Sep 182013

opinion_voice1.jpgSolidarity Halifax Student Caucus member Omri Haiven comments on student interests in the Nova Scotia provincial elections.

Originally published in the Dalhousie Gazette on September 13, 2013.

Students in this province face crippling debt, requiring them to spend years of their lives working to pay it off—and that’s the good news.

The bad news is that, given the current rate of youth unemployment in this province (a whopping 18 per cent), we may not even have the opportunity to work a job we hate in order to pay down our enormous debt.

No wonder we leave this province in droves after finishing our degrees. Whether you were born here or came here to get as far away from your parents as possible; whether you’ve fallen in love with this province or can’t wait to get out, the one thing we all have in common is that we usually end up in one of three categories. We’re either thinking about moving away, going to move away or have moved away — usually in that order.

Yet, in the face of these seemingly insurmountable barriers, our provincial government has chosen to give us nothing more than a tax credit. Which begs the question: does this government honestly think that young people will be making enough money to be paying taxes in the first place?

The provincial government has recently called an election. While the Nova Scotia NDP has done little to help students pay for their higher education, the other two major parties, the Progressive Conservatives and the Liberals, have track records that are just as bad, if not worse. So we might ask: Why should students vote in the coming provincial election? My answer: because we can.

While voting is overrated as a tool for creating democracy, it is still a tool. Voting backed up by social movements and strong organizations committed to social justice? Well, that might make the difference between our tuition continuing to skyrocket and it being lowered.

We cannot wait for the politicians in this province to, in an act of benevolence, relieve us of our debts and eliminate tuition. If good arguments alone swayed governments then we would have had affordable education long ago. For instance, it’s well known that the government would not have to spend new money in order to fund 100 per cent of provincial student assistance as a grant instead of a loan. They could simply transfer existing funds from the above-mentioned graduate retention tax credit into grants. Additionally, if governments were truly committed to supporting higher education they could make it free for every student in this province for around 300 million dollars, or roughly the cost of Halifax’s new convention centre.

Budgets and politics are really just about priorities. Whoever applies the most pressure to government wins at the end of the day. Halifax’s business interests have a lot of sway in this province, so they get their brand new convention center. Yippee for them. However, can you imagine how much pressure 30,000 students could bring to the government if we were united in action against the rising cost of education? Heck, even the population of Dalhousie, 18,000 students, could cause our provincial politicians to clear the wax out of their ears in a hurry.

See also: Low cost, or even free, university tuition is an attainable goal

Note: Articles published by Solidarity Halifax members do not necessarily reflect positions held by the organization.

Sep 172013

As part of NSPIRG’s Rad Frosh 2013 series, Barristas Rise Up and the Canadian Federation of Students – Nova Scotia collaborated to present “Study. Work. Organize.” – a panel exploring the particular problems facing students and young workers in Nova Scotia and creative strategies and tactics for fighting back. The panel was moderated by Sébastien Labelle, Organizer for the Service Employees International Union, Local 2 and member of Solidarity Halifax.Panel Photo

Part 1: David Etherington, Maritimes Organizer for the Canadian Federation of Students.


Part 2: Shelby Kennedy, Baristas Rise Up


Part 3, Shay Enxuga, Baristas Rise Up


Note: Statements made by Solidarity Halifax members do not necessarily reflect positions held by the organization.

Sep 162013

Produced by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives – Nova Scotia. Co-authored by Christine Saulnier, Director of CCPA-NS, Kyle Buott, Secretary-Treasurer of the NS Federation of Labour and Judy Haiven, Professor in the Sobey’s School of Business at Saint Mary’s University. Both Kyle and Judy are members of Solidarity Halifax.

This report critically analyzes the current Nova Scotia government’s record in five policy areas (health care, jobs and the economy, poverty, occupational health & safety, and Nova Scotia Power) over the past four years and makes recommendations for progressive next steps.

The report was funded by the Nova Scotia Federation of Labour based on issues identified by workers and their families as priorities for the next provincial election.


Note: Articles and reports published by Solidarity Halifax members do not necessarily reflect positions held by the organization.

Sep 142013

opinion_voice1.jpgSolidarity Halifax Student Caucus member Omri Haiven comments on politicians’ apathy toward affordable education.

Originally published in The Coast’s Voice of the City column on September 12, 2013.

For the price of our new convention center, Nova Scotians could be enjoying free education from primary school right up to college and university. It’s that simple, and yet the idea of universal education, much like universal health care before it, has been labeled impossible by the powers that be.

What then, is so radical about not burdening future generations with debt just as they’re starting out in their lives? With students in Nova Scotia graduating with an average debt-load of $35,000, they are on the mark when they call the cost of getting an education a “debt sentence.”Add to this the fact that our province currently has an 18 percent youth unemployment rate, and you have a bleak future staring back at most of our graduates.

A provincial election is now upon us and I can already hear the media and politicians getting ready to cluck their tongues at us students for our lack of “engagement” and for our inability to pay attention to anything besides our iPhones and whatever the hell twerking is.

Take, for example, the first sentence that greets young people when they visit the Elections Nova Scotia webpage for students: “If you’ve ever watched TV shows like Survivor you already have an idea of how voting works. The difference in a Nova Scotian election is that voters are not voting anyone off the island, you’re voting for the person or party you want to represent you in government.”

Well thanks a lot for that Elections Nova Scotia! I wasn’t gonna vote but now that you’ve compared our elections to an outdated source of entertainment that pits self-obsessed celebrity wannabees against one another through increasingly ridiculous challenges, I now understand why this is my civic duty!

