Bill 72 passes final vote, ending Nova Scotia's English school boards

Future school psychologists, speech-language pathologists won't be part of teachers union

The Nova Scotia government's sweeping legislation to reform the education system passed on Thursday, exactly one week after it was introduced.

Bill 72 passed by a vote of 25-21, with all Liberal MLAs voting in favour of the legislation and all opposition MLAs voting against. 

Among other things, the bill dissolves all elected English-language school boards, removes administrators from the Nova Scotia Teachers Union, creates an appointed advisory committee, and essentially places all accountability on the Education Department.

Education Minister Zach Churchill said his department would immediately turn its attention to implementing the various aspects of the bill as his government works toward reforming the education system.

This step comes just weeks before an independent review on inclusive education is due and Churchill said he expects that to be on time.

'Needs to be more responsive'

While there was opposition to Bill 72, unlike a year ago, when the government fast-tracked legislation to impose a contract on teachers, protest and outcry was far more subdued this week. 

For Thursday's final vote, the gallery at Province House was less than half-full.

And while there were changes to the bill to address concerns related to inclusion and representation, other concerns remained for opposition members. Speaking in the House Thursday, Tory MLA Alana Paon said people should be "screaming from the rooftops" at the idea of a democratic right being legislated away.

But Churchill said the government is "evolving an institution that's been old and hasn't been changed in a lot of years."

"It needs to be more responsive to the needs of our kids and this, I believe, is the next stage of that evolution."

Low teacher morale

Teachers union president Liette Doucet, who was present for the vote and much of the final debate, said the focus right now for the union is on improving morale after what she described as a difficult year or two of dealing with the government.

"It's going to take a long time to restore trust," she said. "We have members who now are divided from their mentors, from their lead teachers, and they're hurting — all of our members are hurting right now."

Premier Stephen McNeil has said he wants teachers involved in helping implement whatever recommendations are in the inclusion report. Doucet said she'd wait to see what it says, but her members will work with the government if it means positive change.

"We want to make things better for our students and we'll do whatever it takes to make that happen."

Tory education critic Tim Halman said he worried about how much remains unknown about Bill 72 even after it's been passed.

"There are a lot of questions about how these new governance structures are going to work," he said. "I don't think the government has provided clarity as to how [school advisory councils] are going to work [and] how the new provincial advisory council is going to operate."

Churchill says accountability remains

NDP education critic Claudia Chender said she remains concerned Bill 72 makes the system less accountable.

"We're going from a system of elected school boards to closed-door meetings of a provincial advisory council," she said, adding she doesn't believe MLAs are equipped to begin taking calls from residents that previously would have gone to school board members.

Churchill said transparency remains intact because the advisory body reports to government and government is open and accountable.

"In terms of decisions we make, the reasoning behind it, everything is going to be as it is now, which is open and transparent."