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Nova Scotia paves the way for Charter challenge to Health Authorities Act

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Photo: Sean_Marshall/flickr

Really?

Last year, the McNeil government passed the Health Authorities Act, ostensibly (and laudably) to streamline the province's health-care system, but also (and shabbily) to game that system. 

The legislation reduced the number of health districts from 10 to two, and the number of collective bargaining units from 50 to four. But the government's stealth agenda was to emasculate its union nemesis, the powerful Nova Scotia Government Employees Union, and cheat the province's 24,000 health-care workers of their Charter-given right to choose who should represent them.

To cover its tracks -- and sprinkle the fairy dust of plausible deniability over its actions while wearing its best "who-me?" face -- the government agreed to appoint James Dorsey, a British Columbia mediator-arbitrator with nearly 40 years in the business of dispute resolution.

Dorsey's clear if undeclared mandate was to divide the existing pie of registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, clinical health-care workers, and clerical and administrative support staff into four pre-determined, uneven slices so the government-despised NSGEU got the tiniest piece while the government-favoured Nova Scotia Nurses Union got to represent all nurses in the province.

But Dorsey refused to do the government's pie slicing.

He raised questions, for example, about whether the NSNU actually represented a majority of nurses. So the government last month announced plans to change the law -- by cabinet-imposed fiat rather than openly debated amendment -- to ensure the NSNU its majority. Dorsey rejected that ex-post facto games-playing.

And then on Friday, in his latest 96-page report, Dorsey chose the NSGEU as the union to represent both clerical and health-care workers, two of the four bargaining units.

Oops.

Health Minister Leo Glavine fired Dorsey by press conference, even threatening not to pay for work-to-date, and announced the government would bring in special legislation to accomplish what it had intended all along: limit the NSGEU to the clerical workers and hand all the nurses over to the NSNU.

This should make the unions' Charter challenge to the Health Authorities Act a no-brainer. And complicate any hope for actually streamlining our health-care system for a decade.

Good work, Leo.

This article first appeared in Stephen Kimber's Halifax Metro column.

Photo: Sean_Marshall/flickr

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