Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 13/4/2016 (1985 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Seven local candidates took to the stage before about 50 people at a forum hosted by the Brandon School Division and Brandon Teachers’ Association at the Victoria Inn’s Imperial Ballroom on Tuesday evening.
It was the fourth meeting for local candidates in recent weeks, leading up to a series of debates hosted by The Brandon Sun, Westman Communications Group and the Brandon Chamber of Commerce on Thursday.
Brandon University Prof. Kelly Saunders acted as moderator, directing prepared questions to the candidates.
In all, seven candidates showed up to the debates: Progressive Conservative Len Isleifson, Liberal Vanessa Hamilton and NDP incumbent Drew Caldwell from Brandon East, New Democrat Linda Ross and Tory incumbent Reg Helwer from Brandon West, and from Spruce Woods, Tory incumbent Cliff Cullen and Manitoba Party hopeful Malcolm McKellar.
A question about the importance of all-day, every-day kindergarten and whether it should get the same funding from the province as half-time funding drew differences from the two Brandon West candidates.
Ross, on leave from her position as a Brandon School Division trustee and a BU professor, noted she has long been a champion of the cause and said she’d won over her colleagues on the BSD board, adding she believes it should be funded to the same level as half-time kindergarten.
"I would certainly advocate strongly for it at the provincial level," she said.
Helwer was less firm, agreeing it was an important tool, but that its implementation "changes a lot of things in the school division."
"If the SDs find it’s an important tool, and I believe it is, the province is going to have to be a partner in it somehow," he said.
Brandon East candidates provided a variety of ideas when asked how they’d better prepare students for the 21st century.
"We are addressing the issues such as a ‘mincome’ to reduce poverty rates and more breakfast and lunch programs," Hamilton said in her response.
Isleifson noted things are changing fast and the PCs have committed to providing more bursaries for incoming post secondary students.
Caldwell noted that Pallister cancelled out of the Manitoba Teachers’ Society debate last week, and listed off a variety of funding to schools across the province — including the new kindergarten to Grade 8 school promised for Brandon’s south end.
A recent high school graduate now studying at Brandon University raised heads when he took to the microphone.
"I felt fairly comfortable, having done fairly well in ELA in Grade 12, that my writing skills were up to par if not better than par heading into university. This was not true … several professors suggested I needed to go and find some help in order to catch up," he told the room. The student said he’s since spent several hours working with tutors, and asked how each party would solve the issue.
Cullen said he’s heard that Manitoba students are a year-and-a-half behind their Ontario counterparts.
"I think in the NDP, in a rush to increase graduation rates, they probably lowered the bar so it’s easier to graduate," he said. A Tory government would empower teachers to "provide what should be accurate marks to students, instead of just pushing them on to the next grade."
Ross rejected Cullen’s 'lowering bar’ analysis and said the problem isn’t new.
"The issue arises because our education system, although we’re doing something about it, we need to do a lot more. Our public school system and our post-secondary institutions work quite independently and in silos. We need to have more interaction there," she said.
Hamilton promised to collaborate with teachers in the system on the issue and said the Liberals will "hold the line" on a 2.5 per cent increase annually in the education system.
"The Manitoba Liberal Party will not be making any cuts to education. We will be balancing the budget, hopefully in five to six years barring that there’s no flooding and that sort of thing," she said.
Helwer went on the offensive in response to a query about the increasing number of English-as-a-second-language students in the BSD, and how the province should assist in their support.
"Prior to Greg Selinger, the two previous premiers committed to the BSD that Maple Leaf would have no impact on the BSD and any increased cost would be picked up by the province. That promise was broken by Premier Selinger … in fact we’ve seen (the costs) loaded on the BSD in ever-increasing percentages," he said.
"There’s not not a single commitment been made to the City of Brandon, including the south end school (by the Tories), that’s unprecedented in politics in this community," Caldwell shot back.
"In real dollars there was a $50 million cut from the public education system over the term of the Filmon government. Teachers that were in the system at that time will recall that it was open warfare on teachers," he added.
"It’s all politics, they’re just trying to get your vote up here," summarized Manitoba Party Spruce Woods candidate McKellar in his response.
Last-minute Liberal candidate Billy Moore in Brandon West was absent without excuse again. Moore was expected at both the Brandon University Students’ Union and BTA/BSD debates, but no-showed without advising organizers in both cases.
Saunders, who’s served as moderator in several recent debates, and Caldwell wound up in a public squabble where the Brandon East incumbent accused the professor of being biased after she told the CBC she saw "winds of change" in Caldwell’s constituency. In an ensuing article, Saunders called Caldwell’s critique sexist.
Several candidates, including Caldwell, took care to thank Saunders for her work on Tuesday.
The debate started at 8 p.m., later than usual, to allow the provincial leader’s debate in Winnipeg to take centre stage on the evening.
At the Sun debates on Tuesday, Brandon West candidates are up first at 6 p.m., followed by Brandon East at 7:35 p.m. Both debates are open to the public and will be broadcast on WCGtv and CKLQ radio.