by Stephen Kimber on March 3, 2014 | No Comments
Whose services are really “essential”? And what does that mean?
On Friday, the McNeil government recalled the legislature to designate most home support workers — including the 400 Northwood employees who began a legal strike Friday, the 670 VON workers who could walk off their jobs this week and even the hundreds of others still at work and still supposedly involved in “free” collective bargaining — so essential they cannot be allowed to exercise their legal right to strike.
According to the legislation, home support employees who “assist persons with activities of daily living, which may include personal care, respite services, light housekeeping, meal preparation and laundry services” are all absolutely essential. And so too are those whose absence might simply result in “deterioration of property required for the performance of an essential home-support service.”
If those workers are so essential, we need to ask ourselves why they earn — even if they accept the government’s last “generous,” accept-this-or-we’ll-offer-you-even-less contract — far less than half what an MLA makes? Are MLAs really twice as essential?
If we can’t do without home support workers, why won’t we compensate them on a par with, say, nurses? Or police and fire services? Shouldn’t they — at a minimum — earn as much as those who do similar work inside hospitals? And be compensated for the hours they spend each day “on call”?
If Nova Scotia’s home support workers are so vital to our collective well being, why have they been working without a contract for close to two years?
And why won’t the government allow its dispute with them go to arbitration, the normal way to resolve labour disputes without strikes?
It seems Stephen McNeil’s government’s broader agenda is to eliminate the right to strike for all employees in the health care sector, and home support workers — a generally older group that includes mainly women — are simply the first, easiest target.
If there’s an argument for eliminating health care workers’ right to strike, losing that right should then become a factor in determining their compensation.
But this legislation isn’t about essential services — or fairness. It’s about government trying to solve larger economic problems on the backs of already low paid workers.
It’s the wrong way to do it.
by Stephen Kimber on February 24, 2014 | No Comments
It began with a January phone call from a school principal, inviting Wanda and Joe Robson to travel from their home in Cape Breton to metro to attend a Feb. 17 unveiling of a portrait honouring Wanda’s sister, Viola Desmond.
Desmond — who was convicted for sitting in the whites-only section of a New Glasgow movie theatre in 1946, nine years before Rosa Park’s refusal to sit in the blacks-only section of a Montgomery, Alabama, bus launched the American civil rights movement — is one of Canada’s still-too-little-celebrated heroes.
Her now 87-year-old sister Wanda is among many who’ve campaigned to have a new February provincial holiday designated “Viola Desmond Day — A Day To Honour All Those Who Have Fought for Social Justice in Nova Scotia.” The Cape Breton Regional Municipality and town councils in New Glasgow and Shelburne have voiced their support .
No one told Wanda there was any connection between the portrait unveiling and plans to announce the holiday, not even when Heritage Minister Tony Ince called to tell Wanda how much he’d like to see her at the unveiling.
Wanda and Joe couldn’t go, They only found out what had happened — and then only part of it — last Monday when Wanda got a congratulatory call from Wendy Bergfeldt, the host of Sydney’s CBC radio afternoon show. Ince and Labour Minister Kelly Regan had announced the 2015 holiday would be named Viola Desmond Day. Wanda said she was “thrilled.”
“I said I was pleased,” Wanda says now. “I had to be pleased.”
But there was a catch. Only the first holiday will honour Desmond. “Each year,” Kelly told reporters, “we'll celebrate a different contribution to Nova Scotia's storied past and diverse culture.”
When she learned the full truth. Wanda felt “blindsided. I’m not happy.”
For starters, she believes — as do many — that a holiday in the middle of Black History Month should logically honour someone of African descent. And that the holiday’s name should more broadly recognize those who’ve “fought for social justice.”The new, rotating, something-for-everyone holiday will do neither.
It’s too bad. The new provincial government had the opportunity to at least try to be a shadow as courageous as Viola Desmond. It failed.
by Stephen Kimber on February 17, 2014 | No Comments
Last week, the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society heard unprecedented arguments about whether to recognize graduates from a new law school at Trinity Western University, a privately-funded British Columbia Christian college.
