Stephen McNeil and the folly of false choices


“We believe we’ve delivered what is a fair package [for teachers]. If there is more required to be on the table, people need to explain where they want us to get that. Do they want us to take it out of health care? Do they want us to take it away from vulnerable Nova Scotians?”

Premier Stephen McNeil
November 3, 2016


stephen_mcneil_2014Let us begin, shall we, Mr. Premier, with the Yarmouth ferry.

And let’s zero in on the $32.6 million your government committed to subsidizing that vessel’s ever decreasing number of passengers — noting, just in passing, the $9-million worth of Nova Scotia taxpayers’ dollars you sent out of the province last spring to a U.S. shipyard to retrofit an American-owned, American-crewed ship for its brief, now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t season plying the waters between Yarmouth and Portland, Maine.

And let’s not forget the additional untold, uncapped millions your government has agreed in advance to pony up over the next decade to cover that ship’s inevitable future operating losses.

Not to mention — but who can forget? — the $40-million-plus your government previously spent in just two years to prop up the last cash-sucking Yarmouth-Portland ferry before it sank, with our cash and without the least trace of success.

And then let’s work our way — up or down, your choice — to your own ever more bloated, ever more expensive premier’s office.

Last spring, you’ll recall, you hired former journalist Laurie Graham as your principal secretary at a salary of $160,000, which turned out to be more than we pay the elected members of your cabinet. And then you created, out of the whole cloth of your political imagination, the job of Managing Director, Corporate and External Relations — aka premier’s prime spinmeister — specifically for Marilla Stephenson, another ex-journalist, and set her salary at $106,000.

In the larger scheme of things, of course, those salaries don’t amount to much. But consider this. If you simply eliminated Marilla’s salary — and position  — you could have hired a couple of fresh-faced new teachers to help ease classroom over-crowding, and probably even had a few bucks left over for classroom supplies.

I could go on. (Instead, let me invite Examiner readers to share their own suggestions for expenditures your government could cut in order to deliver a more “fair package” to Nova Scotia teachers and their students. Get out your notepad, Mr. Premier. I’m sure they will have a few.)

The short answer to your question, Mr. Premier — Do they want us to take it away from vulnerable Nova Scotians? — is that we don’t want you to take away from “vulnerable Nova Scotians” in order to reach a fairer deal for Nova Scotia teachers.

We simply want you to stop demonizing them, to stop seeing teachers — and nurses, and home care workers, and public sector workers generally — as the enemy, whose job security and benefits must be destroyed at all costs in order to lower the benefit bar for corporations even as you prop up money-losing private businesses in the false name of economic development and plump up your own nest with new hires to help you win the next election.

The really vulnerable Nova Scotians, Mr. Premier, are those whose futures you’re sacrificing at the altar of your false cut-our-way-to-prosperity gods.


halifax-examinerThis column originally appeared in the Halifax Examiner. To read the latest column, please subscribe.


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