When Education Minister Ian Wishart tries to reckon where our education system needs to be to match graduates with jobs, he relies on well-known education scholar Wayne Gretzky.
What the former NHL superstar would say, Wishart said at the first day of his estimates hearing Tuesday, was, "You don’t score any goals from where the puck is, you score goals from where the puck is going to be."
NDP education critic — and sole party leadership candidate — Wab Kinew went after Wishart over the phasing-out by next year of the tuition income tax rebate, which provided up to $2,500 a year and $25,000 total to post-secondary grads who stay here. It was costing Manitoba more than $50 million annually.
That’s one very expensive program that wasn’t helping Manitoba get to where it needs to be and has shown no evidence it kept young people here, said Wishart, who is also responsible for immigration.
Wishart said the continued flow of young people out of the province indicated the rebate wasn’t working.
"If you look back over the 10 years it was in place, it’s half a billion dollars," he said.
Manitoba checked with other provinces that tried similar rebates, Wishart said. "All had found it ineffective," he said.
What keeps young people here is good jobs, the minister said. And what will improve student performance and skills are innovative classrooms, early years emphasis on math and reading and the removal of financial barriers to post-secondary education through much more money for bursaries and scholarships, Wishart said.
"Parents and educators know a one-size-fits-all approach wasn’t producing results," he told Kinew.
Without yet getting into the key Tory funding and pedagogical policies on education Tuesday afternoon, Kinew kicked off the process by accusing the Pallister government of creating ever-greater distance between campaign promises and current reality.
"No recent graduate would have voted for $2,500 more in taxes," Kinew said, nor would anyone have voted for higher tuition, the end of capped class sizes or seniors homeowners’ property tax rebates.
During discussion of language training for immigrants and refugees, Wishart said he was dismayed over Ottawa’s reduction of some English as a second language programs.
"We were as surprised as everyone else when this service was withdrawn," he said.
Wishart said he’ll issue a call in June for proposals to provide language training and mental-health services for immigrants, and special training those working with them.
"We don’t actually have a course that trains teachers to be good ESL teachers," he said.
Under good-natured pressure from Kinew, Wishart somewhat reluctantly agreed an NDP labour force training program that pays $6,000 per worker to Skip the Dishes Restaurant Services Inc. has turned out to be a success.