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EDITORIAL: Little discussion of vast change

It’s the Nova Scotia Liberals against the world. It seems Stephen McNeil’s government is self-delusional enough to believe it’s spouting self-evident truths.

Among the latest developments as the legislature hastens along the Education Reform Act is the rejection by the Liberals of an amendment calling for meetings of the proposed advisory committee on education to be open to the public. The amendment proposed by the NDP also wanted minutes of this new body – which will replace elected school boards – to be publicly available.

That’s a principle that should govern any body that is supposed to be accountable to the public. But this government seems to be satisfied that secret meetings are OK and, amazingly, Education Minister Zach Churchill maintains that closed meetings won’t make the system less transparent.

The minister should go into detail explaining that one. It flies in the face of what people understand about democratic process and accountable governing.

It’s that much more a stark concern given the ongoing criticism in the province about the Nova Scotia Health Authority and its closed-door meetings. This latter setup, surrounding health administration, is one McNeil said recently his government would reconsider.

But people watching what’s going on with the education bill worry that the closed-door model that has been in place with the health authority will be copied with the new body overseeing education. And they’re right to challenge the government’s sorry attempt to justify such an opaque approach in the way public departments are handled. How do people get answers when there are problems or shortcomings in these departments?

Whatever the merits of Bill 72, it does have its share of critics on some of the details. More than 60 speakers lined up to challenge points of the proposed legislation on Monday before the legislature committee.

With its fixation upon the administration of the education system, many said they felt it was missing the key goal of finding ways to improve student achievement. As suggested by Peter Day, a middle school teacher from Sydney Mines, increased human resources – including teachers, speech language pathologists and social workers – would help students more than these administrative changes.

Although finding ways to improve what’s going on in classrooms was a repeated theme in the standoff last year between the government and teachers union, those goals seem to have been shoved to the side.

Apparently, achievements in that area will be left for a future government to tackle.

The presentations from the public, the subsequent debate in the legislature, the discussion of proposed amendments – they provide some window dressing of the democratic process.

But with their “slim majority” government, the Liberals can ram this bill through the legislature. This despite the mathematical fact that a minority of Nova Scotians voted for them. What does that say about a so-called mandate to make such a dramatic change in the system?

Somehow this government has taken it upon itself to refuse to listen honestly to the criticisms of this plan and plunge ahead with vast changes to education administration.

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