Apr 292015

The university is one of the few remaining spaces for critical resistance against capitalism and neo-liberal dogma. Bill 100 represents a frontal assault on what little space we have left by stripping away academic freedoms and collective bargaining rights. Bill 100 aims at fundamentally changing our way of thinking about our public institutions by paving the way for the government to restructure universities as research and training facilities for corporations and government.

  1. In the midst of one of the most severe austerity budgets in the province’s history, the government of Nova Scotia is introducing Bill 100—the “Universities Accountability and Sustainability Act”. According to Kelly Regan, the Minister of Labour and Advanced Education, the act will allow the government to better assist institutions facing financial difficulty.
  2. What does all of this actually mean? When a university faces a period of financial difficulty the payment of further public funds will be contingent on the implementation of a ‘revitalization plan’. The plan will be implemented by a panel, which is appointed by the minister.
  3. Once this plan is implemented, the university can no longer be seen an independent institution: its fate rests in the hands of an externally appointed panel.
  4. The external panel is not accountable to the university community—its students, faculty and workers—but to the Minister. Further, there are no specific details about how that panel is composed. Is it likely to be members of the university community, or, representatives of corporate interests and government bureaucrats?
  5. If this isn’t enough, the plan suspends fundamental worker’s rights, including the right to strike and the grievance process. Any collective agreements that contravene the revitalization plan are considered null and void. In other words, Bill 100 gives the university the right to suspend fundamental constitutional rights in order to get its finances in order. Students, faculty and workers will be made to suffer for the mismanagement of professional university administrators and the bungling of our government.
  6. It is not only a threat to academic freedom and institutional integrity, but to the fundamental rights of workers within institutions of higher education. Academic freedom is protected through collective agreements. Bill 100 puts the power to suspend those agreements, and in turn the principle of academic freedom, in the hands of university administrators. Further, the Bill makes no mention of the salaries of the highly paid professional administrators who run these institutions, but threatens low-wage contract staff and support workers for whom the grievance process and right to strike are essential.
  7. Further government grants will be contingent on the university entering into and complying with ‘outcome agreements’. These agreements allow the government to dictate the purpose and goal of any taxpayer-funded research. Along with the restrictions on worker’s rights and the violation of academic freedom, we find the government mandating the scope and value of university research. With this the government is accelerating the restructuring of the university around a neoliberal model in which the value of university research is considered on the basis of the public good.
  8. Reflected in this Bill is the Liberal government’s belief that the burden of economic austerity should rest on the shoulders of those who are least able to carry the weight. The calculated targeting of the working class, students, racialized groups and the disabled is quickly becoming the new status quo in Nova Scotia.
  9. Academic freedom is being attacked from two directions: first, it makes the university subordinate to the power of an externally appointed panel; and, second, it suspends fundamental rights that permit internal opposition to the university administration.
  10. Any so-called ‘revitalization plan’ presents the government the opportunity to fundamentally restructure the university away from a place of critical learning to a training ground for corporations that are in the process of stripping this province dry. The removal of fundamental worker’s rights makes any form of internal opposition to this restructuring process virtually impossible.
  11. We must reject the government’s attempts to undermine both the principles of academic freedom that underlie our province’s universities and the fundamental rights of all workers. We must not allow the institutions that enrich our public life to be reduced to corporate training grounds or playgrounds for a small elite.
Apr 292015

By Solidarity Halifax member Kyla Sankey, originally published in the Halifax Media Coop

Nova Scotia municipalities have been ordered to develop climate change action plans, yet the 2015 budget calls for cuts to renewable electricity and renewable energy. [Photo: lietz.photography via flickr]

Nova Scotia municipalities have been ordered to develop climate change action plans, yet the 2015 budget calls for cuts to renewable electricity and renewable energy. [Photo: lietz.photography via flickr]

To say the environmental crisis is the urgent challenge of our times is an understatement. And here in Canada we are at the heart of the storm. In the chilling and infamous words of climate scientist James Hansen, extracting Tar Sands would equal “game over” for the climate. If we are to avoid reaching the disastrous climate tipping point, 85 % of the Tar Sands oil must be left in the ground. However, with billions of dollars of investments tied up in the Tar Sands, the desperate needs of our planet have come into a head-on collision with the profit making strategies of giant fossil fuels corporations.

It is also here in Canada that we suffer the brunt of fossil fuels extraction and climate change. The first in the line of fire have been First Nations peoples, who continue to resist appropriation of their territories in the hands of extractive fracking projects, logging clear cuts and other resource extractive schemes, for example. In Nova Scotia we are faced with the prospect of severe storms, the destruction of coastlines, loss of fresh water, chemical contamination and damage to local agriculture. Local farmers are at greater risk from salt contamination, chemical pollution and pests. Workers not only face declining salaries, but we are also hardest hit by the rising energy costs and the potential loss of water supplies. Higher sea levels, more extreme rainfalls and storm flooding, will have a drastic impact on the coastline, which is home to most of our population. Yet the infrastructure currently in place is inadequate to cope with this prospect. The livelihoods of Nova Scotians and our future generations are facing devastation, and in the context of rising inequalities it is those of us from the working and marginalized classes that will suffer the most.

