The Nova Scotia Teachers Union says its members could walk off the job as early as Wednesday or Thursday if they vote in favour of a strike over the government's planned education reforms.
NSTU president Liette Doucet told a press conference that if more than half of the voters support the idea, the union will take that as a mandate for what would be an illegal strike.
The online poll opened at 7 a.m. on Tuesday and closed at 8 p.m. but Doucet said vote results would not be released Tuesday evening, and the union executive could keep the result secret.
If there is a strike mandate, she said the executive, which will meet on Wednesday, will decide what to do next.
"We could do a rotating strike, we could do a work-to-rule, we could do a full walkout, we could do a one-day walkout," she said. "It will all depend on the plan we look at tomorrow."
Teachers could 'take action at any time'
If the union was in a legal strike position, it would have to give 48 hours notice of any job action. Doucet wouldn't commit to giving any notice in this case.
"We do believe that parents need some type of leeway in order to arrange for child care. I can't tell you whether 48 hours notice would be given or not, but I expect that some notice would be given," she said. "They could take action at any time."
She said that could mean teachers walking off the job Wednesday or Thursday. Doucet said the union needs the support of half of all voters to do that, not half of its more than 10,000 members.
"Teachers have to make their own decision. They have to think about their situations, their family situations, how job action could impact them, their belief in fighting for the education system in this province," she said.
Teachers and the union would face fines if they go on an illegal strike.
The NSTU announced the strike vote last week over the Liberal government's plan to implement a consultant's report that will usher in sweeping changes to the province's education system.
Nova Scotia's Education Department has said the teachers' current contract agreement is in place until July 31, 2019, and any job action undertaken while that contract is in place would be illegal.
Education Minister Zach Churchill wouldn't comment Tuesday about the possibility of a strike and said he's waiting to see what the union decides. He dismissed union calls to "press pause" on the changes he wants to institute in the education system.
"What would a pause give us at this point? I think the issue is very clear," Churchill said. "It's not about a pause, it's about a halt on the changes that are being recommended. And we are not willing to stop change.
"The fact is if change is going to happen, we need bold and decisive action to make it happen. Otherwise, the forces of the status quo most likely will prevail. And we don't think our kids can wait any longer. And we don't think we can continue to not give our very best to them."
The lines of communication with the union remain open, he said. He had not spoken with Doucet since last week, he said, but there are meetings scheduled in the future.
Jill Brogan, a parent of two students and the chair of Dartmouth High's School Advisory Council, hopes a strike will be avoided.
"Our experience has been that principals and vice-principals are doing the administration of the school," she said. "To me, it would be fine for them not to be a part of that union. I would think it would make it easier in matters of discipline and making those tough decisions."
'That's not the way we work in schools'
The NSTU has been vocal about its concerns with a recent report by education consultant Avis Glaze, and the government's plan to implement it.
Released last month, the report makes 22 recommendations, including dissolving Nova Scotia's seven elected regional school boards to create one provincial advisory council.
Another change involves moving principals and vice-principals out of the union.
"It changes the dynamic. It creates a situation where instead of a collegial relationship, you have a relationship more like in a business — a boss and a worker," Doucet said. "That's not the way we work in schools."
She said if a student has a problem, teachers, principals and support staff work together.
"If that changes, it will be a situation where teachers could be afraid to speak to their administrators if they're having problems."
She said other recommendations could make it harder to recruit teachers to rural schools and reduce course offerings. She didn't explain how that could happen.
Doucet said scrapping local school boards would mean "the local voice would be missing" and school closures would be decided centrally, not locally.
Doucet held the press conference at the Burnside headquarters for the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union.
Jason MacLean, head of the NSGEU, said the teachers union had their support. Danny Cavanagh, president of the Nova Scotia Federation of Labour, likewise backed the NSTU. Neither said what their union members would do if the strike goes ahead.
Earlier this month, the NSTU pulled its co-chair from the Council to Improve Classroom Conditions over the Glaze report.
It's also been a little more than a year since Nova Scotia's teachers held a one-day strike after the Liberal government legislated the end to a work-to-rule job action taken by union members.