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New Manitoba premier Goertzen says Bill 64, others will be scrapped in fall

Controversial education bill, others will be shut down in fall
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Bill 64, also called the "Education Modernization Act," was formally announced by the Progressive Conservatives in March.

It's official - Bill 64, the controversial Manitoba-wide school reform plan released earlier this year, will be scrapped along with four other bills.

Manitoba's new premier, Kelvin Goertzen, announced the changes Sept. 1 in his first media availability since being named to the spot August 31.

"I know that a new leader has to be able to set their own agenda. As such, cabinet and caucus have authorized, with my full support, that those bills will not move forward this fall," said Goertzen.

Bill 64, also called the "Education Modernization Act," was formally announced by the Progressive Conservatives (PCs) in March. If enacted, the bill would have scrapped all English-language school divisions and elected boards, including those of the Flin Flon School Division, in favour of one larger authority with non-elected appointees based out of Winnipeg. The bill would have also combined all of northern Manitoba - the Flin Flon, Frontier, Kelsey and Mystery Lake school divisions - into one cluster within that authority. Hundreds of Manitobans signed up to present to the provincial legislature on Bill 64 - a provincial record.

Goertzen said that the bill would be taken off provincial slates in the fall, adding that the PCs will call both the Manitoba NDP and the Manitoba Liberal Party for a fall sitting at the Manitoba Legislature to formally kill the bills.

"There's also been hundreds of presenters that have registered in our very unique process in Manitoba, where the public can come and give presentations directly to the lawmakers, to legislators. That's a great, great process and I want to thank all those individuals who signed up to have their voices heard on those five bills in particular," said Goertzen.

"There are some budgetary matters that need to be completed to ensure that programs and staff in government have the resources that they need. We will enter into discussions with the opposition parties to  have a brief legislative sitting this fall, both to remove the five bills that were designated for a vote and to pass the provincial budgetary matters that need to be resolved."

At the end of last spring's session in the Manitoba legislature, the opposition NDP announced it would delay five bills - Bill 64, Bill 57 (The Protection of Critical Infrastructure Act), Bill 40 (The Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries Corproation Amendment and Liquor, Gaming and Cannabis Control Amendment Act), Bill 35 (The Public Utilities Ratepayer Protection and Regulatory Reform Act) and Bill 16 (The Labour Relations Amendment Act).

The legislature is currently on recess, but when it reconvenes. Goertzen said all five bills will be taken off the agenda.

Bill 57 would have allowed people who own or operate "critical infrastructure sites", like hospitals, highways, railroads or the Manitoba Legislature, to apply for court orders to limit or stop protests. Bill 40 would have allowed for private liquor sales in Manitoba, while Bill 35 would have changed the Public Utilities Board (PUB) to approve hydro rates every five years, with the province able to change rates in the meantime. Bill 16, if it was enacted, would have amended the provincial Labour Relations Act to allow the province to remove binding arbitration with public sector unions in long-term labour disputes and would allow employers to fire employees for "strike-related conduct".

Goertzen, the MLA for Steinbach since 2003, was Manitoba's former health minister from 2016-2018, education minister from 2018-2021, was the deputy premier from last January until this past week and is the provincial minister of intergovernmental affairs and internal relations.

Goertzen, named Manitoba's premier following Brian Pallister's resignation August 31, will hold the office for at least two months while the Progressive Conservative (PC) party votes on a permanent replacement Oct. 31 - while three candidates have officially stepped forward as nominees, Goertzen hasn't.

As health minister, Goertzen presided over cuts to Manitoba health services, including to intensive care beds and emergency rooms. Goertzen was also education minister during the creation of Bill 64 and presided over its creation - the bill itself was completed in 2020 but was only announced earlier this year by current education minister Cliff Cullen following a pandemic-related delay.

"I look forward to reaching out to as many people as I can, to opening up the premier's office and to hearing different people's views and ideas," said Goertzen.

"I have no doubt that when I open those doors to many different groups and organizations, in the time I have, some will have constructive criticism, some will have good ideas, some will have complaints and some will have a strong vision of the future. For me, I intend to be quick to listen and slow to speak. I want to hear what their views are."