Can we talk about education funding, or only fear-monger?

Speaking on CBC Cape Breton last week, former Conservative Education Minister Jane Purves offered a rare, even-handed take on Nova Scotia’s education funding debate:

The government is genuinely looking for savings in education. I think it has been very good at promoting the truth that the syste has cost way more over the last 10 years but there are far fewer students. However, I’m wondering if in retrospect it was wise to floaat this 22 percent because they should have known what was going to happen: And what’s going to happen is that every board is going to come up with every sacred cow they can find to burn, sory for mixing metya[hors, and the government is beginning to face a tsumani of criticsm from parents, teacers, other unionized employees, and generally althought the public may be somewhat sympathetic about the need fors curs, the public doesn’t like a huge amount of noise coming when a government is trying to just do its job.

The full interview, with host Steve Sutherland, rewards close listening:

The rote response of school boards and the teacher’s union has been what we might call a confidence-draining exercise. Are we really entrusting our children’s education to a group of professionals unwilling or unable to contemplate new ideas for coping with an untenable financial situation?

The school system has been losing almost three percent of its enrollment per year for ten years, while education budgets have increased two to three points faster than inflation. Anyone can see that’s not sustainable. Surely boards, administrators, and union lobbyists can do better than to insist any change to the status quo will bring ruin to the system. Where do they expect the money to come? Health care? Highways? Increasing our already onerous debt?

Can’t we hear some new, creative ideas for how a Nova Scotia school system with fewer students might operate—on less money?

I have a few I’ll be posting in the days ahead, and I invite suggestions from readers. Surely on a topic this important, Nova Scotia can do better than obdurate resistance to change of any kind.

The Liberal mailing list flap

On CBC Radio last week, Contrarian’s old friend Ralph Surette said Nova Scotia Liberals had dumped their last nine leaders — every one since Gerald Regan — before they could fight a second election.

That’s not quite true. The Liberals have had only seven leaders since Regan, and two of those took the party through two elections. Still, the record is fratricidal:
Liberal Leaders 250

The operative question is whether the Liberals will repeat this pattern when they review leader Stephen McNeil’s leadership Friday. A covert campaign to unseat McNeil has featured an inept website and a mass mail-out using a purloined copy of the party’s email list.

Party president Derek Wells launched an investigation into this breach of  party security, a move some criticized as merely prolonging a bad-news story for leader McNeil. I’m not so sure. It’s never pleasant or easy for a leader to fend off this kind of clandestine back-biting.

If anyone looks bad, it’s  Deputy Leader Diana Whalen, who has never recovered from her bitterness at losing the 2007 leadership race to McNeil by 68 votes. Suspicion focused on Whalen when the source code for the unauthorized email turned up an address containing the letters, “dboudreau.”

Doug Boudreau, Whalen’s constituency assistant and the son of former Finance Minister and one-time leadership candidate Bernie Boudreau (who supported Whalen in the leadership campaign), offered an eyebrow-raising “no comment” when asked if he sent the email.

Confronted by reporters, Whalen fueled these suspicions by refusing to ask Boudreau whether he had done so, on grounds that she wouldn’t take part in “a witch hunt.” She didn’t say why asking an employee whether he made improper use of  party lists constitutes a “witch hunt.”

Whalen likewise refuses to say whether she supports McNeil’s leadership, invoking the specious “principle” that party “elites” should not tell the rank and file how to vote.

This is tawdry behaviour. If Whalen wants McNeil defeated, she should have to ovaries to say so, publicly and forthrightly. If she wants McNeil to win the next election, common political sense dictates closing ranks behind him in the leadership review. Campaigning secretly to defeat him while maintaining a dubious public posture of neutrality doesn’t speak well of her integrity or her truthfulness.

Undermining McNeil is nothing new for Whalen. Readers may recall when then-Justice Minister Cecil Clarke got into hot water for refusing to allow a vote on a private member’s bill by Walen that would have established a committee to combat domestic violence. Clarke was retaliating against Whalen’s vote in committee to kill a bill cracking down on copper thieves (a bill other members of her caucus supported).

Whalen claimed fences, er,  scrap metal dealers in her riding had not been given sufficient chance to review the bill. In fact, rampant theft of copper from live power lines posed a grave risk to public safety at the time, and Whalen had deliberately sabotaged a deal between the minority Tory government and the Liberal caucus to pass both bills. Given a chance undermine McNeil, the risk of potential electrocution didn’t factor in.

In the ensuing uproar, Clarke was accused of putting scrap metal ahead of battered women, a phony meme gullible (or lazy) press gallery reporters embraced with alacrity.