Right in the centre - A second look in 30 years


By Ken Waddell

Neepawa Banner & Press

Manitoba takes a serious look at education, rarely. In my lifetime, there have only been two major reviews. One was done by the Duff Roblin government in the 1960s. The other was done in the 1990s by the Gary Filmon government. 

The 1960s report will be remembered for bringing in larger school divisions and division owned school buses. There were some moves towards adding courses such as Home-Ec and Shops to the regular fare of Math, English, History, Physics and Chemistry.

The 1990s report, headed by former Winnipeg mayor, Bill Norrie, was, in my opinion, the best government report ever written. The Norrie Report called for a major overhaul of school division boundaries.

The Norrie Report was considered too controversial by the Filmon government to implement. Mr. Filmon, while he may have liked the report’s findings, didn’t see how he could muster the support to bring about the changes.

When the Norrie Report was ordered, Clayton Manness was a cabinet minister. Manness is a well known man. He attended the University of Manitoba in the 1960s. He farmed, ran for the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party of Manitoba against Gary Filmon and became a cabinet minister. Manness is co-chairing this newest review of Manitoba’s education system.

As matter of interest, the Norrie Report recommended joining the school divisions that served Macgregor, McCreary, Carberry, Gladstone and Neepawa. Basically, a joining of Beautiful Plains School Division and Pine Creek School Division. It suggested amalgamating the divisions serving Binscarth,Erickson, Hamiota, Rossburn, Shoal Lake, St. Lazare, Birtle, Minnedosa, Rapid City, Rivers and Russell.

Just by looking at the recommendations for the areas within or near this newspaper’s coverage area, one can see that the report was indeed controversial.

This new report will be more far-reaching. Not only will boundaries be reviewed, but educational standards. That is likely more important. By all measures, many Manitoba students do very well, but by those same standards, Manitoba’s overall test scores are pretty bad. Talk to any teacher and you will also find deep complaints about the ever changing curriculum and how the changes are often not for the better. The most commonly mentioned complaints are about basic math and reading skills.

Ironically, the biggest complaint about our education system, that is how it is funded, is not part of the review. Minister of Education, Kelvin Goertzen, says the review might even look at eliminating school divisions, but that won’t be possible if funding isn’t addressed. You can’t levy taxes without elected representation, so if education taxes on property are to stay in place, there will have to be elected school boards. You can’t have taxation without representation.

The report is to take a year. That means the report lands on the minister’s desk about 10 months ahead of the next provincial election. Guess what will be a major topic of the next Manitoba election? It will be education standards, school division boundaries and yes, it will be about financing, regardless if this new report mandate officially covers taxes or not. It will be an interesting year.

Disclaimer: The writer serves as a volunteer president of the Manitoba Community Newspaper Association. The views expressed in this column are the writer’s personal views and are not to be taken as being  the view of the MCNA board or Banner & Press staff.