Given this scenario, this country’s abysmal attitude to global warming is alarming. Canada’s record on the climate is the worst in the Western world, ranking last among 58 countries in a 2014 performance index survey. Blind to the demands of protestors and against the will of the majority of the Canadian population, the Canadian government continues to favor the interests of corporate profits over the desperate needs of the planet. Estimates have suggested that the Canadian government gives away $34 billion to fossil fuels companies every year in the form of low royalty rates, tax break and lax regulations. This is equivalent to $800 for every Canadian.

The solution: austerity?

Right now the crucial problem is this: the government is enforcing an economic model that is hopelessly incapable of facing up to the desperate needs of the people and the planet. This model is euphemistically labeled “austerity”. Austerity is an upshot of the great crisis of 2008, when the government bailed out banks leaving soaring fiscal debts. According to the logic of austerity, the solution to this budgetary deficit has been to seek additional fiscal revenues in two main ways: cuts to the public sector and rampant extraction of unconventional oil reserves in the Tar Sands.

Here in Nova Scotia, premier Stephen McNeil’s austerity budget proposal is a demonstration of the Liberal government’s utter incapacity to face up to this crucial issue. Cuts such as $2.5 million to “Non-Electricity Energy Efficiency, Sustainable Transportation and Conservation Grants”, and a $300,000 cut in funding to renewable energy have eroded our ability to respond collectively to new environmental needs. The logic of austerity sees public institutions and services as barriers to corporate profits, which means public protections are being gutted and starved just when they need strengthening more than ever.

On the other hand, when it comes to corporate profit making strategies, the logic of austerity operates in a somewhat different manner. The liberal government has handed out lavish subsidies to oil corporations, and in the 2015 budget petroleum resources increased by $880,000. These policies facilitate the ascendance of corporate power at a time when the future of the planet relies precisely on our capacity to rein this power in.

We are told that what is needed is more energy efficiency, yet spending on this has been cut. Low income efficiency spending was not cut, but nonetheless in the face of declining salaries and cuts to income support, how will those of us from poorest sectors of society be able to afford these programs? The current low-income efficiency program, which allows Nova Scotians to make efficiency upgrades to our homes, is a case in point. It works great for those who can take advantage, saving them $500 a year on their bills, but the program is only available for homeowners, and the majority of people on low incomes are, of course, tenants.

The solution: moving beyond capitalism

To confront the environmental crisis we must tackle it at its root. This means challenging a socio-economic system where the interests of corporate profits and capital accumulation trump the needs of the planet and the people. The transition towards an environmentally sustainable world must be integrated with the struggle to create a new society based on the values of social justice, community and co-operativism. This move towards an ecologically and socially sustainable system will be led by struggles of workers and communities. These groups also stand to benefit greatly from the move: renewable energies create 3 times more jobs than fossil fuels, and energy efficiency creates 5 times more jobs. However, the transition must be part of a new, environmentally sustainable and socially just system in which green resources are commonly owned through a mix of public ownership and workers’ cooperatives. It is only by moving beyond the capitalist system of ever-increasing profits, accumulation and wasteful consumption, that we can build a world where our social cycles are realigned to work in harmony with ecological cycles, and production takes place for the purpose of human development and the maximization of our human potential, not corporate greed.


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

Apr 262015

On April 22, the Halifax-Dartmouth & District Labour Council and the Nova Scotia chapter of the Canadian Federation of Students held an open meeting to discuss the NS Liberal government’s austerity budget and the need to fight back. At this meeting, activists and organizers from numerous anti-poverty, student, arts, social justice, environmental and labour organizations launched the #NSuncut coalition.

Read the Halifax Media Coop’s report of the meeting here:
#NSuncut Coalition Against Austerity wants to make some noise


Photo: Tony Tracy


The coalition’s first collaborative task was to mobilize a mass rally two days later at Province House. The noisy rally coincided with the vote to approve the NS Liberal’s austerity budget and to ensure it didn’t get passed quietly or unnoticed.

Here’s an excerpt of a speech given by Suzanne MacNeil on behalf of Solidarity Halifax. Transcript from the Halifax Media Coop.

“Through this austerity budget, the Nova Scotia Liberals have said that tough choices have to be made. Everyone must pay their fair share. What they really mean by that is that they want working people, children, immigrants, first nations communities, women, students, they want them to pay so that billionaires like John Risley of Clearwater Seafoods can continue to enjoy his tax breaks [and] his benefits. What the tax breaks for the one percent, for the billionaires of this region, mean is that low-wage jobs get created for the rest of us. There’s less money for education. There’s less money for our non-profit sector that makes sure that the most vulnerable get their needs met. There’s less money for students, who are the future of this province. There’s less money for public servants who make sure that the work of this province gets done. There’s less money for health care for everybody. But there’s less money for all of us, the ninety nine percent.

Taking care of the future and present of this province means creating a better province for everybody. Not creating an economic playground for the wealthy!”

-Suzanne MacNeil – Solidarity Halifax

Follow the links below to read various media reports of the rally.

Anti-Austerity Budget Bedfellows – Halifax Media Coop

Protesters rally to oppose passing of Nova Scotia ‘austerity’ budget – Global News

Protesters demand more changes to Nova Scotia’s ‘austerity’ budget – Metro News

Noisy budget protest greets MLAs – The Chronicle Herald


Photo: Trevor Beckerson



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.