[Editor’s Note: This editorial represents the opinion of this newspaper about the location and design of the proposed new school. In our own stories, we have interviewed and quoted proponents and opponents of the Eastern Shore Industrial Park site, and have published unedited submissions from proponents. This editorial contains the conclusions we have come to after reviewing what we know. To the extent that our conclusions are in any way provisional, we deeply regret that both the previous Liberal government and the current PC government have refused to release critical information that should have been public before the selection of the site.]
Over the past nine years, the Cooperator has covered such public information as was available about the Liberal government’s controversial site selection process leading to the current proposal to build a consolidated junior/senior school in the Eastern Shore Industrial Park in East Chezzetcook. And last month, we ran a story about the multiple concerns that parents and teachers have raised after the release of a preliminary design.
We feel the time has come to ask those of you who agree with our analysis of what we have witnessed over the last nine years to join together and contact Premier Tim Houston to order the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development to follow the Liberals’ own site selection rules and build the new school where it should have been built, at the existing ESDH site.
We know that this change will be disappointing to those who have been demanding a new school regardless of where it is located, or regardless of whether the proposed design meets the needs of the rapidly growing population of the Eastern Shore.
But let’s take a careful look at the high stakes of this project for the Premier, the Minister, and the parents, teachers, and generations of children who will otherwise be attending a school that we already know is inadequate and in an inappropriate and inaccessible location.
Public access to information is at the heart of any successful democracy. And one of the most important functions of any newspaper in a democracy is to bring that information about the government’s workings to its readers. We need information to participate in priority setting and decision-making. We need to know information to hold our government accountable for its actions and its spending of our tax dollars. When a government chooses to hide information, that government makes a mockery of our democratic rights.
So on the highest moral plane concerning the government’s site selection process, the Premier should act to defend our right to be fully informed about the proposed actions of our government by releasing all the information about the technical evaluations of the proposed sites.
The Liberal government denied us that right by refusing to release a critical 2020 technical evaluation of the ESDH site, a document that our current Premier continues to withhold. We paid for that document with our hard-earned tax dollars.
And in an on-going appeal of the government’s refusal to release this document, an official at the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner has already ruled that the government should release this document because it contains information that the public should have known before the Liberal government made their site decision.
Another pillar of democracy is the requirement that governments present information openly and fairly. The Liberal government re-wrote the school site selection rules to eliminate any possibility of public representation in the site selection process. After having selected the Industrial Park site, they then authorized two flawed public “surveys” in an attempt to create the appearance of public support for the decision they had already made to pick the Industrial Park site, while also withholding the crucial technical evaluation.
In our May 2022 issue, we reported on the design of the new school and the concerns of parents, teachers, and administrators stemming from presentations to meetings of the School Steering Team.
Despite the evidence of a series of maps for the campus concept, beginning in February of 2014 and including maps from 2015 and 2018, we are not aware of any plans or funding for a campus. There is no sign of the millions of dollars to make the 107/East Chezzetcook interchange safe. The current proposed design is a stripped-down building, constrained by multiple wetlands, with only dirt road access. And most of us were surprised by the narrowly focused provincial standards for new school buildings. There is no room for concerns such as educational quality, access to enriched opportunities, and the potential for community support.
In light of this dismal history of pre-determined decision-making and the abuse of the FOIPOP Act to deny public access to critical information, we have been heartened by the Premier’s recent decision to abandon his proposed tax on out-of-province homeowners. However painful reversing this decision may have seemed to the Premier and his supporters, we should all be grateful to have a leader who is capable of listening to the public and changing his mind.
On the matter of the politically pre-determined decision to locate a new school in the Industrial Park, we appreciate how politically unattractive correcting the errors of past administrations may appear. But Premier Houston has already shown his willingness to reverse bad decisions by the Liberal government, like cancelling the highly controversial plan to destroy Owls Head Provincial Park to build luxury housing and golf courses.
There are no shovels in the ground yet at the Industrial Park site. If you understand that this moment is an opportunity to right the wrongs of the past eight years for the Shore, and to assure that the students from the entire high school catchment areas deserve a school that meets their educational, social, and safety needs, please contact the one person who can make a better choice: email Premier Tim Houston at [email protected], phone 902-424-6600, or toll free in Nova Scotia, 1-800-267-1993 or send a letter to Premier Tim Houston, PO Box 726 Halifax NS B3J 2T3.
--Richard Bell, Editor