Respective leadership candidates do best to woo teachers’ endorsement

Sask Bulletin
December 13, 2017

Ken Cheveldayoff (left) and Gordon Wyant were two participants in the debate.

Content...Ken Cheveldayoff (left) and Gordon Wyant were two participants in the debate.

Regardless of their political stripe, four leadership candidates from the province’s two major political parties were understandably all too well aware they were addressing a theatre full of teachers.

The setting was the Saskatoon Teachers’ Association convention, and the participants featured two of the Saskatchewan Party candidates who aspire to be the next Premier as well as, in an earlier session, the two New Democratic Party leadership hopefuls.

Although there were enough nuances to offer some degree of separation, there was still unanimous agreement on matters that should have found a receptive ear among teachers.

Gordon Wyant and Ken Cheveldayoff of the Saskatchewan Party and Trent Wotherspoon and Ryan Meili of the NDP all vowed to give teachers more of a voice and a greater recognition of the professionalism they offer.

Wotherspoon, who is a teacher by profession, insisted he would “work with you and put forward common ground. We need to empower teachers as professionals.”

Meili concurred, adding that although the ruling provincial government is to be commended for their funding of bricks and mortar in terms of new facilities, but added that “we need to have respect for teachers, and we’ve seen many examples where that has not been the case. You are trusted and you can make a real difference for lasting change in the education sector. We need to work together to create a vision for a better society,” he added.

Cheveldayoff insisted the recent spate of new joint-use schools were sorely needed, “but I believe we need to look at having more human resources for teachers, and that has to be our next goal. We need to trust the professionalism and integrity of teachers.” 

Wyant, for his part, said that the relationship between government and teachers needs to be reset.

“That starts with a respectable dialogue and a conversation. We need to explore with our partners how we can re-establish what has been lost. I am committed to starting that conversation.”

If there were more resources freed up for education, Wyant and Meili were both proponents of the importance of early learning, while Wotherspoon would like to see smaller class sizes.

Interestingly, several examples of the now decades-old plan of SchoolPLUS were evoked as candidates toted the co-operative-services model with the school as the hub.

Meili called cuts to PreK-12 education in the last budget unconscionable, adding that “we don’t wait until the next election to overturn those cuts. Now is the time to build a movement of change, and to make the education of our children as the top priority. There is an appetite for it, and we need to have the courage to move forward.”

Wyant noted that he’s not convinced the resources are adequate to meet the ambitious graduation rates for 2020. 

“My plan would be to review the plan and see what resources we need because otherwise it’s a disservice. We have to think in terms of investment in education and not in terms of what it costs.” Cheveldayoff was bullish about the integrated model, while bemoaning how the best ideas of SchoolPLUS were never realized because it wasn’t adequately resourced.

One of the few occasions where the day became about partisan politics was at the mention of current Minister of Education Bronwyn Eyre, who has found herself in the eye of the storm regarding comments she made about treaty education in her son’s classroom.

Wotherspoon condemned her comments, while Meili went a step further by calling for her resignation.

It was a segue into their respective views of treaty education and how to ensure the best inclusion for First Nations and Métis students in the future.

Meili said there is good work being done, but “we need to look for other opportunities to go further to eliminate any gaps that exist and recognize that we’re all in this together.”

Meanwhile, Wyant called for the Saskatchewan government to work together with the federal government to review how on-reserve schools are funded in comparison to those in the provincial system.

He cited this is as one of the flaws in what he said was “an antiquated funding formula that needs to be student-focused as opposed to how it is currently.”

Cheveldayoff said he was committed to reviewing the current formula, claiming it needed to be updated so that it would be more transparent and easier to understand.

The idea of retaining the voice of locally elected school boards was another point of joint-party agreement.

Wotherspoon insisted Bill 63 should be scrapped, and thereby give local boards the chance to set their own mill rate, which was previously the case prior to the government taking control
of the purse strings.

“Better choices are made by those who are closer to what the impact might be, and the people of Saskatchewan have clearly told us they want school boards that are locally elected. So let’s bring that expertise into the room.”

In his closing statement, which was meant to resonate with teachers, Wotherspoon said, “we need to step up because we know what’s at stake. We need the involvement of teachers in order that every student can succeed. Your province needs you.”

Meili added that “we can’t afford to have another generation missed.”

Wyant ended the day by saying, “our future begins and ends with a vibrant education system, and for that I very much value teachers’ ideas and input and your commitment to our province.”