NDP clears path for crucial teachers accountability bill

I am happy to report I was wrong in my prediction the Opposition NDP would side with its union allies and kill a teachers accountability bill.

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I am happy to report I was wrong in my prediction the Opposition NDP would side with its union allies and kill a teachers accountability bill.

NDP officials say they will not hold back the Progressive Conservative government’s Bill 35 (Education Administration Amendment Act).

The proposed legislation would establish an independent process to hear allegations of professional misconduct against teachers. It would also establish an online teacher registry which must include, among other things, suspensions and certificate cancellations.

Not surprisingly, the Manitoba Teachers’ Society union is staunchly opposed to the bill, falsely describing it as “anti-teacher.”

Under legislative assembly rules, the Opposition can hold back five government bills until the fall sitting of the house. Normally, those bills would be debated and passed in October or November — but because there’s a provincial election scheduled for Oct. 3, whatever bills are held back this time around will die on the order paper.

                                <p>NDP education critic Nello Altomare.</p>


NDP education critic Nello Altomare.

Given MTS’s fierce opposition to the bill and the union’s strong ties to the NDP, I had predicted there was a good chance the Opposition would kill Bill 35 by holding it back.

It has decided not to. Which means the bill is expected to pass before the house adjourns for the summer. It will likely be proclaimed into law by cabinet before the October election.

“The safety of kids is our No. 1 priority,” said NDP education critic Nello Altomare. “We will support this bill.”

Altomare also said teachers deserve a voice in how the act is amended and the NDP are open to proposed amendments to the bill.

Putting a bit of light between the party and organized labour — even if it’s just a sliver — is not a bad idea for the NDP (to broaden its appeal to the general public and to avoid a wedge issue with the Tories).

Mostly, though, it’s just the right thing to do.

Bill 35 is not perfect and may require some tweaking, including a more concise definition of what constitutes “professional misconduct.”

“The safety of kids is our No. 1 priority. We will support this bill.”–NDP education critic Nello Altomare

The definition includes sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of students, as well as physical harm and significant emotional harm. However, it also stipulates the definition is not limited to those prescribed categories and allows cabinet to expand it through regulations.

That’s fairly open-ended. Some amendments at committee, where the bill will go before public hearings, are probably in order. Still, Bill 35 is a significant improvement over the status quo.

What Manitoba has now is a secretive, unresponsive and unaccountable process that in many cases allows teacher misconduct to go undetected. It also gives MTS the legislative authority to investigate its own members.

The claim by MTS the bill would allow people to make frivolous complaints against teachers is nonsense.

Under the bill, complaints would be heard by an independent commissioner, who would rule on the legitimacy of the complaint and determine whether it fell within the scope of the act. Following a preliminary review, the commissioner could either take no further action, opt for a consent resolution or send the complaint to a disciplinary panel for a full hearing.

                                <p>Currently, the Manitoba Teachers'>


Currently, the Manitoba Teachers' Society has the legislative authority to investigate its own members.

A panel of three members — a teacher, a representative from the Manitoba School Boards Association and a member of the public — would conduct the hearing and make a finding.

The decision must be in writing and made public (with some exceptions) on a government website. Decisions can be appealed in court by either the investigated teacher or the commissioner.

There are plenty of checks and balances.

The campaign to protect children in schools does not end with Bill 35. Teachers are not the only ones who can prey on children in schools.

A 2018 report by the Canadian Centre for Child Protection found 14 per cent of sexual offenders in schools between 1997 and 2017 were not teachers. They included educational assistants, student teachers, special-needs assistants, custodians, bus drivers and volunteers (such as lunch monitors).

Those staff and volunteers are not subject to Bill 35. It’s something a future government will have to tackle.

The vast majority of teachers in schools provide students with a safe and nurturing learning environment; Bill 35 is not for them. It’s required to address the tiny minority of those who prey on children.

It is a necessary law. The Stefanson government should be applauded for bringing it in.


Tom Brodbeck

Tom Brodbeck

Tom has been covering Manitoba politics since the early 1990s and joined the Winnipeg Free Press news team in 2019.

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