Leaders trade shots in first debate

Manitoba's three provincial party leaders squared off Wednesday in the first debate of the campaign at a forum hosted by the Manitoba Teachers' Society.

Election set for Oct. 4

Jon Gerrard, Greg Selinger and Hugh McFadyen debate on Wednesday. (CBC)

Manitoba's three provincial party leaders squared off Wednesday in the first debate of the campaign.

The topic was education at a forum hosted by the Manitoba Teachers' Society.

Education funding and class size — a key issue for the society — were among the issues.

Progressive Conservative Leader Hugh McFadyen said the NDP government is wasting money on  projects like Bipole III (a plan to build an electricity transmission line from the north to Winnipeg) when it could be used for education and to balance the books. 

NDP Leader Greg Selinger said the government has spent more on education, despite the weak economy.

Liberal Leader Jon Gerrard said Manitoba has some of the lowest graduation rates in the country and blamed 20 years of NDP and Conservative governments.

Selinger said an NDP government would reduce class sizes for the youngest students, according to a report on the society's website.

"We will reduce class sizes in the K-to-3 period, details to follow in the campaign."

McFadyen agreed that reducing class sizes is important, saying the society's proposal to limit classes to 20 in the kindergarten to Grade 4 years is "a good goal to work toward."

Gerrard said limiting on class sizes is not enough because a class with more special needs kids, for example, should be smaller while "if you’ve got a group of students all who are doing well, you can handle a much bigger class." He said there should be  flexibility to adjust the class size to the situation, the society report said.

Manitobans vote on Oct. 4. The NDP holds 36 of the 57 seats in the legislature, the Conservatives 18, and the Liberals one — Gerrard's. Two are vacant.