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🗞️ Putting money where the mouths are

Nova Scotia's budget earns praise for funding long-awaited school lunch program.

Happy first day of March!

Yesterday, I spent the first half of my day in “media lockup” at One Government Place with other reporters. The province’s 2024-25 budget was the confidential star of the room. All reporters received the budget at 8:30am. We signed agreements saying we wouldn’t publish or share its details until finance minister Allan MacMaster read it into the provincial legislature at 1:15pm, across the street at Province House. 

As opposed to previous lockups, they trusted us to keep our phones. (In the photo lower down in the newsletter, you’ll see we put them to good use.) Another boon was how quickly I was able to reach staff in provincial departments—such easy access isn't always the case—who were prepped and ready to respond to our calls as of 9am. Thankfully, that gave me enough time to speedread the budget for articles related to education and get my initial questions answered in the first 30 minutes. 

Mentally chewing and digesting the implications of billions in budgetary spending will take longer than that, however. You can find plenty of quick takes on the budget—I’ve got one below in an exclusive for the newsletter that won’t be on The Coast’s website—but for a deeper dive I’ll be outlining what this means for education in the province over the coming days and weeks. Stay tuned. 

– Lauren

🌡️ Traffic & Weather

Today: 🌦️ -3°

Tomorrow: ☀️ 

Next Day: ⛈️

🚗 Driving today? Check out the current traffic conditions and ongoing road closures.

🤔 Need to know

🪦 Florida man Brian Mulroney died yesterday in Palm Beach at age 84. His New York Times obit remembers the Dalhousie-educated ex-politician who imposed the GST/HST on Canada as a “foul-mouthed, insecure man with an enemies list that sprawls from Vancouver to Halifax.”

🔌 This morning, the city is reportedly going to step up its efforts to evict unhoused people who are tenting at Grand Parade and Correctional Centre Park by cutting off electricity to the sites.

💡 Speaking of power, there was a point during yesterday’s storm when more than 30,000 people lost theirs, but by early this morning fewer than 250 people were waiting on Nova Scotia Power to restore service.

⚖️ Speaking of (a different kind of) power, Nova Scotia’s Public Prosecution Service brought out a policy yesterday that’s intended to fight anti-Black racism in the justice system. PPS’s acting director, Rick Woodburn, says the policy takes as fact that “systemic and institution racism plays a part in the overrepresentation of marginalized individuals.”

SPONSORED BY CANADIAN MUSUEM OF IMMIGRATION AT PIER 21

Planning your March break?

Here’s a must-do day: Visit the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21, which is offering FREE admission from March 9th to March 17th, thanks to a partnership with Emera.

Check out the amazing exhibitions and research your own family’s immigration history. Plus, from Monday to Friday that week, there are different
food workshops - everything from shawarma to tortellini to luskiknin. AND dance/movement workshops that are more about fun than perfection. Space is limited for the cooking workshops, so we suggest registering to get a spot.

Whether or not you have a kid out of school or not, this is a great way to spend a day.

THE COST OF EDUCATION

School lunch program finally gets funding in Nova Scotia’s new budget

📸 Lauren Phillips / The Coast

Finance minister Allan MacMaster unveiled the province’s 2024-25 budget yesterday. It estimates spending $16.5 billion over the next year—up $1.7 billion from last year—with a $467.4 million deficit. The budget is themed around heavy investments in healthcare and addressing the cost of living for Nova Scotians, but since The Coast employs one of Canada’s only education beat reporters, we naturally wonder what the budget means for education. 

Funding for universities and colleges is increasing by 2.6 percent, a total of $725.5 million, which is less than Canada’s current inflation rate. The Association of Nova Scotia University Teachers was hoping the budget would reveal how universities are meant to honour new bilateral agreements with the province, which have made funding performance-based. It did not. A statement from ANSUT president Scott Stewart points out that such financial unknowns make it “increasingly difficult for our universities to uphold their academic missions—to provide education, conduct research and contribute to the betterment of society."

There’s a steeper increase in public education funding. Pre-Primary to Grade 12 is estimated to receive a 6.7% increase in spending, amounting to nearly $2 billion. Key areas are:

  • $18.8 million for a provincial school lunch program that will start to roll out this fall

  • $42.5 million for child care funding under the provincial-federal child care agreement 

  • $28 million increase for public school operating budgets

This $28 million will essentially be spent on hiring teachers to sustain the current ratio of teachers-per-students in classrooms, adjusted for population growth and inflation costs. There’s no mention of initiatives towards teacher recruitment and retention, or to improve the support that the current model estimates for, such as reducing class sizes or increasing substitute teaching wages.

