Hundreds of nurses storm Liberal AGM to confront Nova Scotia premier

Geordon Omand for Metro Halifax
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HALIFAX - More than 300 nurses and supporters unhappy at the prospect of the provincial government passing back-to-work legislation stormed the lobby of the Westin Hotel on Saturday during the Nova Scotia Liberal Party’s annual general meeting.

Hundreds of disgruntled nurses stormed the Nova Scotia Liberal Party AGM on Saturday before being escorted off the property.

One woman managed to confront Premier Stephen McNeil outside an elevator in the hotel.

Police were soon called in and escorted the protesters off the property.

“We’re trying to get people’s attention,” said Marleen Spencer, a staff nurse present for the protest.

“What we want (the government) to do is leave collective bargaining alone,” she added.

The Nova Scotia Government & General Employees Union — which represents the more than 2,300 registered nurses at the Capital District Health Authority — is in contract negotiations with the health authority.

Talks reached an impasse last Sunday, but are set to resume Monday in an effort to prevent the nurses going on strike.

When asked on Friday, McNeil did not rule out the possibility of passing essential services legislation to force nurses back to work; nonetheless, union activists are threatening to disregard the order.

“If mediation doesn’t produce any significant changes then nurses are still going to walk, regardless of essential services legislation,” said Robert Chisholm, a registered nurse who also sits on the union bargaining team.

“We’re going to take this over the wall.”

Nurses in Capital Health voted late February 90 per cent in favour of taking strike action if negotiations with the health authority stalled.

“There’s no point giving us our right to strike because essential services will completely make it null and void anyways,” added Trish MacDonald, also a registered nurse, voicing her frustration with the negotiation process.

“There will be no need for the employer to bargain.”

The key sticking point in the dispute is a demand from the union to increase nurse-to-patient ratios, something it said would improve patient safety.

The health authority said there is no evidence that mandated ratios guarantee better safety.

In anticipation of the possible walkout, Capital Health said it has started cancelling elective surgeries scheduled for early next week.

“We’re hoping that by (McNeil) seeing the strong turnout down here he realizes that he needs to step away from the table on Monday,” said MacDonald.

With files from the Canadian Press

Organizations: Nova Scotia Government General Employees Union, Capital District Health Authority, McNeil Canadian Press

Geographic location: Nova Scotia, Capital Healthvoted

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