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Canada’s profs raise alarm over Nova Scotia bill

The national organization representing Canada’s professors and academic staff says a bill before the Nova Scotia legislature would violate constitutional rights, undermine the independence of universities, and compromise academic freedom.

According to the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT), Bill 100, the Universities Accountability and Sustainability Act, would permit the provincial government, when requested by a university seeking a financial “revitalization plan”, to suspend the right of university staff to strike and the right of their unions to enforce aspects of their collective agreement that may relate in any way to the revitalization plan.

“The Supreme Court of Canada has upheld the right to strike as constitutionally protected and an essential part of meaningful collective bargaining in Canada,” said CAUT executive director David Robinson.

“According to the Court, equality in the bargaining process depends upon the right to strike. Bill 100 flies in the face of this by wiping out the right to strike and the right to enforce a collective agreement at the very moment when the employment security and working conditions of university employees are at stake.”

Robinson says that once a university submits a financial revitalization plan, constitutionally protected rights could be suspended for well over a year.

“Under the proposed legislation, unions have the opportunity to respond to draft plans, but with the right to strike removed, and the right to enforce existing collective agreements seriously curtailed, meaningful dialogue about the plan cannot really happen,” said Robinson.

Bill 100 also mandates the contents of revitalization plans. It requires that the university’s revitalization plan must satisfy the government that research will be turned into “business opportunities” and program and course offerings will be “relevant” to students, society and the economy. In addition, the plan must include ideas for exchanging knowledge and innovation with the private sector, with an emphasis on university-industry collaboration.

“This is an unacceptable intrusion of government into the academic affairs of universities in Nova Scotia,” explained Robinson. “By requiring specific curriculum and research objectives as part of a revitalization plan, the government is directly interfering with the institutional autonomy of universities to determine their own academic directions and priorities, and violating the academic freedom of teachers and researchers.”  

“The Nova Scotia government has acted in a high-handed manner by introducing a law which disregards recent legal developments and violates basic principles of university autonomy from government, and academic freedom,” added Robinson.

The Canadian Association of University Teachers is the national voice of 68,000 academic and general staff at 120 universities and colleges across the country.