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With Hoopla in balance, Cockrill tells teachers: let them play

Daily Leg Update: High school students watch as Education Minister Jeremy Cockrill and Opposition Education Critic Matt Love exchange words in QP about Hoopla

REGINA - With the Saskatchewan High Schools Athletic Association threatening to cancel the Hoopla basketball tournament by tomorrow if a deal with Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation isn’t struck, a fiery exchange on the issue erupted in the Legislature.

Education Minister Jeremy Cockrill and Opposition Critic Matt Love faced off in Question Period over the spectre of Hoopla being sidelined. STF had announced they would be pulling extracurriculars on Thursday and Friday, a move which would essentially shut down the Hoopla tournament. SHSAA had issued a statement saying the tournament would not go ahead if the situation is not resolved by 3 p.m. Wednesday.

The prospect of Hoopla being cancelled has drawn protests across the province from numerous high school students and Hoopla supporters at various locations, including outside the Legislature and along Albert Street on Tuesday. Those demonstrations drew students from areas including Wynyard, Moose Jaw, Davidson and Foam Lake, who held placards and chanted “Let Us Play.”

Those students then went inside the Legislature, and they watched from the gallery as Minister Cockrill spoke on the issue. His remarks are from Hansard: 

“Mr. Speaker, over the last several days I’ve heard from parents, from teachers, from students and athletes around the province, who are in a frustrating situation, having their provincial basketball championship and other extracurriculars taken away by the decision of the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation leadership to place sanctions, a decision, quite frankly, that lies directly with the STF leadership.

“Mr. Speaker, you have seen several, several areas of movement from the government trying to get a deal done to ensure that kids can be in the classroom and on the court of play.

“Mr. Speaker, the union leadership wants to say that this is all about the kids. That’s what the union leadership wants to say. But now it’s kids who are paying the price for the STF’s job action. It’s not too late for the STF leadership to reverse that decision and allow extracurriculars to continue going on, Mr. Speaker. I’m calling on the STF leadership to reverse that decision and let them play.”

That drew a loud and long ovation from the Sask Party members on the government side of the House.

It also drew this following reaction from Love:

“Mr. Speaker, responsibility for this dispute falls at the feet of one person in this province, and it’s that minister sitting right over there. He alone has the power to make labour action go away. He alone has the power to keep Hoopla and school trips going.

“The two sides are so clearly at an impasse, Mr. Speaker. They should listen up. All he has to do is send the issue of class size and complexity to arbitration and the job action will end. That’s all he has to do.

“Why won’t the minister get out of the way, send this to arbitration so a deal can be struck today?”

Cockrill responded by recalling his own days as a high school basketball coach with the North Battleford Comp Vikings, a squad whose own postseason hopes were also dashed by teachers sanctions just prior to his becoming an MLA.

“Mr. Speaker, I remember being a coach, a basketball coach, a high school basketball coach in North Battleford in 2020, when the STF made a similar decision to impose sanctions on extracurriculars, and it took away our regional tournament for my Vikings boys’ team that was supposed to be heading off to Weyburn for that regional tournament.

“Mr. Speaker, I will remind members, I will remind students and parents and coaches around the province that the STF have the power to declare job sanctions and the power to choose which specific dates. What the STF leadership are doing are targeting specific extracurricular activities, which affect kids coming from Moose Jaw and Wynyard and communities in all areas of the province, Mr. Speaker.

“Mr. Speaker, that member opposite wants to talk about my role in this, in bargaining. I’ll tell you what I’ve done. I have brought forward a renewed mandate with a reasonable salary offer. We’ve brought forward the largest-ever school operating increase in the history of the province, Mr. Speaker. We want to get a deal done.”

In speaking to the media, one reporter directly posed the question to the minister on whether he cared about basketball in this province.

“Oh, 100 per cent,” responded Cockrill, who added “for me growing up basketball was my life. The only thing I really cared about probably from grade 7 to 12 was winning a provincial championship banner on my school’s wall. That’s all I wanted to do. Everything in my life, and you can ask my parents, everything in my life was directed at that.”

Cockrill also added that he has received emails and calls and different social media messages from students around the province over the last week, and said “I get the passion. I totally get it. I’ve been there. So I totally understand that there’s a lot of people in this province that care about basketball, that care about Hoopla.“ 

He acknowledged the hundreds of volunteers in Moose Jaw, who had been preparing for the tournament. And he had pointed to both the boys and girls teams in North Battleford that have qualified for Hoopla this year.

“The boys and girls teams at North Battleford Comprehensive High School, the school I used to coach, both qualified. It’s been some years since both qualified to go to Hoopla in the same year. So it’s exciting in our community that we have teams going to Hoopla. 

“I guess what’s disappointing though, and I had an opportunity to kind of share my feeling on this with the players, with the student athletes who joined us today in the legislature, you know if this really is about basketball, if this really is about kids, then the adults need to be at the bargaining table, right? So that opportunities for kids are not affected.”

Cockrill also spoke some more about the impacts on extracurriculars over the last few years of labour and pandemic disruptions, again speaking of his experience coaching the NB Vikings in 2020.

“I remember back, my team had won a pretty big overtime game to make the regional tournament. I don’t think we were expected to go to the regional tournament, but we got in. And then again, the STF leadership at that time decided to declare sanctions on that particular day, and we weren’t able to go and then obviously the pandemic came after that. 

“You know, I think about the long-term impact of extracurriculars and again, some of the students that I just had an opportunity to chat with — these are students who missed their grade 8 grad. And now I would say if these types of jobs sanctions continue and the STF leadership don’t come back to the bargaining table, these are students who lost their grade 8 grad and now could have their grade 12 graduation activities threatened. And that’s something I think it’s really disappointing and I think it has a bigger impact on our kids than we realize.”

Cockrill also once again reiterated that the decision to target these specific days “lies at the feet of Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation.” As for whether 2024 Hoopla can be saved, Cockrill said this:

“I guess that’s where the STF has the opportunity in the next 24 hours to make that decision. To make that decision if they want to pull this opportunity away from kids. Certainly, it’s government’s position we want to let them play.”