Apr 202015

Originally published in the Chronicle Herald by James Hutt, on behalf of signatories listed below this article. James is coordinator for the Nova Scotia Citizens’ Healthcare Network and a member of Solidarity Halifax.

psephc_all_sans_serif_arrowed1Health and Wellness Minister Leo Glavine recently announced plans to seriously consider opening home care and support services to competitive bidding.

This would allow private, for-profit corporations to bid on contracts currently provided by government and not-for-profit agencies. This competitive bidding process will award home-care contracts based on the lowest bid, not on who will provide the best quality of care.

To date, Mr. Glavine has refused to hold consultations or allow for public input. Seniors’ care is too important to leave to partisan political interest.

In response, the Nova Scotia Citizens’ Health Care Network is hosting a series of town hall meetings across the province. The next three will be in Sydney on April 21, in Amherst on April 30, and in Halifax on May 4. Details can be found online at www.nshealthcoalition.ca.

We are deeply concerned by this move. The wait list for home care in Nova Scotia has been rapidly expanding. Over a six-month period in 2014, the wait list increased by 80 per cent, from 422 to 760 patients needing care. With the oldest population in the country, and some of the highest rates of chronic illness, this trend is sure to continue.

Ontario provides a warning for competitive bidding. Ontario opened its home-care system to private bidders in the mid-1990s. Private transnational corporations came in and underbid charities and non-profit providers with deep roots in communities. After winning contracts, they reduced home visits to 30- or 60-minute “products,” and added to the number of clients whom workers see. The amount of time allotted for travel between patients decreased, too, often forcing health workers to choose between leaving early and working without pay.

The drive for profit does not end with limiting services and care. Private companies in Ontario are known to “upsell” care to patients, pushing them to buy unnecessary features and services with extra out-of-pocket payments. This has become such a problem that Ontario’s auditor general has stressed the need for consumer protection to prevent companies from taking advantage of patients.

Contracting out of home care is proven to increase worker turnover, meaning patients will have little continuity of caregivers entering their home. After winning contracts, corporations made jobs more casual and precarious while reducing wages and benefits. Predictably, this created high rates of turnover and severe shortages in health workers.

Patients need to feel familiar with the nurses and care workers entering their homes, confident that they know their individual needs, medications and routines.

Yet the opposite has happened. Ontario has a turnover rate of home-care workers of 57 per cent per year. Across Canada, not-for-profit agencies with unionized staff offer the most consistency for patients. Turnover for unionized home-care workers is 15 per cent, compared to 25 per cent for non-unionized, and 50 per cent with non-unionized, for-profit firms.

The combination of short supplies of health workers and limited competition of providers, especially in rural areas, resulted in higher bids for home-care contracts and increased inefficiency. The system is riddled with such redundancy that administration costs are estimated at 30 per cent.

It is not surprising, then, that in 2010 Ontario’s auditor general rebuked that province’s home-care system for being “inequitable, insufficient, and ineffectively measured and managed.” Since then, there have been two moratoriums on competitive bidding.

Nova Scotia already has a shortage of health-care providers. Nurses and home support workers will not remain in an industry where their wages are threatened and their employment is precarious, particularly when they can readily find employment in the acute and long-term care sectors, as well as out of province.

Our seniors and chronically ill deserve better. They are now receiving care at home that at one time could only be delivered in a hospital setting. They deserve the same guarantees as hospital patients — high quality care, accessible to all.

We’re calling for the government to reverse moves to privatize home care, and to instead maintain a publicly funded, not-for profit system, which should provide home-care services at little or no cost to patients and their families.

Add your voice and support our seniors and chronically ill. Sign the petition online: votepublichealthcare.ca/take-action/keep-home-care-public and join us May 6 in a provincewide day of action.

Submitted by James Hutt, Nova Scotia Citizens’ Health Care Network on behalf of fellow signatories:
Adrienne Silnicki, Canadian Health Coalition
Christine Saulnier, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives;
Pamela Harrison, Transition House Association of Nova Scotia
Charity Fraser and Jeanne Fay, Second Story Women’s Centre, Bridgewater
Louise Smith MacDonald, Every Woman’s Centre, Sydney
Bernadette MacDonald, Tri-County Women’s Centre, Yarmouth
Stella Lord, Community Society to End Poverty
Angela Giles, Council of Canadians
Rick Clarke, Nova Scotia Federation of Labour
Janet Hazelton, Nova Scotia Nurses’ Union
Joan Jessome, NSGEU
Danny Cavanagh, CUPE Nova Scotia
Jeannie Baldwin, PSAC
Loretta Melanson, Services Employees International Union – Local 2, Branch N.S.
Kyle Buott, Halifax Dartmouth District Labour Council.

Apr 172015

By Solidarity Halifax members Sébastien Labelle and Kyle Buott, originally published in the Halifax Media Co-op.

