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Cockrill offers to put accountability framework into legislation

Daily Leg Update: Education Minister Jeremy Cockrill shows willingness to move on accountability framework, but is not willing to put multiyear funding agreement into contract with teachers
Education Minister Jeremy Cockrill speaks to reporters April 8 on where things stand in the labour dispute with STF.

REGINA - With Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation members expanding to work-to-rule job action this week across the province, details have emerged about the efforts from the province last week towards trying to get both sides back to bargaining.

Education Minister Jeremy Cockrill confirmed to reporters one new development in the back-and-forth discussions between the government and STF: that the province had proposed to put their offer of an accountability framework into provincial legislation.

“Obviously in our discussions with STF leadership last week, we did float the idea of putting the accountability framework in legislation, to require boards to do that,” said Cockrill.

“And again, my ongoing discussions with school boards around the province — many school boards already have a framework for accountability or have a mechanism for accountability to work with their local teachers already. Really, what the MOU that we put forward a couple of weeks ago to the STF was really to formalize that and make that consistent across the 27 school divisions."

Cockrill also spoke of the accusations from STF that the government's pledges on the accountability framework amounted to nothing more than a 'pinky promise'. He made it known he thought putting it into legislation showed the government was serious.

"I’ve heard the phrase ‘pinky-promise’ and ‘pinky-swear,’ and obviously when you put something into the Education Act that becomes law. So that was our effort to show that we are serious about the accountability framework, school divisions are serious about the accountability framework. That was an option we wanted to put out there.”

Cockrill added they were open to ongoing discussions with STF and with the Saskatchewan School Boards Association on “how to entrench accountability into the system.” In speaking to reporters, Cockrill also seemed open to the possibility of having the accountability framework included in the language of a collective agreement.

“We’ve made some progress on that. Obviously, an offer to put it into legislation is a significant step. And again, even down the road I’m not necessarily closed off to the idea of the accountability framework being in a contract, potentially.”

But Cockrill made it known that would not be the case when it came to the multiyear funding agreement made with the Saskatchewan School Boards Association.

He expressed concerns to reporters about “having the multiyear funding agreement, with the STF who were not even a signatory, in the contract. I don’t think that’s a right way to go about it.”

As an example, he pointed to the existing multi-year funding agreement currently in place in Advanced Education with post-secondary institutions in the province. Cockrill pointed out that those agreements weren't signed by both post-secondary institutions and by the unions that represent their employees.

“My concern is with really having the multi-year funding agreement signed in a provincially collective bargained agreement. That’s a problem for government.”

Speaking to reporters Monday, Opposition Education Critic Matt Love remained skeptical that the government can resolve this labour dispute with teachers.

“Teachers want to be in the classroom. Students want to be in the classroom, parents want to be there. We’ve got a minister that needs to get out of the way,” Love said. 

“The fact is this has been the longest job action in Saskatchewan history when it comes to teachers. And we have a minister who has a believability problem, continually presents facts to the public that are simply not true, and teachers are out there, I think, working for better conditions in our classrooms because this government has failed to provide those conditions.”

As for the province offering to put the accountability framework into legislation, Love was also skeptical of the idea.

“I think that this government needs to be held accountable for what they say in an election year. So we’ve had round after round — in election years they make big promises and then they fail to follow through on those after an election. Teachers especially know this to be true. They were here in 2020 when they did this, in 2016 and 2017 when they did this and 2012 and 2013 when they did this. This is the track record this minister needs to own, and they simply can’t be trusted to follow through on their commitments. And this minister is committing to put this into legislation — I’m not sure that would satisfy the level of accountability that frankly we need to hold this minister and the Sask Party government to provide for the supports our classrooms need.”

When pressed on his last point, Love pointed out that “we have legislation that dictates election dates, and it’s still up to the government whether they follow through on that.”