Education · Nova Scotia · Politics


For the first time ever Nova Scotia Teachers are walking off the job on Friday.  They are only doing it for one day, and in the brief little window they have.  I am so proud of the teachers, and all Nova Scotians who are standing up with them to join in the battle.

I fear, though, that they will lose this battle… the bill will pass, the teachers will be forced to go back to work, consultants and facilitators will receive a good chunk of the $20 million promised for “improved classroom conditions”, and the system will continue to fail Nova Scotia children and youth… and therefore the economy.  The process has to play out, and I can see people hoping for a political hail Mary to achieve victory… but the process is simply that… process… even though there are mechanisms for justice, it would take unprecedented political courage from too many people for it to not pass.  I really hope I end up wrong on that… but the writing appears to be on the wall…

The Government is not backing down on its austerity budgeting rationale.  They say we can’t afford to do everything the teachers want and are asking for without raising taxes, and though they would never admit it, I don’t think Nova Scotia even has the tax base to really fix the education system… it truly needs a complete overhaul (along with the rest of the outdated, irrelevant systems we are having to deal with these days).  People say the system is broken… but it isn’t… it is working exactly how it should be.  This is the “normalcy” Stephen Har… McNeil wants our kids to get back to.

I am , admittedly, starting from a different place than McNeil, and most people in politics… *my* education and experience leads me to believe that the Economy should work for the People… not the other way around.  I am not “anti-capitalist” but I am anti-GDP as the only indicator that can measure the success or failure of an economy, and thus society.  I can remember being in a meeting with one past finance minister in relation to a contract I was hired for, and after making a case for incorporating GPI into provincial budgeting… a sort of social accounting and cost-benefit types of analyses on the outputs of budget lines… I was told,”I know some people think that GPI is a good measurement of success… but it is just a theory after all”  Yes, it is a theory, in the same way GDP as measurement of success is…

But I digress…

So because I  am starting from a people first position, and not an economy first position… I am having a really hard time swallowing the “we can’t afford it line” For me, not being able to afford something either means, I haven’t prioritized it in my own spending or I literally don’t have the money for it.  If I have a bit of money and can ‘afford’ to pay for it, but can’t afford to buy it… these are two very different things.  McNeil says we can’t afford it like we literally don’t have the money for it, but that is obviously not true given how much money we have given to Emera and all the other non-Nova Scotian, multi-national corporations that provide fragmented and inconsistent injections of money back into Nova Scotia.  So it is important to remember that… we do have the money to give the teachers a raise and start *really* upgrading and improving the quality of public education… even if you can swallow the “can’t afford it” rhetoric… it is important to remember what version of affording we are talking about here.

This is about investment priorities.  McNeil thinks that the investment the teachers, students and parents want him to make in education will be too high.  This can only mean that he doesn’t see value in the return on the investment.  But regardless of what your opinion of the best economy is – a socially driven one, or a capital driven one – you cannot deny the statistical facts which prove levels of education in a society predominantly correlate with socio-economic status positively.  And education levels in a society predominantly correlate negatively with things like incarceration rates.  As an indicator of success in our society either way you view the economy… education is way up there.    So how then, could any politician, think that the investment in education would not have any returns for the people or the economy.

I think the truth is that they do understand the return on investment “in theory” but from a practical point of view, and political frame of reference, they know that return won’t come until a long ways down the road… when they aren’t in power to claim it as their victory… they can do that with a balanced budget… and investment into those corporate botox shots that produce jobs in the immediate.  This on top of the personal corruption and pocket lining that we, the people, accept to exist in politics.

That is the real reason why we will never see any government, not the Liberals, not the PC, not the NDP, make amazing, long-term, and expensive investments in the social infrastructure.  They will all tell us that they can’t afford it…

In defense of the politicians, it would be a massive undertaking to be the government which attempted to actually strategically plan for the province beyond their maximum contracts with the people, which exists as the election cycle.  I always find it difficult to accept that the Government doesn’t have a strategic plan for the province in general, only their party’s own governing strategies to think of.  Having worked for a number of organizations, large and small, all of them recognize the importance for having an organizational strategic plan, regardless of the individuals who make up the organization (board members, staff)…   This kind of governance just doesn’t happen in government… which is kind of effed up.

But I digress again…

In terms of the value of teachers, I think that NS Teachers are currently proving their value to the Nova Scotia economy in spades right now… through their clever and persistent outreach and activism they have made a lot of Nova Scotians care about politics  and education again.  They are achieving what government and consultants and facilitators haven’t been able to do… get people engaged!  People are engaging with, not only their politicians, but with the system as well.  Finding out how the intricacies of process, and the system itself, works.  Becoming disillusioned with the myth of representative democracy because they are seeing all the ways that things are spun and churned and manipulated in the halls of power.

The chorus of disgruntled citizens is getting larger and louder.

And even if this battle is lost, it is not the end of the fight.  It is part of a growing resistance to the idea that the “economy” comes first, before people, before the environment, before creative production and before education. We are seeing how party politics without significant electoral and systemic reforms, is a recipe for disaster and a danger to our democracy.  We are horrified as we watch it all disintegrate before our eyes.

But it is times like these when significant impacts can be made, even if the battle is lost and the boot comes down on our face.  Like the return on investment on education is one of those long-haul things, so is disrupting and challenging the political realities we are facing these days as citizens.

The victory will not even come when we vote McNeil out… it will come when we have 90% voter turnout in a geographically and culturally representative Legislature, using a system other than first past the post.

This isn’t a “teacher thing” or a “union thing” or a “Insert-party-here thing” or “personal interests thing” this is a “we the people” thing.

Teachers… Nova Scotia needs you now more than ever.