Mar 312014

By James Hutt, provincial co-ordinator of Nova Scotia Citizens’ Health Care Network and a member of Solidarity Halifax. Originally published in The Chronicle Herald.

Marie Brymer is 74 years old and has been waiting for over two years to see a neurosurgeon for an assessment.

In January 2012, Marie suffered a fall in her Guysborough home. The fall caused severe neurological pain, which she describes as a constant jabbing pain.

Since then, she has had five more falls, but still has no word on if and when she will need surgery. While she has been prescribed some medication, she has still lives with the pain — and uncertainty.

Unfortunately, Marie’s case is not unique. Countless others are waiting for treatment, or going without care — if they can’t afford services that are not covered.

In Nova Scotia, over 2,500 people are waiting for beds in long-term care facilities, and home care is drastically underfunded. It’s clear that our loved ones are not getting the care they need.

Our health care system stands at a crossroads. Medicare — our universal public health-care system — was created over 50 years ago. At the time, the federal government played a strong role in establishing and supporting our most cherished social program. The federal government then funded 50 per cent of the cost of shared-cost health care. Over the years it used its oversight to ensure that all provinces provided care that was universal, portable, publicly administered, comprehensive and accessible.

Now 50 years later, we are witnessing the decay of medicare. Federal funding has shrunk to 20 per cent of health care costs, and it will soon begin to fall even lower, leaving the provinces to pick up the tab.

Shortly after coming to power, the federal Conservatives gave up monitoring the performance of provincial and territorial health systems, and stopped enforcing the Canada Health Act — opening the door to increased privatization.

Today, March 31, marks the expiry of the 2004 health accord. The health accord is the deal that sets funding and health-care service delivery agreements between the federal, provincial and territorial governments.

Past accords set valuable benchmarks for progress and created incentives to reduce wait times in specified priority services. For the first few years after the 2004 accord, we saw significant improvements in wait times to priority areas.

The federal Conservative government has unilaterally refused to meet with the premiers to negotiate a new health accord. Without one, there will be no national goals for improvement, or even standards to make sure patients receive the same quality of care in Halifax as the do in Calgary or Vancouver.

It will fragment medicare into 14 very different and unequal systems; access to essential care will depend on where you live.

At the same time, the Conservatives have turned their back on patients and those in need.

They have changed the Interim Federal Health Program so that refugees are no longer eligible for health care. Pregnant mothers, children, and cancer patients, among others, can now be denied treatment.

Fortunately, several provinces have demonstrated that they are not nearly as heartless, and have picked up the tab for providing care to our most vulnerable. The Conservatives have also jettisoned the cost of health care for long-term care beds for veterans, and RCMP health benefits.

Not satisfied with offloading responsibilities and costs to the provinces and territories, the Conservatives are about to start bleeding them dry.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has announced an elimination of an equalizing factor (based on the different values of provincial taxing capacities) from the cash value of the Canada Health Transfer. Federal health cash funding will move to a per capita basis — it will fund health care based on population, instead of need.

Provinces like Alberta, with a large young population, will receive the lion’s share of funding — $1 billion more by 2024. Nova Scotia, with less than a million inhabitants, an older population and high rates of chronic disease, will see a major loss of funding.

The total loss in funding to Nova Scotia will be $902 million over the next decade. Put in perspective, that’s equivalent to 1,319 nursing jobs over 10 years, over 10 per cent of the province’s entire nursing staff.

Perhaps even more important than the loss in funding, the lack of a new health accord undermines the ability to address the serious shortcomings in medicare.

We know we should be prepared now to assist our elders in aging with dignity, yet there is no national strategy to make sure our seniors are getting the care they need.

Furthermore, Canada is the only developed country with universal public health care that does not cover medicines. Our patchwork of work and private insurer programs leaves 24 per cent of Canadians without pharmaceutical coverage.

We know that when people cannot afford drugs, they go without, even to the detriment of their own health and at greater cost to the health-care system. In fact, 10 per cent of Canadians currently do not adhere to their prescriptions because of cost.

Today, thousands across the country are standing up to protect medicare. Forty three communities from coast to coast are taking part in a national day of action to launch a campaign for a new health accord.

Health workers, patients, families and advocates are sounding the alarm that public health care is under attack. Together, we are calling on our premiers to stand up to Harper and to stand up for medicare.

We need a new comprehensive health accord to provide stable and just funding and to expand the scope of public health care. It’s time to demand that the government live up to its responsibilities and meet the needs of all its citizens.


