Dec 112013

Halifax-Dartmouth & District Labour Council president Kyle Buott delivered a speech to the provincial Law Amendments Committee in defense of First Contract Arbitration legislation and against the Liberal government’s attempt to make it inaccessible to workers. Kyle is a member of Solidary Halifax.


What is this bill about?

The Minister of Labour says that this bill is about balance. This bill is not about balance

This bill is about power. It is about taking power from workers and giving it to their bosses.

In this Liberal government’s haste to undo everything the previous NDP government did, you are forsaking the people who need your help the most.

This legislation, First Contract Arbitration, helps provide workers with a light at the end of the tunnel.

After workers have won the debate among their co-workers to form a union.

After workers have endured employer harassment against the formation of their union.

After workers have voted and won recognition of their union.

This legislation means that once a group of workers had endured all of that, they would finally win a contract within a year.

Today, with a stroke of a pen, you will take away that light at the end of the tunnel.

Putting Nova Scotians First?

This Liberal government was elected on a promise to “Put Nova Scotians First”.

During the campaign, you were widely criticized for being vague and unclear on what “putting Nova Scotians First” meant. However in your first acts, we can see very clearly which side this government is on.

In your first piece of legislation about workers rights, you have sided with the bosses. You have sided with the 1% over the needs of the 99%.

Its clear, that when your party said you would put Nova Scotians first, what you meant was not the thousands of working class Nova Scotians who want to form a union and bargain collectively for a fair contract.

What you meant was putting the needs of the ruling class, the rich, the 1%, first.

Instead of progressive, forward-thinking legislation to improve and protect workers’ rights and create jobs, your first piece of legislation is about taking workers rights away.

Your priorities on labour relations are right out of Stephen Harper’s playbook – take away workers rights and pass anti-union legislation.

This bill is morally wrong.

You have an opportunity to set a different tone in labour relations, and not be like the governments of yesterday – red, blue or orange.

This bill should be torn up and withdrawn.

Instead, the government should meet with non-unionized and unionized workers, people on the front lines who make our economy work everyday. Talk to them about their needs and concerns.

The government should look to progressive research and options on Labour Standards and the Trade Union Act that would improve workers rights and make it easier for workers to form a union.

Instead of gutting First Contract Arbitration, the government could:

  • Improve Labour Standards so non-unionized workers rights are protected
  • Eliminate poverty through a $15 minimum wage
  • Make it easier for workers to form unions
  • Improve occupation health and safety rules for everyone

All of these things should have been a bigger priority for this government. That would have meant putting Nova Scotians first, the 99% not the 1%.

Instead you choose to put the 1% first. For shame.

Kill the bill.


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


Dec 092013

Halifax-Dartmouth & District Labour Council president Kyle Buott calls out Liberal changes to first contract arbitration for newly unionized workplaces as an attack against the working class and defends unionization as the way toward a healthy economy. Kyle is a member of Solidary Halifax.

>>Hear Kyle’s interview on CBC Information Morning


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


Dec 042013

Sébastien Labelle, El Jones and Chris Frazer have each issued statements in response to the photo released on Twitter of Liberal MLA Joachim Stroink posing with a person in blackface. Sébastien Labelle is a member of Solidarity Halifax. El Jones, Halifax poet laureate, and Chris Frazer, associate professor of history at StFX, were both guest speakers at Solidarity Halifax’s A Peoples History of Nova Scotia conference. Here are their collected responses.


Tradition is not an excuse. In fact, it should be cause for more scrutiny and critical consideration of social behaviours. The brushing off of the fact that MLA Joachim Stroink celebrated a cultural event that involved a person in blackface because it is tradition equates to the logic that “it’s OK because other people do it, too.”

Because it is tradition does not mean that it’s OK. Rather, it means that the problem is much bigger than the single act of Mr. Stroink posing in a photo with a person in blackface and that the problem includes a widespread acceptance of the practice of blackface and stereotypical depiction of black people without any consideration of the history of a practice rooted in the colonial slave trade.

Acts like these need to be called out, and a tradition of this nature needs to be countered. For that, we can look to the many Dutch people who themselves have been fighting the tradition for years.

