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NDP calling for Cockrill’s resignation

Daily Leg Update: Opposition Leader Carla Beck and Critic Matt Love call for Education Minister Jeremy Cockrill to resign, citing a lack of empathy and lying to the public.
Opposition Leader Carla Beck and Education Critic Matt Love call for Education Minister Jeremy Cockrill’s resignation.

REGINA - The opposition New Democrats have called for the resignation of Education Minister Jeremy Cockrill on Monday, on the heels of a major verbal gaffe by Cockrill during a meeting with a mother whose daughter had recently died.

“Time and time again, Jeremy Cockrill shows that he lacks the empathy and honestly needed to be the Education Minister,” said Opposition Leader Carla Beck at a news conference Monday in the Legislature building. 

“For me, his treatment of Taya Thomas was the final straw.”

Beck was referring to a meeting Cockrill had last week at the legislature with Thomas, whose 13 year old daughter Mayelle had died last December.

The topic of labour negotiations with the teachers was raised at the meeting, and a frustrated Cockrill had responded "what do they want me to do? Give up my first-born child?"

Cockrill did end up apologizing publicly for the remark in the Legislature and during a media scrum with reporters last Thursday, saying he knew he had made a mistake “as soon as the words came out of my mouth.”

“A really poor choice of words on my part. I apologized for that and I'm human, I made a mistake. It was a really poor choice of words on my part.” 

When asked if he had apologized to Thomas herself, Cockrill said that he “apologized to her in the meeting I had the other day.”

But Thomas, meeting reporters alongside MLA Aleana Young on Thursday, disputed that account and said Cockrill didn’t apologize to her in their meeting.

“He did not apologize to me,” Thomas said. “I had a friend there who witnessed that. He did give me his condolences, but that he made that careless comment afterwards. So it does make me wonder if somebody like that is in charge of their children’s education, ultimately their future, and if he can’t emphasize with just a regular person like me, it makes me wonder if he really can understand where the teachers are coming from.”

On Monday, Beck sided with Thomas’ account.

“Again, he was speaking to a mother, whose firstborn daughter had passed away just months earlier. And not only did that minister fail to apologize when he met with Taya on Tuesday, according to Taya he also lied about apologizing to her in that meeting. It should not be too much to ask to expect our elected leaders to live up to the values that we are proud to call Saskatchewan values: honesty, empathy, and accountability. This Minister has proven time and time again that he is simply not fit to be Education Minister and that is why we are calling on Premier Scott Moe to give him the boot.”

Education Critic Matt Love pointed to a pattern of lying by Cockrill. “Not only did the minister lie about Taya, this minister was caught lying at his very first press conference within an hour of getting the job. He said at the time that every MLA had heard from constituents about the pronouns issue only to be proven wrong a few minutes later when Minister (Everett) stepped up to the mike and admitted he had not heard from a single person. The Minister then claimed to have heard from tens of thousands of people about the issue, when internal documents show he only received 18 emails. He then lied about STF leaving the bargaining table after 30 minutes when video footage showed otherwise.”

During the Question Period that followed, Beck and Love took turns grilling both Moe and Cockrill, but stopped short of accusing him of lying — something that would have drawn the wrath of Speaker Randy Weekes. In response, Cockrill again reiterated his apology for his remarks last week, as recorded in Hansard. 

“I said on the floor of this Assembly last week, Mr. Speaker, it was a poor choice of words on my part, Mr. Speaker. When I met with Ms. Thomas last week, I had the opportunity to apologize for my poor choice of words directly to her in our meeting, Mr. Speaker. I apologized on the floor of this Assembly, Mr. Speaker.”

But Cockrill defended his government’s actions and one point posed a question to Love on whether he would repeal Bill 137 — the parental consent bill.

“Absolutely, we’d build a parental engagement strategy to get parents involved in education. Absolutely,” replied Love.

In the Assembly, Moe made it known he would not demand Cockrill’s resignation. 

”With respect to the question that the Leader of the Opposition has, Mr. Speaker, in light of what is a very poor . . . in spite of what was a very poor choice of words by the Education minister, of which he apologized for, there is much that this Education minister is doing that is in the best interests of students and our classrooms and our teachers across the province, Mr. Speaker. And he retains the full confidence of myself, the full confidence of his cabinet, and the full confidence of his caucus, Mr. Speaker.”

In speaking to reporters afterward, Premier Moe reiterated he would not remove Cockrill.

“In spite of what is a poor choice of words, that many of us have made at some point in our life, either professionally or personally, I would say that the effort and advocacy that this Minister of Education has on this file most certainly continues to earn not only my respect, but my confidence in the work is doing.”

He pointed to Cockrill travelling the province and meeting with all 27 school divisions in their communities, and having advocated for some of the largest increases seen operationally for education.

As for the accusations against Cockrill by the NDP, Moe pointed to the Opposition having “called for the removal of every single education minister that we’ve had since 2007… accusations are just that, nothing more than accusations."