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


Mar 312014

By Solidarity Halifax member Ben Sichel

Last week I gave a webinar presentation called “Aboriginal history is everyone’s history” for Canada’s History, a society that promotes Canadian history education. The goal of the webinar was to highlight the idea that all Canadians, not just Aboriginal people, have the responsibility of teaching and learning about the history of Aboriginal people in Canada.

Here in Nova Scotia, many non-Native students choose to take Mi’kmaq Studies 10 to get their high school Canadian Studies credit. How can non-Indigenous teachers teach this course to these students in a way that is respectful and culturally appropriate?

A transcript of the presentation, edited for easy reading, is available at no need to raise your hand.

You can see a recording of the webinar here.


A residential school in Regina, Saskatchewan, 1908. (from


Ben teaches Spanish and social studies, including Mi’kmaq Studies 10 and African Canadian Studies 11, at Prince Andrew High School in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. He has a Master’s degree focusing on anti-racist education, equity and diversity from Mount Saint Vincent University. He is also the Dartmouth Local representative for the Nova Scotia Teachers Union. A strong advocate for equitable, high-quality, diversified education, Ben believes teacher unions have the power to make a difference in students’ and parents’ lives. Follow him on Twitter: @bsichel

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


Mar 252014

By teacher and Solidarity Halifax member Ben Sichel. Originally published at no need to raise your hand.


Christine Saulnier, director of the Canadian Centre of Policy Alternatives – Nova Scotia, and economist Michael Bradfield unveiled the Nova Scotia Alternative Provincial Budget last Wednesday in Halifax (photo courtesy of Robert Devet, Halifax Media Co-op)

The authors of a couple of reports by right-wing think-tanks have been doing their best to discredit teachers in Nova Scotia this past month.

I’d rather not mention the names of the think-tanks or their authors, so they don’t get any more attention than they already have. If you’re familiar with the political landscape in this province though, you probably know who they are.  (If not, one of them is the first hit when you Google “Nova Scotia think tank.”)

Rather, I want to point you to an alternative report put out last week by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives – Nova Scotia (CCPA-NS). The CCPA-NS report, entitled “A Budget for the 99%,” lays out a vision for Nova Scotia not beholden to the fatalistic logic of austerity, under which our belts are never tight enough and times are always tough.

It’s true that there are problems in public schools. But the P-12 education section of the CCPA-NS document argues that adequate funding for smaller classes, hiring of enough guidance counsellors to deal with increasing incidence of mental health issues in our schools, and targeted equity initiatives are essential steps toward building schools that work for everybody. (Disclaimer: I had a big part in writing this section.)

Here are a few excerpts:

“Education is a public good. A core principle of public education is that a universal, inclusive, equitable school system is vital to our collective well-being. However, public education in North America currently faces deep challenges from a corporate-driven ‘reform’ agenda. […]

“Class caps for grades P-6 were promised by all three major parties in the 2013 provincial election. These caps — 20 students for grades P-2 and 25 for grades 3–6 — are commendable and should be fully implemented immediately. The DoE should also reduce class sizes in the higher grades; it is not just young students who do better with more individual attention and student-teacher contact. Yet in several junior high and high schools across the province it is not unusual for classes to have more than 35 students. […]

“Beyond academic concerns, schools strive to meet the social and emotional needs of all students… Our understanding of mental illness and mental health is more advanced and yet, while we are better equipped to spot and understand the kinds of mental-health challenges our students face, there are seldom sufficient resources on hand to do so. […]

“An integral part of the current public education review must be a commitment to inclusive education. The [Nova Scotia Alternative Provincial Budget] ensures that the Nova Scotia educational system is better able to meet the needs and to support the strengths of all students, including those with disabilities; African Nova Scotian students and Mi’kmaq students, whose communities have faced historical and ongoing discrimination; and students living in poverty.”

You can download the entire document and see an overview of all its sections here. The P-12 education section is on pages 65-69. Click here to read Dr. Larry Haiven’s  closing piece to the budget, “Nova Scotia: We Have Everything We Need to Succeed.


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


Mar 212014

Solidarity Halifax member Larry Haiven wrote the following as the concluding piece to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives’ Nova Scotia Alternative Budget for 2014. Among the budget’s co-authors are Kyle Buott, Larry Haiven, James Hutt and Ben Sichel, all members of Solidarity Halifax.

 Originally published at Behind the Numbers.


