Everybody knows that the dice are loaded
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
Everybody knows that the war is over
Everybody knows the good guys lost
Everybody knows the fight was fixed
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
That's how it goes
--Leonard Cohen, “Everybody Knows”
We have come to believe that the only way to make sense out of the site selection process is to understand that a small group of Liberal insiders intended to put the school in the Eastern Shore Industrial Park in East Chezzetcook from the very beginning.
The first public move took place on June 8, 2014, when MLA Kevin Murphy surprised a meeting of the Musquodobit Harbour Ratepayers Association with his proposal to create a “campus” in the Industrial Park by moving three key institutions out of Musquodoboit Harbour: the high school, the Birches nursing home, and the rink. The Industrial Park had been a site of failed dreams since the province expropriated the land back in the early 1980s. The verdict of the “free market” could not be clearer.
After Education Minister Zack Churchill announced the replacement of Eastern Shore District High in the spring of 2018, he rolled out a site selection “shell game,” a series of feints and misdirections to make the public believe his department was engaged in a fair site selection process, when it was not.
Churchill began by changing the site selection rules to eliminate any public participation in the process, leaving the decision entirely in his own hands.
But then the honest people at the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Development (DTIR) threw a monkey wrench into the works. Thanks to a FOIPOP, the public learned on January 14, 2021 that DTIR filed a 6-page technical evaluation of two sites back on March 20, 2020.
We don’t know for sure what those two sites were, because the government blanked out all but one sentence. What we do know is that Churchill’s new rules required DTIR to look first at the ESDH site, so we assume that ESDH was one of these two sites.
Given the government’s refusal to release this March 20, 2020 DTIR report, we believe it is highly likely that DTIR evaluated the ESDH site, and found that the site was acceptable.
According to Churchill’s new rules, if DTIR found that the ESDH site was acceptable, then before making a recommendation to the Minister, DTIR was supposed to provide the public with information on the site selection process itself, and DTIR’s findings.
DTIR has never released any information to the public about the two sites in the March 20, 2020 report, other than the single sentence in the FOIPOP response.
Months went by while the Liberals looked for some new sleight-of-hand that would allow them to change the conditions enough to justify doing a new technical evaluation, which they could then present to the public and pretend that the original evaluation approving ESDH never existed.
And so on October 8, 2020, the Halifax Regional Centre for Education announced that it was opening a “virtual consultation” to consider consolidating Gaetz Brook Junior High with Eastern Shore District High. Social scientists and political researchers know that such “virtual consultations” are a highly unreliable way to assess public opinion about anything. But HRCE intentionally excluded the entire community of people connected with Oyster Pond Academy—despite knowing that those OPA students would also be attending the new school.
And in a 2021 “consultation,” HRCE published a percentage supporting the Industrial Park, although this question was never asked.
The final sleight-of-hand in picking the Industrial Park site involved doing exactly what Churchill had so vehemently insisted was wrong with the previous process. Churchill had touted his rule changes because he claimed the final decision would be based exclusively on a “technical evaluation.” Keeping the public out of the process would prevent people from introducing all of their other messy, political issues.
But in the end, the only way the Liberals could leave the Industrial Site as the sole acceptable site was to add one of these non-technical issues as a criterion. So in a letter dated March 23, 2021, the new Education Minister Derek Mombourquette added an additional requirement that had nothing to do with the quality of education, and everything to do with the political fix:
“Any proposed site must be able to accommodate not only the new consolidated school but also allow for the potential inclusion of future co-located government facilities and community growth and development at the site.”
So here we are. We are familiar with the claim that there is nothing surprising about the way this shell game has played out, that the province’s political parties have been playing such games for ages.
But we cannot help wondering why anyone who cares about our children would want to saddle the generations of students attending the new school with the knowledge that their school was placed where it was because of backroom dealings by political hacks.
--Richard Bell, Editor