Drew Caldwell, NDP MLA for Brandon East (COLIN CORNEAU/BRANDON SUN)
Issues surrounding the 2011 Brandon University strike and a requested review of labour legislation through a Reg Helwer-sponsored private member’s resolution sparked the latest Battle of Brandon at the Manitoba legislature.
Last Thursday, Helwer, the Progressive Conservative Brandon West MLA, called on Family Services and Labour Minister Jennifer Howard to "take the requisite measures to ensure that no other post-secondary students are subject to another strike such as the one that occurred from Oct. 12, 2011 to Nov. 25, 2011 at Brandon University."
Brandon East NDP MLA Drew Caldwell, who like Helwer is an alumnus of BU, blasted the measure, referring to an exchange he had with Rick Borotsik, then the Progressive Conservative MLA for Brandon West about the state of Brandon University several years ago.
"… (Borotsik) did a soliloquy in front of a bunch of students in Brandon (about) how the university was awful; it was a terrible university," Caldwell said in his speech. "And, you know, that sort of attitude, Mr. Speaker, which is implicit in the member’s PMR is so wrong-headed and so destructive, as members opposite are on many issues in this legislature."
Caldwell continued his attack, adding that the Progressive Conservative MLAs have a record of working against successful initiatives by voting against funding projects and capital investments at Brandon University.
"… They put politics ahead of this province every single day and they are quite happy to appeal in an extreme-extremist, hard-right, ideologically driven way that they’re appealing to their small and diminishing base is the top priority of (Progressive Conservative MLAs) … their top priority should be standing up for Manitoba and growing this province and making it a better place for all Manitobans."
In defending his resolution about the 45-day labour dispute, Helwer referred to the 75,000 credit hours worth of course work that was dropped, representing 10 per cent of the total enrolment. He added more than 200 of the 3,000 BU students dropped out of the university completely, while another 150 severely cut their course loads. He also cited occasions when the government spoke of the support Brandon University has received.
"This government has failed the students," Helwer said in his speech. "They failed to prevent a strike when it had the full ability to do so. You knew this was going to happen again. … And then they failed to deal with this strike. This government has the ability and power to make a difference and make sure the students will not have to endure another strike. Use it."
Debate on the private member’s resolution could be resumed by the government, but often these motions raised by opposition MLAs die on the order paper.
That the issue was addressed at all at the legislature gave Brandon Coun. Jim McCrae (Meadows) hope that the labour legislation issues exposed by the 45-day strike would be addressed in some way. McCrae sponsored a successful city council motion that requested the legislature take another look at the current labour legislation because of the BU strike.
"There’s a little progress," McCrae said Tuesday. "The minister, Jennifer Howard, committed in her contribution to that debate to refer this matter, and others associated with it, to the Labour Management Review Committee, which is an advisory committee to the government. I could have obviously hoped for much, much more, such as a government admitting there’s a problem, so let’s fix it."
McCrae said he doesn’t know how long it will take for the advisory committee to deal with the concern, but was optimistic it would bear fruit and thanked Howard for taking that step. He was not as optimistic about Caldwell’s speech.
"His comments from start to finish were, of shame on you Tories and ‘All you’re doing is bashing Brandon University’," McCrae said. "That was never anyone’s intention. It wasn’t mine, and you can’t say that Shari Decter Hirst, who voted in favour of my resolution, and all of the others who voted for it, are just trying to be troublemakers."
While McCrae welcomed any action by the government, he wished the legislature debate would have been initiated by the government itself.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition May 23, 2012