Billionaire fishmonger John Risley is all for provincial government handouts, when he gets them. [Photo: canadianbusiness.com]

Billionaire fishmonger John Risley is all for provincial government handouts, when he gets them. [Photo: canadianbusiness.com]

Yesterday, John Risley came out in support of the Liberals’ cuts to the arts in the form of the Film Tax Credit. John Risley is the owner of Clearwater Seafood and a member of one of the four richest families in Nova Scotia.

There are four billionaire families in this province: the Sobeys, the Braggs, the Jodreys, and the Risleys. These families constitute the very top of the 1% in Nova Scotia. Each of them has a business empire in our province, and combined they own major stakes in grocery stores, frozen food, vegetables, blueberries, telecommunications, forestry, investment portfolios, paper products, commercial and residential property, hotels, catering, restaurants, health care, recycling, pharmacies, shopping malls, gas stations, convenience stores, food supplements, fisheries, lobster, and much more.

The portion of the Film Tax Credit the Liberals are planning to cut is a wage support for artists. As a result of this wage support, the film industry hires artists at a decent wage. Film workers also have one of the highest levels of unionization in the private sector through unions of actors, film technicians, musicians and directors (ACTRA, IATSE, CFM, and the Director’s Guild).

If cuts to the Film Tax Credit go through, this will lead to very little filming being done in Nova Scotia, and the filming left will offer increasingly precarious work with low wages and few benefits.

Of course, Risley’s support for cuts to funding for arts and culture, specifically cultural workers’ wages, is not surprising. What is surprising is that he made those comments publicly because he has personally benefited from government tax credits for himself and his businesses.

The 1% always support cutting funding to social programmes like health, education, and the arts. This is because they have been pushing governments for the past 40 years to cut taxes on the rich and corporations, and public spending on social programmes requires those tax revenues. For decades, the 1% have been very successful, behind closed doors, in convincing governments to cut their taxes.

In the early 1970s taxes on the rich were much higher, hitting 70% in combined federal and provincial income taxes at one point. Corporate taxes were also much higher, at 52% in combined federal and provincial corporate taxes for the largest companies. Today taxes on the 1% have dropped to about 40% for income taxes, and corporate taxes have dropped to 31% in combined federal and provincial rates.

Our province is not broke and the debt is not out of control. We are not Greece. We are not Detroit. Our economy today produces three times as much wealth as it did in the 1970s. The problem is that the vast majority of us have not seen any of that wealth in our pockets. Instead it has gone into the pockets of the 1%. People like John Risley.

Instead of cutting the Film Tax Credit, we should raise taxes on the rich and large corporations. This would allow us to fund health care, education, social assistance, environmental programmes, culture, and more.

There is plenty of money in Nova Scotia, and across the country. The problem is that this money, produced by our work, only benefits a tiny number of people.


Sebastien Labelle is Vice President of Culture and Mayworks at the Halifax-Dartmouth & District Labour Council and a member of ACTRA.

Kyle Buott is the President of the Halifax-Dartmouth & District Labour Council and a member of UNIFOR.


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


Apr 152015

Dal student and Solidarity Halifax member Aaron Beale speaks to The Chronicle Herald about why students are fighting back against austerity during the occupation of Minister Whalen’s office on April 13.


Listen to the interview HERE

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

Apr 142015

On the morning of April 13, several university students occupied Nova Scotia Finance Minister Diana Whalen’s office, in protest to the recently-released provincial budget.

Cramming in the age of austerity. Students pull double duty as they occupy Nova Scotia Finance Minister Diana Whalen's office, while hitting the books. [Photo: M. Howe]

Cramming in the age of austerity. Students pull double duty as they occupy Nova Scotia Finance Minister Diana Whalen’s office, while hitting the books. [Photo: M. Howe]

The Halifax Media Coop interviewed John Hutton, incoming vice-president of the Dalhousie Student Union, and Dr. Alex Khasnabish, Department Chair of Sociology and Anthropology at Mount Saint Vincent University. John Hutton is a member of Solidarity Halifax and Alex Khasnabish is co-director of the Radical Imagination Project.

Listen to the interviews HERE.


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


Apr 142015

By Shay Enxuga for Rankandfile.ca
Shay is a community organizer and member of Solidarity Halifax.

On April 1, minimum wage workers in Nova Scotia got a raise. But unfortunately for Omar Joof, and thousands of other workers, the meagre 20 cent increase still isn’t enough to make ends meet.Pic1

Sitting in a McDonald’s off Lacewood Drive, Joof tells me that he has been working the backshift as a cleaner at the Halifax Shopping Centre for the past six years. When I asked why he prefers working backshift, he explains that it’s because the night shift gives him the opportunity to get another part-time job.

“It’s a lot of work but that’s what you have to do in order to survive,” says Joof, who has been working at least two jobs for the best part of the last thirteen years, sometimes pulling in up to 135 hours every two weeks.

