Skip to content

Accusations fly that government bullied school boards into deal

Daily Leg Update: Heated exchanges in Legislature between Opposition NDP and Education Minister Jeremy Cockrill.
Education Minister Jeremy Cockrill and Critic Matt Love seen speaking to reporters March 12 at the legislature.

REGINA - Tensions heated up in the Saskatchewan Legislature this week over accusations from the Opposition that school divisions were “bullied” into accepting the province’s education funding MOU with Saskatchewan School Boards Association.

The issue exploded in the wake of a Leader-Post story in which a school board trustee, who spoke on the condition of remaining anonymous out of fear of reprisal, was quoted saying members of their board felt pressured to endorse the government MOU and were given 24 hours to say yes or no to the agreement. Concerns were also expressed that funding levels would come “nowhere near meeting the needs that we have currently” of school divisions. 

In Question Period Tuesday, NDP Leader Carla Beck pointed to the Leader-Post story and accused the government of “bullying school divisions instead of negotiating a fair deal with teachers.”

“Are we actually standing on the floor of this house debating some anonymous person making a comment to the Leader-Post, Mr. Speaker?” Cockrill responded.

Cockrill went on to say he had gone around the province meeting with school boards “who actually put their name behind an agreement.” Cockrill said the multiyear funding agreement with the SSBA and its 27 school divisions is “ensuring that classroom support funding stays firm for the next four years.”

Beck retorted that during her school board days, “I never once felt like I needed anonymity to speak my mind about education.”

Cockrill responded by further defending his government’s actions, and went on to call for a return to bargaining.

"It's time for the Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation to come back to the bargaining table and start looking for solutions instead of looking for excuses to stay on strike," Cockrill said. Later, Cockrill said of STF that they “keep moving the goalposts.”

Opposition Education Critic Matt Love also hammered Cockrill on the school boards funding agreement. “Did the Minister of Education really present school divisions with a funding agreement, giving them only 24 hours to accept it, yes or no?”

“I would remind members of the Opposition and members of the public, Mr. Speaker, that we been having these discussions about supporting school divisions for the last number of months,” said Cockrill.

“Did the Minister of Education actually threaten the school board trustees with legal action if they spoke out about his backroom deal, yes or no?” asked Love.

“That’s a disgusting accusation by the member opposite,” said Cockrill, who added he had respect for anyone who put their name on a ballot. “I have a lot of respect for school board trustees in this province. It’s unfortunate that the member would sink to that level.”

Love then accused the government of creating a “culture of fear” where “locally elected school board trustees don’t feel safe speaking out about his threats and his backroom deals.”

“That member opposite wants to talk about culture here,” Cockrill responded. “What I have worked to establish with the 27 school boards around the province, Mr. Speaker, is a culture of collaboration. Mr. Speaker, most board chairs in this province, have my direct cell phone number… I speak to board chairs on a regular basis every single week.”

Love later raised the quote in the Leader-Post about the funding “nowhere near meeting the needs that we have currently."

Cockrill responded: “For that member to stand up and say that a guarantee of $356.6 million each year over the next four years, Mr. Speaker… That’s not nothing. Those are real dollars that are going to impact our students, providing supports in the classroom, to hire more teachers, to hire more professionals, to ensure that our kids have the best opportunity possible Mr. Speaker.… What this member opposite is saying is absolutely ridiculous on the floor of this Assembly, Mr. Speaker.”

“Does that Minister of Education seriously think he’s doing a good job as Minister of Education?” Love retorted.

“Well, Mr. Speaker, I see we’ve reached a low point of Question Period,” said Cockrill.

In speaking to reporters afterwards, Cockrill reiterated he had worked to make himself available to all school divisions so they could speak to him directly about concerns they have.

“There’s almost 250 school board trustees around the province, and all the school divisions. Like in the legislature here, there is always going to be disagreement between folks, elected folks. But again, what we have here today, what we announced last Friday is a signed agreement between the government and Saskatchewan School Boards Association and endorsed by all 27 school boards, to ensure a baseline level of classroom supports funding over the next four years.”

Cockrill also reiterated to reporters that discussions that led to the multi-year funding agreement happened over a period of weeks and months. As for the accusation that trustees felt they couldn’t speak out Cockrill replied: “that’s not what I’ve heard or felt from school trustees around the province.”

Under questioning from reporters on what was meant by his reference to “threats” to trustees, Love acknowledged the concern was more about an “immense amount of pressure” on trustees to accept the deal.

“Our MLA’s are hearing from trustees all the time,” said Love. “Certainly, since this deal was announced last week, our phones have been ringing, and we’re hearing from folks who are concerned. They’re worried about what speaking out would mean, they’re worried about reprisal from this government, and I think they have reason for that. We have certainly seen this government build a reputation of lashing out and striking back at folks who speak up. We can look at recent history with the Human Rights Commission. When they spoke against this government policy, they were dismantled and disbanded and replaced by others who appeared more friendly to this government. So I think that we have trustees who are worried about what that means to speak up. And certainly we’ve been hearing from trustees, our MLAs have been hearing those trustees with those concerns from across the province.”