FALL RIVER: Bill Horne is at ease with his decision to vote yes to Bill 75, despite friendships he has with several teachers and loud pleas from some in the community he represents to vote no.
The backbench Liberal MLA, who represents Waverley-Fall River-Beaver Bank, spoke to The Laker one-on-one on Feb. 28 about why he voted alongside his Liberal colleagues to legislate a contract on teachers, who have been without a contract for two years, on Feb. 21. The N.S. Teachers Union (NSTU) and the province have tried to reach an agreement three different times, but each returned rejected by the membership of the NSTU.
Horne said when the province called an emergency meeting in December he was not sure how he was going to vote. But following the adjournment, and from watching how things played out in the coming weeks and months, he was okay in his mind and heart with supporting the bill.
“There was a lot of pressure, although I was fairly at ease listening to what the teachers were saying,” said Horne. “We met quite a few of the local ones who live in the area but work in Dartmouth or Sackville in my office.
“They certainly told us in no uncertain terms that this was not the right way for us to be going solving a problem.”
Horne and his government obviously thought it was the right direction.
“I don’t know how you would solve a problem without having the government actually being involved at this point,” he said. “Nevertheless, they f eel we took something away from them.”
That something the Liberals axed was the teachers Long Service Award, a compensation package Horne and his colleagues felt was no longer necessary, and the only way they could address classroom conditions while keeping the aim to balance the budget.
Horne said they have been reassured that the recent Supreme Court decision in B.C. that saw teachers win against that government for the right to collective bargaining does not apply to the case in this province.
“Under this circumstance it’s not like B.C. at all apparently,” he said. “We’ve been assured by our Education Minister and Premier, and some legal work they had already done that this would not be considered in the same light as what happened in B.C.”
Horne said he has visited a couple of local schools, namely Ash Lee Jefferson Elementary where he spoke with Principal Andrew McNeil and had a look around to see what issues were. He also spoke to a teacher at Georges P. Vanier Junior High, and Ron Nugent, the Guidance Counsellor at the school, who paid him a visit at his home.
“We agreed to disagree basically,” he said about the conversation with the guidance counsellor.”I think we’re doing the right thing, even though the teachers would say it’s unconstitutional what we’re doing.
“I think its part of our ability to be democratic. We’re a democratic government. It’s not the ideal thing to be doing, but we think we’ve done the right thing.”
He did admit that changes are needed in the system.
“We do have a system that is broken, but it’s going to take some time, it’s not going to happen overnight, but we’re going to be able to address some of the issues right away,” said Horne. “We do have a system that does not allow failing, which is a big problem. A lot of the teachers are saying seven to nine different work plans have to be done for their classes, which means a lot of work for the teachers. That’s tough for them to do every day.”
When asked why he’s not returning messages from teachers sent to him via Facebook and email, Horne said that’s his own prerogative.
“I don’t always respond to everything that is in my Facebook inbox,” he said. “I see what they’re saying; I understand what their concerns are. I will talk to them, but if I get some nasty letters and emails I’m not going to respond to them. I know where their coming from and there’s nothing I can say that will straighten them out.”
Horne addressed a petition that was formulated by Nugent, and signed by close to 700 people, according to Nugent. He said most of the names he saw on it were not from his riding, and it did not weigh on his mind in changing how he would vote.
“I think petitions have their place to give you an understanding of how people feel, but it’s not necessarily helpful in making strides to changing one’s mind,” he said.
When asked about how the new contract with the teachers the government has imposed on the teachers with Bill 75 will see the changes made in the classroom that are needed, he thought it was a prudent question to be asked.
“That’s putting the Premier’s head on a wall sort of thing to solve this problem,” he said. “We’re hoping this bill will help to solve the issue.
“I think we’ll know in the first six months how it’s going to work. I believe there will need to be a lot more assistance for inclusive children. There probably might have to be more IPP’s for the kids too, and maybe with the changes with the $10 million per year we should be able to have some more teachers that would take off the workload.”
He was unsure why the $3.4 million in strike savings was directed to sports grants and team uniforms by Premier McNeil.
“I was wondering that to myself, where that money was going to go,” he said. “When I found out, some people are saying it should have gone into the schools themselves in making changes. I don’t have a problem with it to help students with their sports and recreation, and that’s important in our school system.
“I don’t have a problem with where that money went. It was a savings. I’m fine with where it’s gone.”
When asked where the $8.5 million is being used that was allocated in the third contract for the teachers two personnel days are being directed, Horne didn’t know.
“I guess they just cut out those two days, since it wasn’t signed and there were no obligations,” said Horne.
Horne has many friends in the community who are teachers. Many he works with on volunteer community groups. He was asked how he is explaining his decision to those teachers.
“I’m hearing from third parties that they may not be very happy, and I understand that,” he said. “I believe I will still be friends with some, if not all, of the teachers I know.
“I love teachers. I think they do a wonderful job. I know they are very committed and excited about teaching in general.”