Tuesday April 2, I brought forward our Manitoba Liberal Caucus's Opposition Day Motion on Education and the problems with the direction the Pallister government is taking. My motion and my speech to the motion are below.
Hon. Jon Gerrard (River Heights): Madam Speaker, I move, seconded by the MLA for Kewatinook, that the Legislative Assembly of Manitoba condemn the provincial government for initiating cuts to education that puts the quality of education of all Manitoba students at risk, for closing the Manitoba Curriculum Support Centre and for making a charade of the education review by hiring Avis Glaze, who has been central to the elimination of school boards in Nova Scotia, and also hiring Clayton Manness and Janice MacKinnon, who were Cabinet ministers who cut funding to education in order to balance budgets.
Mr. Gerrard: Madam Speaker, I rise on this motion because we in the Manitoba Liberal Party are very concerned about the direction of education under this government.
And we are concerned not only about what has already been done but about the individuals who are going to be involved in the education review because, as a result of hiring these individuals, it looks to us that the fix is probably in, that this government, if it gets re-elected, will eliminate school boards and do various other damaging things to education in this province.
I want to speak first of all about cuts to education. And there have been significant cuts. I would speak for starters with the cut–the elimination which has occurred just in the last few days - to the Manitoba Curriculum Support Centre. This was an amazing resource which teachers from around the province accessed and used to help their kids to learn. It was an amazing resource which helped particularly smaller schools and more isolated schools where they didn't have the resources that larger schools have.
I mentioned in question period earlier today about a teacher librarian who has accessed in the past the services of the Curriculum Support Centre several times a month every month all school year. And she's been accessing this for the last 35 years. She supports some 525 students and more than 40 teachers. With limited library budgets, this material from the Curriculum Support Centre is absolutely essential to the quality of education for these students.
The minister keeps repeating that there's only a few people who come in each day to the library. In fact, one of the many benefits of the Curriculum Support Centre was that you didn't actually need to go to the building to receive materials. Many school divisions had courier access; a teacher could connect with one of the librarians at the Curriculum Support Centre, describe the project they were working on and the grade level, and the staff, who are very knowledgeable, would curate a collection of resources customized for that teacher's and that student's needs.
The Curriculum Support Centre provided many other types of resources that can't be accessed online: DVD resources, which are copyrighted and not streamed; many hands-on kits, including magnet kits, sound kits, hands-on kits for light; and many other science topics and science projects. The kits also include indigenous artifacts often and other materials that cannot be duplicated online. Indeed, the closure of the Curriculum Support Centre is a devastating loss for students and educators around Manitoba. The minister is misguided in suggesting that it can be easily replaced online.
This Curriculum Support Centre is vital. The online resources can be a compliment to it, but the Curriculum Resource Centre has been essential, has been used by many, many teachers and students and needs to continue, even though this government has now closed it.
There are a variety of other areas of cuts, and I would just say that as I travel the province, I have parents coming to me and teachers coming to me and talking about this program or that program which has been cut and support for special needs children being, in some areas, cut back. These are problem areas and these are real cuts.
The second area I want to talk about is the hiring of Avis Glaze. Now, she is the author of a report in Nova Scotia. Her report refers to school boards as "undisciplined", "fractious", and "role-confused" entities representing narrow interests, and she recommended that all school boards be eliminated in Nova Scotia, and in fact, that is exactly what has happened.
The Nova Scotia government eliminated all school boards, and what I would say to you, Madam Speaker, and to members of this Chamber, that there is a lot of concern about the results.
People in Nova Scotia are saying there is no one holding the system to the fire. There is no one standing up for local interests and making sure that parents in local areas are adequately listened to, and there is no one with the power of being elected to stand up when school boards disagree with the direction that the government is going.
In fact, that is probably one reason why this government is moving to eliminate school boards. This government doesn't want elected school trustees standing up to it. They want to squelch dissent, and so it is a sad day when we have the hiring and the involvement of a woman who has been very negative towards school boards and who has called for their elimination–and in fact, they have been eliminated - in Nova Scotia.
It is worth noting that school boards were eliminated in New Brunswick, and a few years later they were brought back because people realized that school boards are absolutely essential and very important to the input from parents, and from community people, and for the development of community connections.
I would suggest to you, Mr. Speaker, that the school boards in Manitoba have very often been very innovative–new ideas like the Met schools in Seven Oaks School Division, new ideas have come from Seine River School Division in terms of programs like the Roots of Empathy and understanding of what one can do to help school kids.
Many school divisions have brought in and are working with programs for helping children make sure that they get something nourishing to eat. And there is a lot of individual attention from one area to another because local school boards understand what is happening locally, and they pay attention, and they make sure that they are responding to local needs and help kids to get a good education.
We were also concerned about the choice of Mr. Clayton Manness and Ms. Janice MacKinnon, both of those have been Finance ministers–one in Manitoba, one in Saskatchewan–and both have a reputation for cutbacks. One, of course, is Conservative, one is NDP, but both of them are similar in that their reputation for cutbacks was what they made their reputation on. And whether those cutbacks were good or ill is to be debated, but I think it's not to be debated that there were major problems in education in the '90s, when Mr. Clayton Manness was involved in Finance and then in Education as a minister.
Sadly, neither one of these two has had direct involvement as a teacher in the K-to-12 system, and so we are having people who are going to be talking about the future of education who have not been adequately and directly involved, I would suggest.
Certainly, we are very concerned about the direction that this review is going. We should be looking for a vision for education. A vision for education which, in fact, provides concrete steps that will ensure that our children in Manitoba get a high-quality education. And one of the problems is that there are children with learning difficulties and learning disabilities who are not being helped. And, if we could bring them up and improve how they're doing, we could make a big difference. But this is not an area where the current Minister of Education has been interested in.
With those remarks, Mr. Speaker, I conclude and look forward to the comments by others.