Embattled education bill will not move forward under new Manitoba premier

·5 min read
Kelvin Goertzen addresses the media Wednesday for the first time since he was sworn in as Manitoba's premier. (David Lipnowski/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Kelvin Goertzen addresses the media Wednesday for the first time since he was sworn in as Manitoba's premier. (David Lipnowski/The Canadian Press - image credit)

Manitoba's controversial education reform bill, as well as four other pieces of legislation delayed by the opposition NDP, will be scrapped, Interim Premier Kelvin Goertzen announced on Wednesday.

"This really is about setting that clean slate for a leader; that's really why it's important to remove these five bills," Goertzen said at his first public appearance since being sworn in.

Goertzen, who will lead the province for the next two months, wants to leave important decisions, such as any education reform, to the person selected as the Progressive Conservatives' next leader and premier in a vote on Oct. 30.

Bill 64 proposed sweeping changes that would dissolve English-language school boards and centralize decision-making with government, relying heavily on parents and guardians to volunteer their time instead of paid trustees.

The overhaul was unpopular in many circles, motivating numerous campaigns against the bill and thousands of lawn signs across the province.

WATCH | Why Goertzen wants to start with a 'clean slate':

Goertzen says "many good things" arose out of the K-12 review that formed the basis of Bill 64, but he acknowledged the legislation was at odds with the review.

"To the extent that I heard criticism, it was maybe that there was a movement away too far from the report," he said.

Darin Morash/CBC
Darin Morash/CBC

In addition to Bill 64, four other government bills delayed by the NDP will not move forward.

One bill would crack down on protests interfering with critical infrastructure, such as rail lines, and another would temporarily let the government set electricity rates.

A bill scrapping the requirement for binding arbitration after a 60-day dispute between a union and employer is no more. Critics argued the fourth bill may have led to the privatization of liquor sales.

NDP Leader Wab Kinew celebrated the demise of the bills, which he suggested was the "most consequential bill delay" in Manitoba's history.

"What we saw today is a clear indication from the … PC government in its current iteration that they've bent to the will of Manitobans who wanted to see Bill 64 abandoned, and who wanted to see these other bills at least delayed, if not outright killed," Kinew said.

Goertzen said there will be a brief fall sitting in the Manitoba Legislature over a few days, when the five bills will be discarded and necessary budgetary matters will be passed.

"I know that the role that I have is one that's primarily viewed as one of caretaker — a new premier will be selected for Manitobans in 60 days. But I also know that these are times that will still require significant decisions," Goertzen said.

David Lipnowski/The Canadian Press
David Lipnowski/The Canadian Press

His address came hours after former premier Brian Pallister's formal resignation on Wednesday.

Goertzen was sworn in earlier Wednesday during a private ceremony with his wife, son and mother in attendance.

He was raised by a single mother after his father, who struggled with substance abuse, died at 33 of his addiction. Goertzen was 11 at the time. Goertzen said his family was fortunate to live in government housing at the time.

Goertzen described his short stint as premier as an honour, but said "the greatest role that I will ever have is that of a husband and a father."

The Progressive Conservative caucus voted Goertzen to serve in the role on Tuesday, with caucus chair Greg Nesbitt saying in a statement that party MLAs decided unanimously that he was the best choice.

Goertzen, who has been an MLA for Steinbach since 2003, will be Manitoba's 23rd premier for a two-month term, at which point one of the candidates running to replace Pallister will be selected.

The new premier signalled he will take a different approach than his predecessor, who rarely had meetings with stakeholders.

In his first few hours as premier, Goertzen spoke with Grand Chief Arlen Dumas with the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, Association of Manitoba Municipalities president Kam Blight, Manitoba NDP Leader Wab Kinew and Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman.

"Over the next two months that I have the honour of serving in this role, I look forward to reaching out to as many people as I can, to opening up the premier's office and to hearing people's views and ideas," he said.

"I intend to be quick to listen and slow to speak."

Goertzen on vaccine mandates

Goertzen recognizes he's stepping into a leadership role at a difficult time when there's heightened tension between Manitobans over mandatory COVID-19 vaccines in certain settings. The animosity between communities is worrying, he said.

He hopes people will realize the end goal is to keep businesses, schools and houses of worship open.

WATCH | Goertzen says he supports the vaccine mandate:

"I will continue as best as I can to encourage people to get vaccinated," he said.

"I think we have to do it in a way that isn't shaming and pitting communities against each other and calling each other names. I don't think that's going to change hesitancy, I think that's going to create hostility."

The PC government announced last week that people must be fully vaccinated in order to access a variety of services, starting on Friday.

Tyson Koschik/CBC
Tyson Koschik/CBC

It's also requiring most provincial health-care employees, teachers and child-care workers to be fully vaccinated, or undergo testing up to three times a week. Those workers have until Oct. 17 to receive two vaccine doses.

Two MLAs with the Progressive Conservatives — Josh Guenter and James Teitsma — have publicly denounced the vaccine mandates, each arguing they go too far in restricting people's freedoms.

Goertzen called for unity and said he's spoken with Guenter and Teitsma about caucus being the proper forum for dissent.

Families Minister Rochelle Squires will serve as deputy premier.

WATCH | Full news conference for Sept. 1, 2021:

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