Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition November 26, 2016
As Lt.-Gov. Janice Filmon approached the lectern, undoubtedly trustees for the Brandon School Division gathered around a computer or two awaiting word on the Pallister government’s plan for the upcoming session. I don’t think they heard what they were hoping to hear.
A south end school has languished on the government radar for years; with the proposal being a political football of the highest order. Originally pitched by the now distant memory that was Greg Selinger’s NDP government, the promise of a new elementary school did not come to fruition until it was a long-shot hail mary by a party going through the throes of death before our very eyes.
Filmon shared during her speech this week that the government has “expedited the release” of strategic investments for 2017-18, “allowing the construction industry to plan for another season of building, grading, paving, repairing and improving our roads and highways,” as was shared in the Sun. Nowhere in the 19-page speech was educational infrastructure made a singular priority. There were, however, small tidbits of work the province plans to undertake with divisions to help attain higher standardized performance in our schools. Achieving this would happen through professional development and consultation with educators, but as a whole, there was little to create hope for the Brandon School Division.
To be fair to the province, the speech from the throne is direction only and does not usually identify unique projects of significant substance; those projects surface during the delivery of the budget.
With that said, the government has cast a long net in an attempt to rein in the debt load of the province. Those types of austerity indications do not often present themselves as funding announcements, new infrastructure or groundbreaking on visionary projects.
Lack of a south end school commitment has also drawn the ire of a couple of current and past politicians. Former Brandon East NDP MLA Drew Caldwell as well as current Coun. Jan Chaboyer (Green Acres) have both openly criticized the government for their lack of a perceived commitment to the Brandon area.
Caldwell has often questioned current Brandon East Progressive Conservative MLA Len Isleifson on Twitter about his government’s plans and the “lost construction season” for our community. Although many may believe Brandon missed out this summer, it is still rather early in this government’s mandate. If we sit here a year from now and little to no growth has happened in our community, the right to question is clearly ours, but in this many of us will likely have to tighten our purse strings to get clear of the mess left by the previous administration.
Even with all this talk of austerity, both our current MLAs tout the “hope” they felt for the direction of this province. In the end, neither would comment on projects specific to the region, like a south end school, but that is no surprise at this point. Surely all MLAs have been directed as politicians always are, not to comment on specific projects before a budget consultation has taken place.
As someone who has spent many years in the public education field, the lack of government will for a new school in the community is somewhat troubling. Over the past few months, I have worked directly in a south end elementary school setting and the need in our community is palpable.
Many of our elementary schools have taken up a “hallway education” approach as staff and students alike try to clamour for every inch of space in overcrowded classrooms. Many schools have been forced to abandon the principles of the K-3 mandate championed by the previous government (which in a lot of respects makes sense). It may have eased some of the physical restrictions, but classroom makeup is challenging our educators to keep their head above water, in many cases. Our community is burdened by this need and would certainly benefit from the Pallister government seeking to alleviate the strain on an already overstretched system.
I’m optimistic though. Manitoba’s government is made up of intelligent and progressive thinking members, and I’m hopeful they will recognize that there are many top priorities in our community.
It is now up to us to engage. Building on opportunities for this region is critical for Brandonites, and participation in budget consultations is essential to achieving that. Without a whole host of voices, it may be tough for us to stand out when the limited dollars that the province offers are put up for grabs in the spring 2017.