The issue isn’t whether graduates will be competent to practise law. The Federation of Law Societies of Canada gave the program its preliminary seal of approval, finding “no public interest reason to exclude future graduates… from law society bar admission.” B.C.’s Advanced Education department reviewed the school’s curriculum and staffing plan and determined it “met the degree program quality assessment criteria.” Its graduates “could meet the national standards to practise law.”
The issue is whether the college should be allowed to require all students, faculty and staff to sign a “community covenant” that includes a clause requiring them to abstain from “sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman.”
More than two dozen lawyers, law school profs and legal advocates showed up for the public airing of the issue. More than a hundred filed written submissions. Most oppose recognition. Allowing its graduates to practise here, summed up Dal Law Prof. Elaine Craig, would be to condone “blatant and explicit discrimination” against the LGBT community, contrary to Canada’s Charter values.
The covenant may indeed violate the Charter, although the private school could counter-claim preventing it from establishing its own moral ground rules violates its freedom of religion. Those are arguments better hashed out in court.
But denying qualified graduates of an accredited law program the right to practise law in this province seems a kind of discrimination too.
Is the argument that Trinity Western lawyers can’t adequately represent LGBT clients because they once signed a covenant that may have simply reflected their own sexual values? Do we really believe lawyers should only represent those they agree with? If so, we’re in big trouble.
As Kevin Kindred, a Halifax lawyer and prominent gay rights activist — and one of the few to argue in favour of recognizing Trinity Western grads — explained to a reporter last week: “I don’t think we can presume they give false legal education or are unable to teach students the same ethical principles that I learned in law school.”
Case — should be — closed.
by Stephen Kimber on February 10, 2014 | 1 Comment
Back in late September 2013, in the warm afterglow of the celebration of yet another Right to Know Week in Canada and the publication of yet another report decrying the creaking weaknesses in Nova Scotia’s 35-year-old freedom of information legislation, the province's Freedom of Information Review Officer Dulcie McCallum expressed guarded optimism.
Both Liberal leader Stephen McNeil and Tory leader Jamie Baillie — campaigning, it should be noted, in a provincial election at the time — had “unequivocally” agreed to the report’s three specific recommendations to modernize the act. Better, the leaders of all three parties had responded “positively” to a letter from McCallum — a former British Columbia ombudsman who’d taken on the Nova Scotia job in 2007 — calling for yet another critical legislative reset: “To ensure true independence from government, make the review officer an officer of the legislature, like the auditor general and ombudsman.”
Those positive vibes from the political leaders, McCallum wrote at the time, “tells me that there is an overall appreciation of the need to reform our access legislation.”
Four months and one government later, Stephen McNeil publicly demonstrated his “unequivocal” support for more open, responsive and accountable government: he fired Dulcie McCallum.
On January 17, McNeil’s new government — having given her no reason to suspect it would not reappoint her — informed McCallum it was saying, thank you for your “excellent service,” here’s your two weeks notice, goodbye.
The government, she was told, wanted to appoint its own candidate for the position.
Uh… wasn’t that the problem — that the government of the day, which will almost inevitably find itself in the cross-hairs of any review officer worthy of the name, gets to hire and fire the person — that McCallum’s legislative appointment proposal was designed to fix? And didn’t Stephen McNeil respond “positively” to the idea?
Or was that Campaigning Stephen vs governing Stephen?
Will the government now follow its own rapidly evolving tradition and appointment a party stalwart — perhaps one with a “rejigged” resumé — to the job?
Or will McNeil seize the opportunity, declare it had been... ahem... his intention all along to amend the legislation and then turn the appointment of a the next Review Officer over to the legislature?
Hold your breath… but not too long.
by Stephen Kimber on February 3, 2014 | 5 Comments
What are we to make of delicate-flower Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino?
