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But what would Hugh do?

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We got a sneak peek at the Tories’ election platform on education today.

A catchy title for it might be: NDP Bad — NDP Really Bad.

Having attended Education Minister Nancy Allan’s funding announcement, the assembled media horde trekked through the legislature to the offices of the leader of the official opposition, where Hugh McFadyen — we’ll give you three guesses — denounced Allan.

Gasp.

"They’re desperately trying to cover up their record in education," said McFadyen. "We know they’re good at spending money.

"It’s spend more, get less."

OK, but specifically?

Um, well, McFadyen didn’t really have a lot to say about the specifics of what Allan had announced, or what he’d do differently if he were premier.

Instead, he focused on the recently-released international tests of randomly-selected 15-year-olds in reading, math, and science by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

McFadyen said that under the NDP, Manitoba students had fallen to last within Canadian provinces, which is an exaggeration — Manitoba is eighth in science, ninth in math and reading. Manitoba students were at the OECD average in all three subjects and still scored higher than students in many industrialized countries, including the U.S., U.K,, Italy, Spain, France, Norway, and Sweden.

But, still, McFadyen has spotted a vulnerable spot.

"We believe we can do better," said McFadyen.

OK — how?

The Tories would talk to principals and teachers and ask them how they could improve students’ reading, math, and science.

Yes, that’s kind of a given, but what would you do?

"You give them a mandate to focus on getting those outcomes," said McFadyen.

But how?

By talking to them, and seeing what ideas they have, McFadyen said.

Which implies that either principals and teachers are not now trying to teach kids to read, do math, and learn science as well as they possibly can, or that the NDP is somehow intervening to prevent pedagogy from flourishing.

Again, a request for specifics.

Again, vague answers.

These would be the same principals and teachers who say through their union, the Manitoba Teachers’ Society, that they’re still trying to make up the wages and benefits ground they lost in the 1990s when the last Tory government froze or even reduced education funding several years. But back to McFadyen’s scrum...

"OK," said my favourite elderly ink-stained wretch from the newspaper side of the media, "are you looking at considerable testing, as the last Tory government did and was planning to expand, or what about the States, where there’s a movement to tie teacher salaries to test scores?"

Said McFadyen: "We’re not looking at the past in terms of what’s tried."

To sum up: we don’t know what kind of education funding a Tory government would provide, we don’t know how a Tory government would enable teachers to better teach kids the core subjects, but we do know that the NDP are allegedly doing a lousy job.

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About Nick Martin

Nick Martin is the old bearded guy at the back of the newsroom, the most experienced reporter at the Winnipeg Free Press, having started his career in Ontario in 1971.

He’s been covering education for the Free Press since the spring of 1997, after decades primarily covering municipal politics, including a four-year stint at the Ontario legislature for the London Free Press.

Nick moved to Manitoba in 1988 with his Winnipeg-born wife, who is a professor at the University of Manitoba. They have two kids, both of whom graduated from Grant Park High School: son Chris and daughter Gillian.

Nick has won a national journalism award from the Canadian Association of University Teachers, two Manitoba Human Rights Journalism awards, and the Ontario Reporters Association investigative award.

Nick is a long-distance runner, having finished and survived 18 marathons and 15 half-marathons and 30-kilometre races, and having (barely) survived 10 years as an outdoor and indoor soccer coach.

Nick became a soccer referee in 2007, delighting in his 60s in outrunning 16-year-olds and keeping his distance from obstreperous coaches and parents.

Nick and his wife have discovered a mutual love for kayaking at their Whiteshell cottage, and are both regulars at the Reh-Fit Centre. They hold season tickets to both the Manitoba Theatre Centre and the Warehouse, and as empty nesters, have rediscovered the joys of an active winter vacation.

A native of Jarrow-on-Tyne, England, Nick is a member of the Toon Army as a Newcastle United supporter, and a proud citizen of Leafs Nation.

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