Leadership candidates from both the Sask. Party and NDP responded to teachers’ concerns during the Saskatoon Teachers’ Association (STA) annual conference Friday.
The STA hosted leadership forums for each party, inviting the candidates to answer questions posed by the organization’s moderators in front of a theatre full of education workers.
Trent Wotherspoon and Ryan Meili appeared in the morning session, criticizing the government for the lagging funding for education in Saskatchewan. They both committed to reducing class sizes and to improve funding for Indigenous children.
However, the candidates were also asked about Education Minister Bronwyn Eyre’s suggestion that Indigenous subjects were “watering down” the curriculum because of its “infusion” in other classes.
“I condemn the disgusting remarks,” Wotherspoon said.
Meili took it one step further, saying Eyre should no longer be the education minister.
“That minister needs to resign,” he said to loud applause.
“If she won’t, she needs to be replaced. If she’s not replaced, that says a lot about what the priorities are of this government.”
The Saskatoon-Meewasin MLA also said Eyre’s comments prove treaty education is needed in schools.
“No one has been able to make a better case for treaty education than she just did,” he said.
“She missed that step, and we can’t afford to have another generation that misses that step, that goes forward without that knowledge.”
In the afternoon Sask. Party forum, Saskatoon-area MLAs and former cabinet ministers Gord Wyant and Ken Cheveldayoff answered the STA’s questions.
Both candidates emphasized the importance of listening to teachers in order to better the education system. However, they defended the government’s decision in regards to education’s funding model and Bill 63, which bars school boards from suing each other.
The STA also asked Wyant and Cheveldayoff to respond to Eyre’s controversial comments.
Without referencing the minister, both said they supported treaty education and would look to reinforce its presence in the classroom.
Cheveldayoff also described a trip to Batoche days with his daughter as an example of the effect of treaty education.
“She told me ‘dad, you don’t need your notes. I know everything about the Metis in Canada, because I learned it in class,'” he remembered.
“She was very proud of that knowledge.”
STA President John McGettigan said he was grateful to the Sask. Party candidates for answering the question over treaty education.
“They were wise, and I think they were clear,” he said of Wyant and Cheveldayoff’s responses.
“Their words will speak for themselves and I’m glad I was able to ask that question.”
However, McGettigan was less impressed at the candidate turnout for the governing party.
He said the absence of Tina Beaudry-Mellor, Alanna Koch and Scott Moe spoke to the “strained relationship” between the government and teachers.
“I think that speaks volumes,” he said.
“If you want to be premier of the province, you should be able to face teachers.”