In typical Saskatchewan fashion, we have gone from a great fall day last Friday to full blown winter on Monday. Like many thousands of other Saskatchewan residents and visitors from other provinces and countries, Joanne and I drove on icy highways to take in Agribition on Saturday.
It doesn’t seem to matter what the weather is like during Agribition week, people turn out and enjoy the show, the cattle, the exhibits and the best that Saskatchewan agriculture has to show off. I wish that some of the ingenuity and forward-looking examples that I saw at Agribition would be carried forward by our government when it comes to things like building schools in our province.
Education has been one of the building blocks of our society in Saskatchewan. The people that came here from all over the world for a new beginning seemed to understand that one of the fundamentals for their families to build a new country and move ahead was to have a good education system. For generations that has been the mantra of people in our province. They would do without, they would work hard and they would ensure that their kids had a better education than what they had. That is why Saskatchewan people shine all over the world in their chosen professions. A good example is the Canadian oil patch which is full of Saskatchewan farm boys and girls who went to school to become engineers, geologists, instrument techs and have ensured that Canada is a leader in these fields.
The challenge has always been to come up with the human resources and the facilities to ensure that this dream of a better education is fulfilled. I had the privilege of attending a one-room school house from Grades 1-5. I then went to a consolidated k-8 facility with all of the bells and whistles and from there to one of Saskatchewan’s premier high schools – Central Collegiate Institute in Moose Jaw – which boasts 6 Rhodes scholars amongst its alumni. The jump to the U of S or the U of R was one that has been made by thousands of Saskatchewan students with similar backgrounds to myself.
All of those facilities were paid for by hard working Saskatchewan taxpayers. All of my teachers were paid for by hard working Saskatchewan taxpayers. Today it seems that there is not enough money from hard working Saskatchewan taxpayers to continue this model. Our Sask Party government has said we need to use P3s (public-private partnerships) in order to keep up with educational demands in Saskatchewan’s rapidly growing urban centres.
I have not commented on this model for the past few months because I did not want to jump to conclusions. I am sure that all of you have been aware by now of some of the arguments that have been made for and against this particular funding model. The NDP have come out with a Private Member’s Bill in the Legislative Assembly in the last few weeks aimed at providing more public scrutiny of this particular model. Evidentially it is heavily biased on the Manitoba model which we all know is an NDP provincial government. The Sask Party government which is the sponsor of this initiative in Saskatchewan is basing its model on the Alberta one. As usual, these two solitudes seem to be at opposite ends of the spectrum and neither one will give the other much credit for doing the right thing. That is a major problem for Saskatchewan students.
There are some basic questions that need to be asked and answered. One of the strengths of education in Saskatchewan has always been parental involvement and community involvement in our schools. To this day, the consolidated public school which I was bussed into in the City of Moose Jaw has huge involvement of rural parents in that school on a weekly basis. There is always something going on in the gym that involves parents, older siblings and interested people from the community. No one has explained in this P3 debate how those extra hours and this extra involvement which makes a school in my view a living, breathing and contributing instrument in any community a viable option with a private contractor owning the place. Are those extra hours going to cost more? Are parents and taxpayers going to have to pony up more for anything after 4:00 PM? Are parents and the community going to be encouraged to use these new schools as a focal centre of community building? Neither the Sask Party nor the NDP have answered these questions with their own particular models.
I have never been thrilled with some of the restrictions that the STF (Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation) has placed on its members because of contract negotiations which have limited teacher involvement after hours. I have never been thrilled with some of the school board decisions which have limited parental and community involvement in our educational facilities with weak arguments about who is going to wipe up the floor afterwards. And I think it is absolutely weak-kneed of our provincial government to lump 7 schools under one contract which would probably negate the probability of our local contractors to participate in the construction of these new schools.
This appears to be the move of a Sask Party government which is so fearful of losing its mantra of balanced budgets that it is willing to listen to only its friends in big business to solve the challenges in society today. This is a government which has been content to dig it out of the ground, drill it out of the ground and sell it as fast as possible to satisfy its political appetite rather than plan for the future. One of the results of this may be an educational system which will not live up to the dreams that Saskatchewan residents have had since the first homesteader sank his plough into the virgin prairie of this province. Those people knew how to dream, how to build and how to go without if necessary to ensure that future generations had the educational opportunities that we all want our children to have. This P3 debate needs much more than what the Sask Party has provided or the NDP opposition has brought forward as an alternative. Saskatchewan people must stand up and be heard before this model is adopted.
This will be my last commentary for a couple of weeks. I look forward to your responses on this topic. The next commentary will be sent out on December 9th.
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These issues must be debated for “The Right Reasons”.