The Manitoba Liberals are calling for a referendum to let members of the public decide whether the province should move forward with sweeping reforms to K-12 education.
Last month, the Progressive Conservatives released the education commission’s long-awaited review, a strategy to address the 75 recommendations, and Bill 64 (Education Modernization Act) to act on the two above.
Bill 64 proposes an overhaul of the education system that would result in Manitoba’s 37 elected English school boards replaced with a centralized education authority made up of government appointees.
"This is a really huge piece of legislation that’ll completely change the way the entire school system works, with long-lasting impacts — and it was never part of the PC’s 2019 election plan," said Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont.
Lamont added Manitobans will lose their right to vote in trustee elections if the legislation passes.
He wrote to both Premier Brian Pallister and NDP Opposition Leader Wab Kinew Thursday, asking for all-party co-operation to hold a referendum to let Manitobans decide whether Bill 64 should become law.
The move would require the passage of emergency legislation to allow referendums.
In response, a spokesperson for Manitoba Education cited the K-12 review, during which the commission received 2,309 written submissions, 62 briefs, 8,891 survey responses, 1,260 responses from teachers and 159 submissions of best practices.
"We will continue to listen and consult with all Manitobans to inform our work going forward to make sure we have one of the most improved education systems in the country," the spokesperson wrote in a statement Thursday.
Meantime, Lamont said the review has been "thrown to the side" since Bill 64 does not match it; the commissioners suggested Manitoba downsize its total school board roster and create both appointed and elected trustee positions on boards.
Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.