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Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe reflects on the state of education in the province

Click to play video: 'Premier Scott Moe reflects on the state of education in Sask.'
Premier Scott Moe reflects on the state of education in Sask.
WATCH: Global Regina's morning news anchor Brenden Purdy sat down with Premier Scott Moe for a three-part series going over the last year, while we look ahead to 2024. In part one, we take a look at education in Saskatchewan. – Dec 19, 2023

Premier Scott Moe sat down with Global News’ Brenden Purdy to discuss a range of hot topics in Saskatchewan, one of which was education.

The discussion delved into the pronoun policy and the response from residents, as well as teacher contract discussions and the possibility of job action on the horizon.

Purdy: Premier, thank you so much for taking the time to speak to us. And happy holidays. We really appreciate your generosity with your time.

Moe: Yeah, well, thank you and Merry Christmas to you and all your listeners as well.

Purdy: Thank you very much. So just jumping into things, how do you feel about the current state of education here in our province?

Moe: Yeah, well, obviously we’re finding our way through a collective bargaining process, which we do every three or four or five years in Saskatchewan. And this one is proving to maybe be a little bit bumpier than some other ones. But I’ve seen bumps in bargaining sessions going by as well.

First, the union, they’ve raised some valid points with respect to the need to work on classroom complexity, most particularly with which this government is committed to. We had a committee that was formed three years ago, made some recommendations. Those were funded this past spring.

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I mean, some ongoing work that’s happening with the school divisions as well in this space of providing the most positive learning environment that we can, including and actually focused on providing some of the supports that might be necessary to address some of the complexity that we have in our classrooms today.

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And so we’re all heading towards the same outcome. And we would ask the teachers union to come back to the bargaining table. That’s where the best and strongest agreements are made on behalf of your members and most importantly, the strongest agreements that then allow for our educators and our teachers to do what they do best in our classrooms on behalf of our children. So we’re hopeful that will be the case. Ultimately, the decision is the teachers union’s decision as to whether they take action or not. We hope that’s not the case.

Purdy: As you mentioned, a couple of areas that we’re maybe looking to amend or improve our education system. But in your mind or your government’s mind, what would you say are some of the positives or highlights that we can currently see in our education system?

Moe: Well, there’s a number of things that I think we’re looking very strong in our education sector and some challenges admittedly as well. But when you see our children coming from the education sector, whether they’re heading into the workforce, whether they’re tailoring some of the courses that they are taking through their school, for example, the opportunities that are increasingly becoming available through our Distance Learning Centre is adding to the education experience and the education opportunities that we have.

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I think they’re well-prepared. But what we need to keep our eye on, alongside not only our educators but our school divisions as well as our parents, is that we are continuing to provide the best opportunity for learning and education.

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Purdy: Now, premier, when instituting the pronoun policy, what made that the province’s option, their only option to go through with that?

Moe: There was some things I think that happened in alumni, in high school that elevated the conversation. But at the end of the day, it was parents reaching out to their MLAs, asking the government to standardize a policy that was largely already in place in classrooms across Saskatchewan and was largely in place in, I believe, over half of the divisions officially.

That policy then was challenged in a court. We’d said if we ever found a point in time where the policy was not in actual effectiveness, the government would use the tools that we have available to us to ensure that it would be effective. And that’s precisely what we did.

Purdy: Now, you mentioned the court case that has followed. Were you guys expecting this sort of backlash when this was instituted?

Moe: I’m not sure backlash would be the term that should be utilized; there has been broad support for the right for parents to be involved in supporting their children’s life, whether it be in their education or in their classroom as well. We understand there’s a difference of opinions, but I think at the end of the day, everyone is hopeful for that same positive learning environment in their child’s classroom and also hopeful and largely that the parents can be a part of that supportive infrastructure.

And in the small percentage of instances where that may not be as simple as it largely should be or we would hope it could be, the school does have the ability to provide some of those supports and build those supports around the child.

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Purdy: Now, since the implementation, we’ve seen different rallies or protests against the policy. What has your government learned since the implementation?

Moe: I think we’ve learned what we’ve always believed, and that’s to listen to the people that ultimately elected us in this province. And so when parents are reaching out to their MLAs and talking about wanting to be involved in their child’s classroom and not wanting to in any way be excluded from significant decisions that their child may be making, that this is a government that listens to broadly parents across the province.

Yes, we’re going to have, you know, protests in front of this building. In fact, this fall, we even had one that led into the legislative assembly and did shut down government for a period of time. But largely, what a government, I think a responsible and a serious government needs to consistently do is to listen to, in this case, parents across the province.

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Purdy: Now, there have been protests and rallies held by these groups against classroom conditions after the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation says they’re unhappy following conciliation meetings. Is your government worried at all about a potential job action with the teachers?

Moe: Well, I would hope that there isn’t. Ultimately, that would be the teachers union decision. We’ve been at the bargaining table and asked the teachers union to return to the bargaining table as well. That’s where the best decisions are found. The best decisions are not found on the picket line. They are found at and only at the bargaining table. If the teacher’s union decides to take some degree of action, maybe restricting supervision at recesses and at breaks, for example, the minister’s already asked the divisions as to what their plan is to continue offering schools and classroom services throughout a period of time like that. And it would be the expectation that that would not close our schools. If the teachers union does decide to withdraw all of their services and go to a full-fledged strike in this province, we would hope that’s not the case.

Purdy: Now, as of October, the staff have said that 95 per cent of teachers had voted in favour of job action. Do you find that number at all concerning?

Moe: I think that’s about what the number was last time that they had, the teachers union had put in place a strike vote as well. And so, I wouldn’t say concerning. What I would say is concerning is when you have a government that is actively working on the files that are of our mutual importance to educators, teachers, the teachers unions, school divisions, parents, and towards productive outcomes of that, and still you have potentially this overarching conversation around, ‘Is our teachers union going to withdraw services in part or in whole?’ I don’t think that’s a healthy environment for our children or for our school system in general.

And then there’s further work that’s happening now with the school divisions around how we can best support our classroom complexity and ultimately a more positive learning environment. And so we’re working on those issues. We’ll continue to work on those issues with or without the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation (STF). But we’re not going to bargain on issues like that that the union has brought to the table around complexity. We’re going to bargain on how we compensate our educators in the years ahead.

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Click to play video: '95% of Sask teachers vote in favour of job sanctions'
95% of Sask teachers vote in favour of job sanctions

Purdy: Now, what would the province do in the case of a teacher strike?

Moe: You’re not going to answer a hypothetical with respect to that. What the province is doing now through the collective bargaining process that we have is what we always are attempting to do, is listen to all of the folks involved, including the teachers union. But I would say even more so, including individual teachers across the province on how best can we address some of the mutual concerns we have. And yes, we’re working on, like I said, classroom complexity, but we don’t believe that the bargaining table is a place for that negotiation to play out.

Purdy: Now, in your opinion, what needs to happen for a contract to be reached between the province and teachers?

Moe: Well, the first thing that needs to happen is the STF needs to return to the bargaining table so that we can find the parameters of that contract. In light of that not occurring, I don’t know how we could find our way to a contract. You don’t find a contract when you’re not at the bargaining table. You don’t find a contract when you’re threatening various work-to-rule actions which only hurt our children. You won’t find a contract on the picket line, that would close our schools, which only, again, hurts our children.

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