Sébastien Labelle
Originally published in The Chronicle Herald.


|I|mmigrants of colour, specifically those of African/Islamic background are frequently told that their traditions are not appropriate in Canada. Quebec is passing laws against the hijab on the premise that Canada is “equal” and hijab is oppressive to women. Material directed towards immigrants urges people from Middle Eastern cultures to use less spices in cooking and to respect Canadian sensibilities about scents as well as “educating” them about how to behave in Canada. Dalhousie used to have a pamphlet directed at international students (and still may) informing them that in Canada we respect women, clearly intended for Islamic men, and so on. So my point is, why is no one urging Dutch immigrants to respect the “multicultural” and “diverse” culture of Canada – even if Zwarte Piet is somehow acceptable in The Netherlands, clearly blackface is offensive in Canada. If it’s ok to tell Africans and Muslims that their cultural traditions need to “modernize” why are Dutch traditions any different? The language of accommodation and integration only goes one way: Black and brown traditions and practices are savage and need to be “updated,” but European traditions are harmless and fun. The history of Zwarte Piet is clearly racist, but even if it were not, blackface is degrading to Afrikan people and should not be tolerated here.

|N|o one would claim ignorance of the symbols of the Holocaust and their impact, yet the imagery and symbols of our genocide are treated as meaningless or as all in fun. If you wouldn’t display a swastika, you shouldn’t wear or endorse blackface – the degraded, buffoonish, cartoon, dehumanized images of Afrikans are the symbols and tools of the genocide of hundreds of thousands of Afrikans, and were used to justify murder, enslavement, brutalization, rape, destruction of Afrikan families, etc. by portraying us as primitive, ignorant, lazy, uncivilized and unhuman. It is illegal in Germany to display the swastika or deny the Holocaust – why is the Holocaust of Africans constantly denied, diminished and dismissed while we are forced constantly to justify ourselves when we object to its imagery?

El Jones


Dear Joachim Stroink, just because you grew up with a “tradition” and did not have to think much about about its racist character and history, does not mean that you can avoid the consequences of embracing and upholding that tradition. You have to make a choice between defending a racist tradition or upholding your duty to defend the right of your constituents to live their lives free of racist traditions and practices. And by the way, that “tradition” is newly-minted. It only appeared in the 19th century, as a cultural product linked to the brutal enslavement of Africans in the sugar plantations of Suriname (then known as Dutch Guyana), and in the genocide and slavery practiced by the Dutch East India Company in Indonesia, then known as Spice Islands. Perhaps you were ignorant of the real history behind “Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet,” but now you know. And you have to make a choice between social justice and racist tradition.

Chris Frazer


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


Dec 032013

This speech was delivered on November 28th, 2013 outside the Nova Scotia Legislative assembly by John Hutton, student representative to the Dalhousie Board of Governors and member of Solidarity Halifax . Students from Dalhousie and around Halifax were present as the first day of the first session of the new government began, presenting a petition calling for restored funding to universities.

John Hutton addressing the crowd with megaphone.

Hello everyone, thanks for coming out in such weather. My name is John Hutton, I’m a 4th year economics and international development student, and a student representative on the Dalhousie Board of Governors. We’re here today because students are struggling and we want a different direction than what’s been taken in the past. This October, Nova Scotians voted for change. We’re here today to welcome the new government, and share what we see as change for the better.

So,with thanks to the minister for being here, I would like to present this petition. It was signed by 1,281 students from Dalhousie, King’ s College and even NSCAD students, and calls for the restoration of funding for the student academic experience. The last four years have been difficult for students with budget cuts and tuition hikes. The previous government said that the cuts would not affect the quality of our education but Dal students know otherwise- our library ran out of money to buy books in October this year and over 400 academic journals were cancelled. As students, we truly hope to see the change Nova Scotians voted for.

As we know, students in Nova Scotia pay among the highest tuition fees in the country and graduate with over $35,000 in debt on average. It hasn’t always been this way, of course. 25 years ago, more than 80% of university funding came from government. Now, NS has the dubious honour of being the only province with less than 50% public funding,and students are stuck picking up the tab. All through the 90’s tuition fees rose at three times the rate of inflation and students fell deeper and deeper into debt. But we’re students, so we fight back.

We organized ourselves to reverse skyrocketing tuition fees. In 2006, we held a province-wide day of action. The Liberals, sitting in the opposition benches then, stepped up and echoed the voice of students in the legislature. At the time, Diana Whalen, who was recently appointed as finance minister and at the time was the party’s eduction critic, said this in May 2006:

“Again this year we’ve seen a white flag of surrender from the minister and an unwillingness by the Cabinet to address the enormously high cost of tuition in this province.”

The students, who collected petition signatures, lobbied committees inthe legislature, and marched in the streets made a difference and the government endorsed a freeze on tuition fees until Nova Scotiareached the national average. Did the Liberals support the freeze? Even better. Diana Whalen said this in June 2006:

“We would certainly like to see a more aggressive reduction in tuition. I think that the government… is obliged to look at a method of coming up with real reductions in tuition and not just waiting for the rest of the world to catch up to us. We really need to look at some way to directly reduce tuition for our students.”

Liberal leader, and now premier Stephen McNeil said this:

“High tuitions and low government funding are resulting in Nova Scotia students leaving our province to pursue their post-secondary education elsewhere. We should be doing everything we can to encourage our young people to learn and work in Nova Scotia.”

