October 26, 2020

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Skillful education crafters

Improving education key Tory priority

6 min read
The Pallister government will press ahead with educational reforms and a promised tax cut in...

The Pallister government will press ahead with educational reforms and a promised tax cut in the coming year, while tinkering with the welfare system and introducing legislation to curb “illegal blockades” of rail lines and roadways.

Other initiatives

In Wednesday’s throne speech, delivered by Lt.-Gov. Janice Filmon, the government promised to continue to promote private liquor sales, instruct Manitoba Hydro to keep electricity rate hikes below three per cent, and eliminate an anticipated massive pandemic-induced budget deficit within two terms in office.

It also promised to increase annual education funding by $1.6 billion within four years.

After placing a pause on planned educational reforms earlier this year when the pandemic struck, it appears that it’s now all systems go.

“Your government will set out a ‘K-12 better education strategy today’ with the aim of transforming Manitoba’s education system into a modern, responsive and ambitious educational system that is classroom-focused, student-centred and parent-friendly,” the throne speech said.

Asked at a news conference if the government plans to do away with school boards, Premier Brian Pallister did not give a direct answer but said the province needs to look for better ways of doing things.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Lt.-Gov. Janice Filmon, Premier Brian Pallister and other officials pass beneath scaffolding as they head towards the chambers for the speech from the throne.

“Too much money’s spent at the top of our education system. We need those resources moved to the front line,” he said. “We’re failing our kids when we’re ranked 10th out of 10 (provinces) in every category of comparative analysis.”

Pallister said he’s making good on a promise to begin phasing out education property taxes after balancing the budget. The government recently announced a small budget surplus for the 2019-20 fiscal year. The property tax rollback will begin next year.

The province will make up for the lost tax revenue by growing the economy, rather than “taxing people out of their own homes, by punishing people when they make improvements in their own businesses and by hurting families who are struggling enough to make ends meet without having to pay disproportionately higher education taxes than anyone else in Canada,” he said.

The provincial government plans to amend the Manitoba Assistance Act ” to help instil greater self-reliance and personal growth in clients” on social assistance. When asked how the province aims to achieve that, the premier said, “The best social program is a job.”

“We all know that the traditional mechanisms for delivering social assistance have actually fostered reliance as much as independence so we have to look at different mechanisms for offering programming that gets people to a skill development opportunity or work opportunity more readily than has been the case in the past,” Pallister said. “The best social program isn’t an intergenerational dependency on welfare program.”

Métis insulted by throne speech

Plans for new legislation to prevent “illegal blockades of critical transportation and protect jobs” isn’t intended to restrict the lawful right to protest, the premier said.

“Our police agencies are telling us there needs to be greater clarity in terms of what their role was supposed to be and could be,” said Pallister. “The idea here is to make it clearer what the obligations are on law enforcement officials with respect to protecting public property, not just private property. ”

The government signalled it will reintroduce several bills that died on the order paper when Premier Brian Pallister decided last week to prorogue the house and begin a new session of the legislature. Included is one that would remove provincial restrictions on Sunday and holiday shopping and one that would reform the rate-setting process for hydro and Autopac rates at the Manitoba Public Utilities Board.

“We have legislation to strengthen the Public Utilities Board and to strengthen the transparency with which it works and to reduce the cost of the running of the PUB,” said Pallister.

“Too much money’s spent at the top of our education system. We need those resources moved to the front line.” – Premier Brian Pallister

While offering no specifics, the government promised to develop “a modern child-care system and funding model that will enable and support the child-care sector to grow in line with demand from Manitoba families, provide greater equity in the type of support given to families, and offer choices and flexibility that reflect the needs and challenges today’s parents face.”

NDP Leader Wab Kinew said he was struck by how few new ideas are in the throne speech, especially for dealing with pandemic-related concerns.

“I was amazed at how little there actually was about COVID in this throne speech,” he said, noting it was silent about how to improve coronavirus screening. “(There were) no ideas, no new programs to help get a handle on that.”

Kinew said the government’s plan to carry on with its plan to phase out education property taxes “doesn’t match” with Manitobans’ priorities, which include a stronger response to the pandemic.

Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said he was looking for more in the throne speech to address health, education and economic issues related to the pandemic.

“There needed to be a pandemic plan to help small businesses survive,” he said. “That’s not there.”

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Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Legislature reporter

After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.

   Read full biography

Larry Kusch

Larry Kusch
Legislature Reporter

Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.

   Read full biography