'Certainly a lightning rod': Cullen back to drawing board after Bill 64 officially scrapped

Manitoba Education Minister Cliff Cullen said the plan to overhaul the education system is going back to the drawing board, recognizing the anxiety Bill 64 caused.

“We do want to repair any bridges that we have maybe damaged in that journey,” Cullen said.

On Wednesday, Manitoba’s new Premier Kelvin Goertzen announced Bill 64 is being withdrawn.

The legislation faced a mountain of opposition. The main sticking point – the elimination of elected school boards, replacing them with a central authority.

Once a staunch defender of the bill, Minister Cullen said those plans are now on pause.

“This governance model was certainly a lightning rod, we recognize that. So we are scrapping Bill 64,” Cullen said.

He said the province will now get feedback from teachers, parents, and other interested parties on how test scores can be boosted. He said that information will then be shared with the next Premier and cabinet, set to take office later this fall following the PC leadership election.

“We’re hoping now that Bill 64 is behind us, we can move on and talk about students’ success,” Cullen said.

CONCERNS OVER NEW BILL

Brenda Brazeau with the Manitoba Association of Parent Councils said there are a number of measures needed to help students that she feels were not addressed in Bill 64.

“We do need to talk about the poverty issue. We need to talk about the class size issue. We need to talk about more Indigenous learning,” Brazeau said.

The union representing teachers said it wants to be consulted. But Nathan Martindale from the Manitoba Teachers Society said they have concerns about the possibility of a Bill 64 2.0.

“Will it make our members a little anxious knowing that that still hangs above our head? Yes,” Martindale said.

For now, Cullen said instead of reform, the number one priority is health and safety as kids head back to class during the pandemic’s fourth wave.