Preamble: The concluding piece in this year’s Alternative Provincial Budget for Nova Scotia is written by Larry Haiven, who is Professor of Management, Saint Mary’s University. He has been involved in the alternative budgets for at least a decade. Larry wrote this when the Alternative Budget Working Group expressed dismay over the dominant negative discourse about Nova Scotia from pundits in certain sectors of the province. It was to be a take-off of the idea ‘you’re richer than you think,’ or the Nova Scotia version ‘we suck less than you think’. We had this discussion before the One Nova Scotia Report was released, but now this article serves as a rejoinder.



There are two Nova Scotias.

One is a wonderful place, beloved of the rest of Canada, and the world. A place of economic prosperity and peace of mind.  A place of challenge, happiness and fulfilment.  A place that attracts tens of thousands of  people from outside its borders and to which exiles, like salmon swimming upstream, ache to, and do, return.

The other Nova Scotia? A place one curmudgeon wrote a whole book about entitled Backwater[1]. A place peopled with undeserving poor, justifiably scolded by newspaper pundits, rebuked by Stephen Harper for its “culture of defeatism.”  A place now regularly compared with Greece.  If you are a masochist, just Google “Nova Scotia” and “defeatist” together.

The recently-released One Nova Scotia Report aka Ivany report is a perfect example of this polarity—praising us with one breath, chastising us with another.

Wait a minute. Let’s get a grip, folks!  Even by their own metrics, the detractors have weak arguments.  But first let’s look beyond their metrics.

According to the Canadian Centre for the Study of Living Standards, Nova Scotia ranks highest in Canada in happiness.  That’s saying a lot, in the second happiest country in the world.  But 94.1% of Nova Scotians report being satisfied or very satisfied with life.  Are we a hotbed of self-delusion or do we know something about this place?  In fact, recent research shows that the most accurate way to gauge how happy people are is simply to ask them.

But we’re not talking about a passive sense of contentment. Psychologist Carol Ryff insists that perceptions of happiness include an important element of personal fulfillment by responding to tests and trials and difficulties.  She calls it “challenged thriving[2].”

Talking about happiness, Nova Scotia’s Ron Colman, a founder of our own Genuine Progress Indicator, spent years advising the government of Bhutan in its “Gross National Happiness” project, which touts happiness as more important than economic indicators.  They and we are onto something.

Is Nova Scotia really an economic basket case?  Economists usually measure standard of living in GDP per capita.  Now GDP has its problems and GDP per capita doesn’t measure how the wealth is distributed (that’s another story) but it’s a pretty good indicator of “well-offness.” Nova Scotia weighs in at about $36,000 (USD) per person.  Let’s put this in context.  That’s about the same as the US state of Texas, and higher than Illinois, Nevada, Hawaii, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania.  And it’s higher than Italy, Singapore, Japan, Kuwait and Spain.  Not precisely your typical backwater.

Within the Canadian family, Nova Scotia and its Atlantic siblings have indeed been the butt of scorn. Even within prosperous families, somebody gets bullied.  But, as with personal income, the more fortunate like to pretend that their bounty is the result of, not luck, but hard work and righteousness even as they attribute personal character failings to those with scarcer resources.  Albertans and their national politicians, for example, conveniently forget that their province was a recipient of equalization payments right to the not-so-distant discovery of oil.  Did they become virtuous one day in 1947 when oil came gushing out of the ground at Leduc 1?

And what about Nova Scotia’s debt, that some say makes us the Greece of Canada?  Again, time to do a reality check.  Greece’s debt-to-GDP ratio is 157%. Nova Scotia is 36.7% (down from 48.7% in 2000.)  The provincial auditor general’s recent reporting of an uptick in debt has provoked anguished cries of fiscal crisis from newspaper columnists and letter-writers. But 36.7% puts us right there with our federal government and considerably better than Ireland (117%) and Japan (211%).

Canada’s a country known for its physical beauty, but “Canada’s Ocean Playground” is no hollow boast. With 7,400 km of coastline, Nova Scotia ranks among the highest in the world compared to its size.  People from the rest of Canada, the United States and Europe have flocked to live here, permanently or for part of the year, for a century or more. They feed their imaginations with ocean vistas and turn those daydreams into products and services for the world.

National Geographic’s Traveler Poll touted Cape Breton Island as the number two travel destination in the world; Conde Nast Traveler rated it the world’s most beautiful island; Fodor’s Travel News called it an “island paradise.” Since 1997 Celtic Colours has drawn tens of thousands of Canadian and international visitors for an orgy of cultural tourism. Yet some Nova Scotians never tire of condemning The Island.