Nova Scotia Teachers Union president Ryan Lutes tells The Coast, “in terms of getting students more support or teachers more support, there's nothing in the budget for that—and that's really something that we were looking for.” Given a recent NSTU survey that found 84% of teachers were considering leaving the job, Lutes thinks such supports are vital. 

“How do we support the teachers that are already in the system? How do we make sure they stay? Not only that, how do we make sure they're doing the best work for kids? They can't do that work while they're contemplating leaving the profession.”

Lutes says this budget is about maintaining the status quo, with one long-awaited takeaway: the beginning of the school lunch program. However, with the program just starting up in the fall at an unknown number of schools, the $18.8 million allocated for it probably isn’t an accurate estimate of what it will cost for every school to have a lunch program for a full year. Surely this will come up in budget debates at the legislature for the rest of March. Stay tuned.

🗞️ In Other News

🌳 Community group Friends of the Halifax Common used its newsletter yesterday to revitalize its petition against cutting down trees on Robie Street and Bell Road to make way for a hospital expansion.

The JUNOS announced more musicians who will be playing at the awards show in Halifax on March 24, plus a three-day JUNO Block Party festival happening here before the awards.

🪧 Workers at the Autoport in Eastern Passage enter their third day on strike today, while CN’s hiring of replacement workers to run its car shipment terminal has the Unifor union’s president calling for anti-scab legistlation.

🚫 After closing Nova Scotia’s elver fishery early last season, the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans is apparently thinking about cancelling the baby eel harvest outright this year.

🖊️ Petition meets strike at Mount Saint Vincent University, where professors are on the picket lines for the 19th day. The faculty union is asking people in the school’s community to sign onto a letter-writing campaign urging MSVU’s president and its chair of the board “to reach a fair deal.”

🏆 Citing our friendliness, arts scene and natural beauty, posh real estate company Sotheby’s named Halifax one of Canada’s 10 best places to retire.

🗓️ Things To Do

Looking for something to do this weekend? Check out these Coast picks:

🗓 Xzibit: The Pimp My Ride rapper performs at The Dome in Halifax this Sunday night | Mar. 3 | 9pm | From $45

🗓 Gutsy signing: Heather Fegan will be signing copies of her book Gutsy: Living my best life with Crohn’s disease & ulcerative colitis at Coles in the Halifax Shopping Centre | Mar. 3 | 1-3pm | Free

🗓 Thunderbirds vs Swarm: Halifax’s thunderrific professional lacrosse team plays the Georgia Swarm at Scotiabank Centre Friday night | Mar. 1 | 8pm | $26.25 and up

🗓 Sandwich Week: Saturday marks the start of Sackville’s Sandwich Week and yes, thankfully Kaiser’s is among the 15 restaurants participating | Mar. 2-9

🗓 Mooseheads vs Sea Dogs: The hometown hockey Herd hosts Saint John in a Saturday showdown at Scotiabank Centre | Mar. 2 | 7pm | $25.25

Find more Halifax events in The Coast listings

⚓️ What’s In The Harbour Friday

➡️ Ro-ro container ship Atlantic Sun is supposed to leave Halifax at 1:30am destined for New York.

🚢 The Atlantic Sea container vessel is due at Fairview Cove at 5:20am, arriving from Norfolk, Virginia. It leaves for Liverpool, England at 5pm.

🚢 Container ship Bakkafoss arrives around 8am from Portland, Maine. It will berth for the day at the South End Container Terminal before heading to Argentia, Newfoundland at 6pm.

🚢 At 11:15am the 275-metre-long MSC Leigh is scheduled to arrive at the South End Container Terminal from its last port of call, Montreal. It’s leaving for Sines, Portugal, at 9:30pm.

➡️ Onego Deusto, a general cargo vessel, departs Halifax at 5pm for the very short voyage along the Eastern Shore to Sheet Harbour.

➡️ Frequent Halifax visitor Nolhan Ava leaves at 6pm for the trip to Argentia.

➡️ The Oceanex Sanderling container ship sails at 8pm from Fairview Cove, bound for St. John’s, Newfoundland.

👀 In Case You Missed It

⚠️ Get an earful about road safety in Halifax from the latest episode of The Coast’s Grand Parade podcast.

📰 Coast readers weigh in on the question of how and why to fix journalism. For example, one reader makes the point that “journalism is really a public good, and the government and taxpayers should treat it as such. It’s not quite as important as clean air, water, and food. But it does ensure access to those things.” 

🗓️ You might have missed your salary yesterday on Leap Day.

That’s it!

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