Aside from their deeply patronizing attitudes towards students, none of the three major political parties has addressed the issue of higher education in any serious way during the run up to this election, so we must ask: is there a problem with student apathy or is it the politicians who are apathetic to student issues?

Even without calling for universally free post-secondary education, our prospective governments could easily provide 100 percent of the provincial portion of student loans as up front grants, without spending any new money. Students have been calling on governments to make this cost-neutral move for years and yet politicians continue to ignore our demands. Why is this?

Having worked on student issues over several years, I have attended many meetings with government, hosted and been part of numerous events where students expressed their predicament to politicians, and I’ve marched in the streets with thousands of others to call on government to provide adequate funding for post-secondary education. All of these events featured highly engaged students who were committed to changing a situation that they saw as unjust. Barely any of these events saw politicians alter their course of action or even respond to student’s earnest demands.

We have a problem with politician apathy in this province and we can’t trust them to fix it on their own.

Eighty-three percent of Nova Scotians support reducing tuition fees while nearly 60 percent already agree with paying higher taxes to make it happen. This number increases significantly among low-wage earners, 70 percent of whom would be willing to pay higher taxes to make post-secondary education more affordable. Why would low-income earners be willing to pay more taxes to make education affordable? Because tuition fees are already a tax for them—tuition fees are a tax on this province’s most vulnerable populations.

If Nova Scotia is truly committed to calling itself Canada’s University Capital then we have a lot of work to do. It is reprehensible to open up our universities to youth from around the world and from the rest of the country, milk them dry while they’re living here and then leave them to wander off in search of work elsewhere. It is no less heartbreaking to see young people in this province unable to afford the schooling they desire or, having gone into debt, forced out of the province to look for work.

Let’s demand better from our politicians and let’s make sure they stay accountable to their promises. After all, it’s not up to them how we spend our budgets—we are the ones who decide our priorities.

Note: Articles published by Solidarity Halifax members do not necessarily reflect positions held by the organization.


Sep 132013

By Judy Haiven and Larry Haiven, professors in the Department of Management, Sobey School of Business, Saint Mary’s University. Both are members of Solidarity Halifax.

Originally published in the Halifax Media Coop on September 12, 2013.

The recent events surrounding the frosh chant shame and diminish the entire Saint Mary’s University community in an unprecedented way. But no other university can stand by smugly as if such incidents are not also their concern.

It is disturbing that there seems to be a drive by the administration to “carry on” business as usual. On Monday, Sept 9 we were all encouraged to “wear maroon” and some of us have been admonished for not doing so. Other faculty and staff are being cajoled to “get behind” Saint Mary’s.

This is not the only incident in recent years involving degradation of women. In 2005, a “Girls of Saint Mary’s” calendar, part of an official Commerce entrepreneurship exercise, showed SMU women students in sexually provocative poses. In 2012, faculty members complained when the women’s soccer team engaged in an “initiation exercise” wearing skimpy clothing, yelling obscenities at passers-by in the quadrangle at the behest of their male handler. The behaviour of other sports teams, male and female, have elicited complaints. There are other cases of harassment, torment and offensive behavior against women at SMU, much of it off public radar.

In many of these cases, the university authorities have issued condemnations and imposed some corrective action. So why do these incidents continue to happen? This is one of the most important questions the university community needs to answer.

How could the frosh chant have happened? Have we not had non-stop coverage of the Rehtaeh Parsons case (where Parsons, a teenage girl was raped at a party, photos taken and distributed electronically; Parsons later committed suicide?) Has there not been the huge controversy over the video “Blurred Lines” (which glorifies non-consensual sex?) Surely the question of mutual informed consent for sexual activity has been front and centre and impossible to ignore for some time.

Yet the student union president and eighty frosh leaders conducted up to 400 incoming students in a chant that proudly and unambiguously glorifies the rape of young women.

The offensive chants, underage drinking, and lewd games in what amount to hazing rituals, have been part of orientation for years. Alexandria Bennett, a former frosh leader was rebuffed last year by the Student Association when she complained about the “sexual and offensive nature of the cheers and games”. Bennett says one frosh woman eventually left SMU for Mount Saint Vincent. “She was a rape victim herself and it upset her so much she transferred.” As for recommending SMU to others, Bennett says, “I try not to recommend SMU. Unless you’re super dedicated, you just get caught up in this entrapment of sexuality and alcohol.”

Halifax Herald columnist Gail Lethbridge has written, “The now-infamous chant is one of those rare moments when the velvet glove of sexual equality is removed and the iron fist of campus rape culture is revealed.”

Almost as soon as the chant was discovered we heard the phrases “going forward,” “move forward” and “get past” (the incident,) as if it were a gigantic traffic accident at the side of the road, move along, nothing to see here. But moving on is exactly the wrong thing to do. Moving forward is for later.

We, as a community, need to stop, sit in the stew for awhile, think and discuss what is happening. And in this discussion, Saint Mary’s men need to step back, cede to women, stop being the centre of attention, listen and change.

After the chant incident, it is hard to deny the existence of a “rape culture” on campus, a culture that seeks to privilege whiteness, maleness and sports and partying . But, while the reality of consent is missing, the fantasy of consent and rebellion at its necessity is pervasive. As the video “Blurred Lines” says: “I know you want it. I hate them lines.”

The Student Association and the university are lacking a moral compass and we need to find one. We are not talking about the morality of puritanism. We have finally reached the era where adults can freely engage in consensual sexual relations without prohibition, and that’s a good thing. But the morality we need is one of respect, consent and inclusion. If this shameful incident helps get us there, then good for all of us.

Note: Articles published by Solidarity Halifax members do not necessarily reflect positions held by the organization.