Friday, April 25, 2008


So the NSTU held its first ever presidential candidate forum via webcast last night. I applaud the effort to make the forum accessible across the province. I watched out of curiousity to see how the technology would pan out as much as interest in what candidates would present.

And what the candidates presented was pretty much what I expected, with one exception.

Alexis Allen talked about how hard she's worked, that she has taught for 30 years, yada, yada, yada. There was no vision or freshness to her ideas or presentations, which means if she's elected, we'll continue to have a union that's driven by highly overpaid teachers pretending to be lawyers and negotiators under the guide of executive staff officers (who actually have their own union and contract with the NSTU).

Jack Toomey said pretty much the same thing as Alexis. His moneyball comment came when he said we should be spending more money to communicate with the public. I was curious to know if he, as first vice president this past year, was one of the brain trust who signed off on the horribly irrelevant holiday add this year where the main message was that Mary Lou Donnelly sure knows how to kiss babies. If he thinks that's effective communication, we're in for raised dues to pay for his media campaign and a boatload of dollars wasted on tacky and pointless TV ads.

Simon Wilkin gave some focus to new teachers and getting people involved, but he didn't say anything to show me that he has any new ideas for reform to make the kind of changes that will shake our union out of complacency and into effectiveness and innovation. He wore the nicest suit and looked the best on the screen, but I'm not excited about the prospect of him driving the boat.

Eric Boutilier at least seems genuine, but there's so little of his platform that reflects anything other than the priorities of permanent teachers that I just can't see how he's the person to get the union to finally leverage its influence to deal with the biggest issues facing its most vulnerable constituents- substitutes and early career teachers. While his points are valid, who doesn't know or believe that a salary increase in our contract that matches the true cost of living increase we're all facing isn't important, or an article that ensures classes are composed with a clear, entrenched framework for funding and support?

The candidate who took it home for me was Russell Comeau. He was the candidate I knew the least about, but he hit the nail on the head a bunch of times. The most significant point he raised was the critical need to rework the language of our contract to escape the problem we have now- that we negotiate for permanent, probationary, term and substitute teachers almost separately, and consequently have gains that apply to one group but not others- he clearly laid out as a priority the need to have language that ensures gains apply to all when won so we don't have entrenched layers of inequality that grow tension and discord between different groups.

With the proposed articles of our asking package distributed recently, it's obvious that those who are leading our union are getting paid a ton and delivering little. Our asking items are mamby pamby to begin with, ensuring that we whatever we win will be less than lukewarm. The vast bulk of items requested really only impact permanent teachers, and changes proposed for subs seem significant, but only if you didn't hear the deputy minister of education scoff at how poorly paid subs are in both major newspapers earlier this year. If you can't win gains this year, when can you? If I hear the NSTU thumping its chest over these gains, I will be quick to point out the lack of substitute teacher issues in asking packages, annual council business and presence on the provincial executive have been the three biggest factors in the abysmal and near poverty stricken state of affairs for NS subs.

Here's hoping Russell can overcome the popularity contest this election has been too often, and the archaic regional politics that can ruin the best candidates chances simply because of where they live and work.

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