Filmmakers, musicians, and artists of every sort have hung up their shingle here.  For example, Wayne Grigsby, producer of such television hits as “North of Sixty,” and the two biopics of Pierre Trudeau, moved to Chester in the 90s with his production company “Big Motion Pictures” and churns out films and TV series in this province. Other filmmakers come here to use our highly-skilled actors, directors, technical crews and facilities. The Atlantic Film Festival, now over thirty years old, is an ever-strengthening magnet in the field. The Atlantic Filmmakers Co-operative has been nurturing local film talent for forty years.

Time and again, Nova Scotia surprises us all with the alternative and the innovative.

And talking about co-operatives and innovation, Nova Scotia is the birthplace of co-operatives in English Canada, starting with Father Moses Coady and the Antigonish Movement. We have over 350 co-operatives and credit unions, with combined assets of over $2.5 billion.  Over 242,000 Nova Scotians are members (about 34% of the adult population) and they employ over 4,000 Nova Scotians. Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis[3] wrote convincingly that humans are a “co-operative species” hard-wired to help one another and that the very future of the world will increasingly depend upon cooperation.  Once more Nova Scotians are at the forefront.

All of the name-calling and hand-wringing and finger-pointing has a purpose, however: to convince Nova Scotians that we have little or nothing to be proud of and that we must ever remain in thrall to outside capital. And so it makes us afraid to get off the ideological treadmill that internally colonizes us.

Thomas Michael Power, author of Lost Landscapes and Failed Economies: The Search for a Value of Place[4], is an economist from the University of Montana who spoke in Halifax a few years ago. Montana, like Nova Scotia, is sometimes regarded as an economic boondocks since the natural resource gusher ran dry. But in a post-industrial world, what Power calls “the extractive view” of the local economy, where outside capital invests only to rip off, is fast giving way to “the environmental” view, where self-sufficiency, a sense of place, protection of Mother Earth, and the pursuit of happiness lead the way into the future.

We can abandon the treadmills and there are alternatives as the Nova Scotia Alternative Provincial Budget 2014 clearly shows.

The Nova Scotia Alternative Budget 2014: a budget for the 99%  will be released Wednesday, March 19th. For more information, visit

[1] Peter Moreira, Backwater: Nova Scotia’s Economic Decline. (Halifax, Nimbus, 2009)

[2] Carol Ryff and Burton Singer, “Flourishing under fire: Resilience as a prototype of challenged thriving.” 2003.

[3] Samuel Bowles, and Herbert Gintis, A Co-operative Species: Human Reciprocity and Its Evolutions (Princeton, Princeton, 2012)

[4] Thomas Power and Michael Power, Lost Landscapes and Failed Economies: The Search for a Value of Place. (Washington DC, Island Press, 1998) and Post-Cowboy Economics: Pay and Prosperity in the New American West.


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


Mar 202014

murdered and missing womenAs our communities reel from the murder of Loretta Saunders, the call for a national inquiry into missing and murdered Aboriginal women has been reignited across the country.

Solidarity Halifax supports the call for an inquiry, but more importantly will continue to push for action based on the recommendations of past inquiries, reports, resolutions, and commissions into the myriad of injustices Aboriginal people face in Canada.

A national inquiry into missing and murdered Aboriginal women could shed light on systematic racism within the policing and prison system in Canada.  An inquiry could lead to recommendations for real changes in the relationship between Aboriginal peoples and the Canadian state.

Solidarity Halifax recognizes, however, that even if an inquiry is done well and thoroughly, the chances of concrete action is in no way guaranteed.  Furthermore, the chances of an inquiry leading to the kind of fundamental changes needed to address the colonial relationship between the Canadian government and Aboriginal people is slimmer still.

Indeed, the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, which was established following the Oka crisis in the summer of 1990, concluded that there was a need for complete restructuring of the relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people in Canada.  Among other things, the Royal Commission recommended that the further development of Aboriginal governments should focus on Aboriginal nations and programs to support Aboriginal self-government.

Furthermore, in 2010, Canada signed onto the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, which states “Indigenous peoples have the rights to lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned, occupied, or otherwise acquired.”

An Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women – followed by concrete actions based on the recommendations –  can only be a first step in Canada righting its relationship with First Nations.  Canada must honor the findings of past inquiries, recognize Indigenous sovereignty, and cease profiting off Native land.


>>Indigenous Solidarity Resources available here.