Manitoba’s Education minister spoke to media Thursday a day after the province’s new premier announced plans to scrap a controversial bill that would have overhauled the education system.
Cliff Cullen told reporters he can’t say whether or not a new premier and cabinet will introduce a new version of Bill 64.
“I think this is an opportunity for us just to pause and reflect on what we’ve heard,” Cullen said.
“Certainly my role as a minister will be to gather information, clear the table for the new leader and provide as much information as I can to the new leader.”
On Wednesday Kelvin Goertzen, interim leader of the governing Progressive Conservatives — and Manitoba’s premier until the party picks a permanent leader Oct. 30 — announced Bill 64 is among five bills he plans to remove from this fall’s legislative session.
The bill, which would have eliminated all English-language elected school boards and centralized decision-making, has run into staunch public opposition.
The next Tory leader could reintroduce any or none of the five bills Goertzen said he’d scrap in the future after the new leader is chosen Oct. 30, but all three candidates in the race so far have said they would not go ahead with the education one.
While Cullen originally staunchly defended the education bill, he raised eyebrows last month when he was seen clapping after leadership hopeful and Tory Tuxedo MLA Heather Stefanson said she would scrap the legislation if elected leader.
On Thursday Cullen said the government is focusing on keeping staff and students safe as schools re-open amid a fourth wave.
He said the government continues to consult with groups and stakeholders on education reform and is close to choosing a group that will look at the relationship between education and poverty.
He said the government would announce the name of the organization soon.
Manitoba Liberal leader Dougald Lamont slammed Cullen’s appearance before reporters, calling it “another non-announcement.”
“If the health and safety of students was top priority for this government, they wouldn’t have introduced Bill 64 in the middle of a pandemic in the first place,” Lamont said in a emailed statement.
“To date, they have not reassured schools they will have the resources they need to keep staff and students safe.
“The PCs owe all educational staff an apology for adding more stress to an already extremely stressful school year.”
Manitoba students start heading back to school Sept. 8.
–With files from Rosanna Hempel and The Canadian Press