So students, with the help of supportive MLAs, won a freeze on tuition fees in the memorandum ofunderstanding signed in 2007.

But the Conservative government of the day had been in power for many years by then and Nova Scotians wanted change. In 2009, for the first time ever, voters put the NDP into power. Students had good reason to be hopeful. The New Democrats had long been supporters of affordable education, having sent their volunteers around the province knocking on doors to petition for a ten percent tuition reduction and ran on it in their 2006 platform. They supported students and helped win the tuition freeze in 2007.

Well, we know how that went.

Rather than reducing tuition fees, they re-heated a policy supported by Harper’s conservatives called the graduate retention tax rebate. The idea is that recent graduates that make enough money to qualify for the tax credit can save some money, which supposedly keeps graduates here. Data doesn’t agree, but boy it looks good on political pamphlets. Students opposed it then, and we still do today. And in 2009 when the NDP moved to implement it, the Liberals were on side with us too. Karen Casey, now the Minister for P-12 eduction, summarized the critique wonderfully:

“A tax credit at the end of a four-year program is meaningless if you haven’t had enough money to get to university to start with.”

And that’s the best thing the NDP did for students.

In 2010, it was time to sign a new memorandum of understanding. The NDP asked bank of Montreal economist Tim O’Neill to write a report advising the government on what to do with education funding. Here’s a question: when you ask a person who profits from student debt to advise you on student debt, what might they say?

Basically what you’d expect. Tim O’Neill told the government that they should slash education funding, remove all regulations on tuition fees, let students take on unlimited debt, and merge NSCAD and King’s with Dal. A far cry from when the NDP were running “”

Students were very opposed to the O’Neill report, and we organized the largest public protest since George Bush came to Halifax. Three thousand students were there on the streets- in the middle of a blizzard. See? Bad weather doesn’t stop us.

The Liberals were critical of the O’Neill report, thankfully. Kelly Regan, who is now the advanced education minister, said to the government:

“Why is it okay to be on the side of students when you are in Opposition and then ignore them when you go into government?”

Fine words.

The NDP was forced to slow their implementation the O’Neill report, rather than immediately, and only “won” (from their perspective, not students or Nova Scotians) a three percent per year tuition hike and a ten percent cut to university funding. They said the funding cuts wouldn’t affect the quality- yet the Dal library ran out of money to buy books this year and students were left wondering how to do their research without access to journals. They said our tuition fees were near the national average, yet students are graduating with over $35,000 in debt on average- as Diana Whalen predicted, the government didn’t make education affordable, they just waited for the rest of Canada to be unaffordable too. They said that it wasn’t affordable to fund affordable, quality eduction. Again, the Liberals were on it in the legislature. Zach Churchill, at the time the advanced education critic and now minister of natural resources, said this to the premier:

“The premier says we didn’t have money to put into it. Well where did they get the $600 million to give to six corporations in this province? They have $600 million for six corporations that laid off 1,300 people, but didn’t have $100 million to invest in our education system, and the province is going to hurt. Universities inject $805.2 million into Nova Scotia’s economy every year. Universities are an economic driver for the province and are responsible annually for about $968 million in gross domestic product, $227 million in tax revenue and $4.39 billion in economic output. Unfortunately this Premier doesn’t care about any of that and chooses to cut education instead. My question to the Premier is, students and universities are wondering why the Premier has endless amounts of cash for corporations but had to cut $100 million out of our universities?”

Which is why students are here today. When Nova Scotians went to the polls in October, they voted for change. They voted against corporate welfare, against tuition hikes, and against university cuts. The government that now sits in power has a record of criticizing policies that make education less affordable. Now, they have a chance to put their money where their mouth is. They can be the change that we want and need. They can make education affordable. They can reduce tuition fees.

So I welcome the new government and wish them well over their mandate. I welcome them to end the graduate retention tax rebate, as students have called for, because its worth enough money to make one hundred percent of Nova Scotia student loans into needs-based grants. I welcome the new government to reduce tuition fees, because high debt loads are bankrupting a generation and forcing young people to leave the province. I welcome the new government to restore the funding recklessly cut from our universities, because education is a right and a powerful economic engine to boot. Welcome to government. We students are here today because it’s your first day on the job, and the symbolism of our presence as the first thing you see entering the legislature for your first session will remind you of the values you campaigned on. I welcome you to never forget what your election platform said: “Education isn’t a line item in a budget, it’s our future.”

The students are here, we want change, and we’re watching. Welcome to government.

Brogan Carruthers hands the petition to the Minister of Advanced Education.

Brogan Carruthers hands the petition to the Minister of Advanced Education.

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