Last week, after missing a meeting in Ottawa with a delegation of Canadian veterans — including Ron Clarke, a 73-year-old, 36-year career military man from Sydney — Fantino breezed into the room an hour late without so much as an apology as the vets prepared to hold a news conference.
But then one grizzled veteran called the minister’s hogwash-explanation of how closing eight specialized veterans’ offices and forcing aged, injured or mentally troubled veterans to navigate the Internet or Service Canada’s please-hold-your-call-is-important-to-us telephone jungle would actually mean better service for veterans… “hogwash.”
Another elderly veteran wagged his finger in the general direction of the minister.
Fantino walked out.
Soon after, his office issued a bland statement about the “roundtable” with veterans, during which Fantino had been “pleased to reassure” veterans about the glorious new world his government was creating.
The next day — after the TV cameras documented Fantino’s actual “roundtable” — the minister issued a semi-full apology. He’d been “very late” because of a cabinet meeting, he acknowledged. “I sincerely apologize.”
Sincerely? In the next breath, Fantino was bitching to his stenographers at the Toronto Sun that the multi-medalled, wheel-chaired vets had been “duped… jacked up” by the union representing public servants who will lose their jobs and who had paid the veterans’ airfare to Ottawa.
When those mindless-dupe vets failed to show Fantino the due deference he required, he told the Sun, “I wasn’t just going to play dead.”
Uh… In November, 3,000 people turned out in Sydney to protest the planned veterans’ offices closure there. Hundreds more attended a “wake” Friday to mark its final shutdown.
Despite such broad-based public support, Fantino — and the prime minister — see the closures as yet another excuse to attack public sector unions.
That is what this is all about: slashing services to vets to balance the books before the next election. Veterans are collateral damage.
Instead of scapegoating, Fantino might want to ask why 238-and-counting Canadian servicemen and women have killed themselves since 1995, including four Afghan vets in the space of a few recent days, and why one in seven Afghan veterans suffer from service-related post-traumatic stress disorder or depression.
Please hold. Your call is important to us.
by Stephen Kimber on January 27, 2014 | No Comments
Michael Knott did not deserve to die. Trevor Brewster did not deserve to die. Their family and friends should have more than memories today.
That said, Justice Kevin Coady was right Friday to declare Glen Race, the man who murdered both men, not criminally responsible for their 2007 deaths.
Three psychiatrists testified. Two were hired by the defence, one by the prosecution. They all concluded Race — a schizophrenic who believed he was following heavenly orders to wage war against vampires, demons and sinners when he stabbed the two men on separate occasions days apart — was too psychotic, too delusional to understand what he was doing was wrong, or the acts’ consequences.
Even prosecutors did not oppose defence lawyer Joel Pink’s application to have his client declared not criminally responsible.
“He suffered from a mental disorder on both occasions,” the judge agreed, adding his finding wasn’t an acquittal. “Instead of a jail cell, Mr. Race will be detained in a secure hospital under the control of the state until such time as he is no longer a threat to public safety.”
There was a third killing. After the Nova Scotia murders, Glen Race fled. He broke into a hunting lodge in upstate New York, killed the caretaker and stole his pickup truck. He was finally arrested in Texas as he attempted to get to Mexico.
Race was initially returned to New York State to be tried for first-degree murder. Despite psychiatrist assessments, his lawyer didn’t even try to claim Race was not guilty by reason of insanity. He was convicted in 2008 and sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole.
Race was only allowed to return to Canada to face the murder charges here on the understanding that, as soon as Nova Scotia’s legal proceedings ended, he would be returned to the notorious Attica Prison in New York to continue serving his life sentence. That’s apparently already happened.
Race’s Halifax lawyer, Joel Pink, is now trying to convince a New York law firm to attempt to reopen the case there. If not, Glen Race will end up in a prison instead of a hospital, punished because of his mental illness rather than treated for it.