Embattled education bill will not move forward under new Manitoba premier

Manitoba’s controversial education reform bill and four other pieces of legislation delayed by the opposition party will not move forward to a vote, Kelvin Goertzen, the interim premier, announced on Wednesday.

“This really is about setting that clean slate for a leader, that’s really why it’s important to remove these five bills,” Goertzen said at his first public appearance since being sworn in.

He said there will be a brief fall sitting in the legislature over a few days, when the five bills will be withdrawn and some necessary budgetary matters will be passed.

The bills the NDP stalled this spring include the controversial Bill 64, also known as the Education Modernization Act, which would overhaul Manitoba’s public education system; an amendment to the Labour Relations Act that would eliminate the requirement for binding arbitration after a 60-day dispute between a union and employer and one that would see the Public Utilities Board approve electricity rates in five-year intervals rather than annually.

The NDP also held up amendments to the Liquor, Gaming and Cannabis Control Act that critics say could lead to privatization of liquor sales, and the Protection of Critical Infrastructure Act (Bill 57), which opponents have said could stifle legitimate protests.

“I know that the role that I have is one that’s primarily viewed as one of caretaker — a new premier will be selected for Manitobans in 60 days — but I also know that these are times that will still require significant decisions,” Goertzen said.

The interim premier says there were “many good things” that arose out of the K-12 review that formed the basis of Bill 64, and he acknowledged that people felt the proposed legislation went too far from the report’s recommendations.

He says the education minister will speak more about the axed bill on Thursday.

His address comes hours after former Premier Brian Pallister’s resignation on Wednesday. Goertzen was sworn in earlier today during a private ceremony.

The PC caucus voted Goertzen to serve in the role on Tuesday, and the caucus chair Greg Nesbitt notified the lieutenant governor of the decision after a closed-door party meeting.

“It was unanimously decided that Kelvin Goertzen is the best person to lead us through this interim period,” Nesbitt said in a statement on Tuesday.

Goertzen, who has been an MLA for Steinbach since 2003, will be Manitoba’s 23rd premier for a two-month term, at which point one of the candidates running to replace Pallister will be selected.

Families Minister Rochelle Squires will serve as deputy premier.

Goertzen on vaccine mandates 

Goertzen recognizes he’s stepping into a leadership role at a difficult time when there’s heightened tension between Manitobans over mandatory vaccines in certain settings.

He hopes people will realize the end goal is to keep businesses, schools and houses of worship open.

“I will continue as best as I can to encourage people to get vaccinated. I think we have to do it in a way that isn’t shaming, and pitting communities against each other and calling each other names. I don’t think that’s going to change hesitancy, I think that’s going to create hostility,” he said.

Two MLAs with the Progressive Conservatives — Josh Guenter and James Teitsma — have publicly denounced vaccine mandates, each arguing they go too far in restricting people’s freedoms. 

Goertzen called for unity and said he’s spoken with Guenter and Teitsma about caucus being the proper forum for dissent.

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