try to be a deficit slayer, people lost services,” said Danny Cavanagh, president of the Nova Scotia Federation of Labour. “We have health care that’s in a mess, we have long-term care that’s in a mess.
“The citizens of this province want to see people working together. We’ve tried very hard to work with the government on a number of fronts, only to been met with that legislative hammer.”
In a statement to Global News, Nova Scotia General Employees Union President Jason MacLean said McNeil spent most of his seven years in office “attacking the rights of workers.”
“I sincerely hope that the Liberal Party of Nova Scotia will take this opportunity to alter their course and elect someone with more progressive views, and someone who is interested in working collaboratively with others,” MacLean stated.
On Thursday, McNeil said the decision he made was the result of the information he had available at the time.
“Would I have liked it to have been easier? Of course,” McNeil said. “Would I have liked to have got to the right outcome that I thought was right for Nova Scotians, without all of the protests? Of course.”
It’s still unclear exactly who will vie for McNeil’s job. The unions say whomever it is, they need to put a priority in the collective bargaining process and put workers first.
Wozney would like to see a fresh face before the next election.
“No one in the Liberal caucus has been a champion for teachers,” said Wozney. “It’s going to be hard for teachers to take anybody at face value that comes out of that caucus as somebody’s who’s really going to stand up for them.”