Manitoba Progressive Conservative Leader Brian Pallister says Education Minister James Allum's attack on him at a recent Manitoba Teachers' Society meeting is "shameful."
Pallister maintains despite what's been said in NDP TV attack ads, education funding and the number of teachers in Manitoba grew during a three-year period in the mid-1990s when he was a member of former premier Gary Filmon's cabinet.
The NDP begs to differ. Cabinet communications staff dug up public-school funding numbers and Filmon-era news releases Tuesday that cast doubt on the Tory leader's claim.
Pallister said Allum could have used his speech at the MTS annual convention last week to "inspire" teachers and lay out the government's vision for education.
Instead, Allum told them a "scary fairy tale," Pallister said, with the PC leader in the role of the big, bad wolf.
"(It was) an attempt to use the professional educators of our province as partisan pawns in a political effort," Pallister told reporters.
On Thursday, Allum told the union representing 13,400 public school teachers the NDP is on their side while Pallister represents a slew of spending cuts and job losses.
"Despite what the polls may say, we're not going to back down from the big, bad wolf at the door," Allum said, referring to the fact the Tories tower over the NDP in public-opinion polls.
Pallister termed Allum's comments "disrespectful and thoughtless."
He noted he is a former teacher and MTS rep, and his mother, sister and other family members are or were teachers. "I want our education system to grow and strengthen. I want our teachers to be empowered and encouraged," Pallister said.
He said from 1995 to 1997, he helped craft three provincial budgets that saw overall Education Department budgets grow by $26.4 million. He also claimed there was an increase of 30 teachers in that time, a calculation he based on total Education Department funding and teacher-student ratios.
However, public-school funding grants during that time indicate a $13-million decline, figures the NDP provided Tuesday show.
The NDP has run television ads saying Pallister was part of a government that "cut" 700 teachers during the Filmon era.
It's a number backed by the teachers' society. "That is an accurate figure," MTS president Paul Olson said Tuesday. He said there were 601 full-time-equivalent teaching positions lost while the Tories were in power. Generally, there are about 15 per cent more teachers than full-time positions at any time, so that would boost the total number of teachers lost to 691, he explained.