“Minimum wage, as it is structured here, is not enough for anyone to live on a single job. It’s a starvation wage because you just cannot live on it. It cannot sustain anybody, at anytime.”
According to research conducted by the Nova Scotia office of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA), if minimum wage in Nova Scotia had kept pace with the rate of inflation from it’s high in 1976, it would be now be $15/hour!

The reality, however, is that the real dollar value of minimum wage has decreased by more than $2.00 over the past 25 years. This means that the purchasing power of minimum wage today buys almost 30% less than it did in 1976.

According to May-Dan Johnston, a researcher with the CCPA, “For a long time, the minimum wage was not actually pegged to inflation. That’s a relatively new measure in the last fifteen to twenty years. They realized that [minimum wage] hasn’t been keeping up with the cost of living and people are starting to slip further into poverty.”
The reality is that life has been getting harder for Joof and thousands of other minimum wage workers. Often women, and predominately people of colour, it is low-waged workers who most acutely feel the sting of rising inflation and stagnant wages.

Joof explains that over ten years ago, “You could go to Sobeys and you could get enough groceries for $75 to last you for two weeks. But that’s not the case anymore. You cannot live on $75 for two weeks. It’s a very difficult situation for people living on minimum wage. They find themselves between a rock and a hard place.”
Fighting for Change

Back in February, Joof spoke at a panel about raising the minimum wage in Nova Scotia. The panel was the kick-off event for a campaign called Nova Scotia Needs a Raise, organized by the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS), the Halifax-Dartmouth District Labor Council (HDDLC) and Solidarity Halifax. A coalition of union members, students, and low-waged and un-waged workers, the campaign is fighting for a $15/hour provincial minimum wage and a municipal living wage ordinance.

Joof spoke as a Justice for Janitors organizer and a member of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 2. He proudly told me that him and his co-workers formed a union at their workplace two years ago. “We were the first group to join SEIU at my workplace, we were one of the founders.”

Since then, their union has improved conditions in the workplace because it has as forced a change in the interactions between workers and management. “Gradually, as workers begin to understand the opportunities that the collective agreement provides for them, they are becoming more and more motivated. It’s great and it keeps improving.”

A History of Struggle

However, this is not the first time Joof has been involved in the struggle for social and economic justice. Originally from Gambia, Joof came to Canada twelve years ago to escape persecution in his home country. He was the elected President of the national Gambian Student Union (GAMSU) in April 2002 when the students organized a peaceful demonstration against violence and murder at the hands of their government.

His voice takes on a sombre tone as he begins to recount the story.

“A thirteen-year-old girl was raped by a paramilitary officer, an armed unit of the police force. This girl was thirteen years old.

A couple of days before that, an eighteen-year-old student was tortured by a unit of the police force which was then called the Ambulance and Fire Service. The student [Embria Barry] had a problem with his teacher and, according to the information that we were given, and the teacher instead of dealing with it in the school decided to hand the student over the officers of the Fire and Ambulance Service for punishment, which is unheard of. It’s never done. No one had ever done it. But that was not the worst part of it.

This student was made to carry fifty loads of fifty-kilogram cement from one spot to another. And when he was done with that they allegedly put some cement in water and forced him to drink it.

Within 24 hours the guy was dead.”

Shortly afterwards, the GAMSU organized a peaceful demonstration to demand that the due process of the law was followed. However, the government responded with lethal force and opened fire on the students.

“The president of the country gave orders that we should be shot up with live ammunition. Fourteen people were killed… including twelve students and a four year old girl who was allegedly killed by a stray bullet.”

The day after the demonstration, Joof was forced to flee the country.

The Ill-Gotten Gains of Capitalism

Joof reminds us that the struggles of working people across the world are all connected. Citing a recent statistic, he points out that in a very short time more than half of the world’s wealth will belong to less than ninety people. For Joof, the issue is not just poverty, but also income inequality.

“The reason that the poor are getting poorer and the rich are getting richer is because the gains of the poor are being undermined and are taken away from them whereas the gains of the rich have been increasing exponentially.”

Beyond simply raising the minimum wage, Joof argues that more systemic change is needed. “All that has been done with capitalism is to tinker with it and deal with the problems at the superficial level. There has never been a real revamping so that it can address the needs of the majority of people in the marketplace, and those are the consumers, the workers.”
Instead, Joof argues that there needs to be responsible intervention from municipal, provincial, and federal levels of government to ensure that all people have a decent standard of living.

“Some people don’t like it because they talk about the free enterprise, or the undesirability of the government intervening in with the economy, but you realize that for the past decades and centuries that we have had capitalism there has always been this situation of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. The conditions of working class people have not been improving at an acceptable level. What has been happening is corporate society has become filthy rich. It becomes almost like they live on ill-gotten gains.”

“Now that’s all from capitalism. That’s why I say that capitalism has failed the world.”


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