May 132014

Artist and Solidarity Halifax member Emily Davidson is interviewed and featured by All In A Day’s Work on CJAM 99.1 FM Windsor community radio. Emily shares thoughts on labour, art and organizing and covers a lot of ground. Hear Emily talk about Solidarity Halifax, Mayworks Windsor, Mayworks Halifax, Unifor 2040 – Canadian Freelance Union, the Halifax-Dartmouth & District Labour Council, Puppets Et Cetera! and Baristas Rise Up.

>>LISTEN HERE [place marker at 6:00]



May 092014

Solidarity Halifax member Ben Sichel says fight poverty and privatization to improve education. Ben is a teacher in Dartmouth and lead author of the P-12 education section in the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives-Nova Scotia’s Alternative Provincial Budget.

Originally published in the Chronicle Herald. Visit Ben’s blog at

Two opinion pieces in a recent issue of the Chronicle-Herald, one an editorial and the other by Paul Bennett, spoke of the difficult learning conditions in some of Nova Scotia’s most impoverished neighbourhoods. Both are to be commended for highlighting the clear connections between poverty and school success (Be bold first in education, Radical intervention for faltering schools; both April 19).

But in the Ivany-report-inspired rush to “be bold,” we should be cautious about some of the solutions proposed.

For example, Paul Bennett,  an author with the business-friendly Atlantic Institute for Market Studies (AIMS), says Barack Obama has “blazed the policy trail” in education with initiatives to lift urban neighbourhoods out of poverty.

But he ignores the fact that Obama’s education “reform” agenda has been opposed by a large, and growing, movement of teachers, parents and students across the United States, for a simple reason: it doesn’t work.

The “Promise Neighbourhoods” initiatives Bennett references, which offer “cradle-to-career services” to needy families, are indeed regarded positively by just about everyone. But education historian Diane Ravitch notes that the funds allotted to the small number of neighbourhoods with this program are “a tiny drop in the bucket” compared to the millions the U.S. pours into harmful high-stakes standardized testing and corporate curriculum streamlining via the Common Core state standards.

A distressing pattern has emerged in poor neighbourhoods throughout the U.S.: public schools are starved of funds for years, then declared “failing schools” when their students fail to score highly on standardized tests; and finally, replaced by semi-private, sometimes for-profit, charter schools, which research shows often perform the same or worse as public schools.

In North Dartmouth, the group of parents trying to improve literacy rates is doing what good parents do — advocating for anything that might help their children succeed.

But pushing for a commercial literacy program to be brought into a public school is most likely a misguided approach. Public education is public for a reason — it is created by, monitored and implemented by people accountable to the public. It is not motivated by profit.

Even more importantly, as long as poverty is a factor in children’s lives, all evidence points to the fact that those children’s performance in school will suffer. More than pedagogy, curriculum, or even class size, poverty is the main indicator of how well children do in school.

It’s often said that a good education will help lift children out of poverty. In fact, the reverse is more often true: not living in poverty allows children to do well in school.

Low literacy rates in low-income areas aren’t a curriculum issue or a pedagogy issue. They’re a social justice issue. Reducing poverty rates (and improving literacy) requires more than a new reading program or even better social services. It means actively working for policies that fight income inequality, like a higher minimum wage, stronger labour laws and restoration of federal and provincial corporate tax rates to fair levels. Education doesn’t happen in a vacuum.

Much media attention is paid to test scores because they’re easily reported on and understood. But basing major education policy decisions on standardized test scores is unhelpful. Test scores in one or two subject areas give but a very limited idea of what happens in the complex life of a school.

“Wrap-around” youth service programs make an important difference to communities, but these should be incorporated as part of our public education system, not led by private interests as Paul Bennett suggests.

What if we made sure every school had the resources it needs to deliver a rich, varied curriculum for kids’ full development, like the ones at the best private schools (where, incidentally, Mr. Bennett spent most of his own educational career)?

What if, instead of ranking schools like Fortune 500 companies — as AIMS does every year — we looked at the value of neighbourhood schools not just for teaching the three R’s, but as hubs of their communities?

What if, instead of shaming a school and its staff in the media because of its standardized test scores, we treated teachers as professionals, paid attention to the countless research studies explaining how poverty affects school performance — inadequate nutrition and health care, less access to extra-curricular activities, higher stress levels, the list goes on — and took real action to end poverty and reduce inequality?

Now that would be bold.


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

May 082014

Solidarity Halifax member James Hutt writes to The Chronicle Herald on behalf of the Power to the People campaign.


Nova Scotia Power has overcharged and is reimbursing 13,000 Nova Scotians due to a glitch in its system. Yet an even bigger “glitch” allows NSP to pocket millions of taxpayers’ dollars every year.

In 2013, NSP boasted record profits again: $126 million.

Last year, the CEO of Emera, NSP’s parent company, received $4.7 million in compensation, a 54 per cent increase from the previous year. In 2012, the president of NSP “earned” a 25 per cent increase in his salary, jumping to $1.1 million. This, in a province with the second lowest average income in the country.

NSP made headlines last month because, for the first time in years, it won’t ask for a rate hike in 2014.

Since the Progressive Conservatives privatized NSP in 1992, the company has made more than $2.5 billion in profits off the power bills of Nova Scotians. Back then, the Tories sold it for a fraction of what it was worth. In doing so, they created a power utility whose sole mandate is profit and put control of our energy future into the hands of international shareholders. Since then, we’ve seen how corporate greed has trumped public need year after year.

Despite these massive profits, NSP is dragging its feet on green energy and sustainability. After privatization, NSP downgraded its energy conservation programs and, while the share of coal-generated electricity has fallen, we still get most of our electricity from coal-fired power plants. (You can ask the residents of Trenton; coal-fired power plants don’t make good neighbours.)

This is the company that laid off workers to preserve profits, while letting the electrical grid deteriorate to the point where we blame power outages on salt in the air.

Isn’t it time to stop lining the pockets of rich CEOs and to put that money to work in our cash-strapped province?

What could our have-not province do with the $126 million in profits NSP pocketed last year?

For a start, we could make decisions in the best interests of our residents instead of the interests of private shareholders. We could move more aggressively away from coal power and increase efficiency — something that a private company, charging per unit of electricity, has no incentive to do. We could invest more heavily in renewable energy, creating good green jobs to keep people in the province. We could make it impossible to shut off your power during winter and move toward the idea that electricity is a right for residents. The list is endless.

The Liberal government has discussed breaking NSP’s monopoly. But this assumes other companies actually want to invest in our power generation and that residents will be happy paying for the overhead (such as offices, executives and infrastructure) of more than one company.

The only option is to return NSP to public ownership. Every other province except Alberta has public power utilities, many of which return hefty dividends to their provincial treasuries.

Taxpayers know we’re getting gouged. NSP is a private monopoly that gives us nothing but increased power outages and retains the right to cut off power to anyone who falls behind on payments.

Nova Scotians are fed up and demanding change. Solidarity Halifax, an anti-capitalist member-based organization, has relaunched a campaign for the return of NSP to democratic public ownership.

Yesterday, while Emera held its annual general meeting, Solidarity Halifax carried out actions around the province and has published a petition:

Sign up and speak out for change. Nova Scotians are worse off than ever under a privatized NSP. It’s time to return the company back to public hands and to keep that money here in the province.


Sign the PETITION here
to return Nova Scotia Power to democratic public ownership