Manitoba

Armed with musical instruments, 'Kill-the-Bill' supergroup marches door-to-door against Bill 64

The music might have been slightly off-key. Their message definitely was not. With a saxophone, sousaphone and an assortment of other brass and wind instruments, the “Kill-the-Bill” supergroup took to the streets on Saturday evening.

Local group feels momentum changing over controversial education legislation

Activist Jacquie Nicholson was part of a door-to-door rally against Bill 64 with other local musicians and teachers at Vimy Ridge Park in Winnipeg on Saturday evening. (Nathan Liewicki/CBC)

The music might have been slightly off-key. Their message definitely was not.

With a saxophone, sousaphone and an assortment of other brass and wind instruments, the "Kill-the-Bill" supergroup took to the streets and door-to-door in the area around Winnipeg's Vimy Ridge Park on Saturday evening, protesting Bill 64.

The proposed law, which would overhaul Manitoba's public education system, has struck the wrong chord with teachers.

Instead of an intense protest, the group, which is composed of members of Protect Ed MB, music teachers and members of local marching bands, played a different tune of protest.

"We were really looking for something a little different, a little creative," says activist Jacquie Nicholson. "We've all done petitions and letters to MLAs.

"All of that stuff is really, really important, but I think we also wanted to tap into that feeling that Manitobans have been cooped up in our houses for the last year-and-a-half, and everyone is … really missing live music."

Jason Pinkney (centre), a member of Protect Ed MB, goes door-to-door rallying against Bill 64 with local musicians and teachers near Vimy Ridge Park in Winnipeg on Saturday evening. (Nathan Liewicki/CBC)

Local high school teacher Jason Pinkney agreed with Nicholson.

"The past year has been really draining on teachers and students," Pinkney says. "Teachers are exhausted and they need their summers to recover. The last thing they should be doing is organizing against Bill 64. 

"We wanted to make sure we had some fun events to make sure that we recharge teachers as they head into September."

'Better late than never'

Teachers received a tiny bolt of support from McPhillips MLA Shannon Martin on Friday when he tweeted that he would not be supporting Bill 64.

This comes in the wake of Education Minister Cliff Cullen being tight-lipped on whether a race to become the next leader of the Manitoba Progressive Conservatives would impact the proposed legislation.

"We're hopeful but trying not to get (too) hopeful. There has been a lot of talk about modifications to the bill, tinkering with it, making amendments, and that is just a road we don't want to go down," says Nicholson. "We won't be super happy until we see it completely done and away with.

Pinkney's take on Martin's opposition to Bill 64 is that it is a little late, "but better late than never."

"Our target is to hit seven more Conservative MLAs and convince them to acknowledge public  opinion that Bill 64 is wildly unpopular," Pinkney says. "It's not based on best practices and there's universal opposition in the province."

The Progressive Conservative government has said the bill is intended to improve student scores and shift more resources to the classroom.

It would also see locally elected school boards dissolved in favour of a central education authority, among other reforms to the K-12 education system in Manitoba. 

Cullen has previously said parents will have greater input in how their local schools operate. Each school will have a community council made up of parents of students.

Consultation concerns 

Pinkney has experience teaching in northern Manitoba reserves and believes there has been a lack of consultation with Indigenous communities regarding what will come if Bill 64 passes into law.

Pinkney is also concerned that the marginalized and poorer communities are more likely to produce lower scores on standardized tests as a result of a greater focus on mathematics and literacy, and a potential cutting back of arts programs like music classes.

"When you throw in the recent attempts to rewrite history and look at residential schools, it is vital that we kill Bill 64 because we don't want people with attitudes like that rewriting curriculums and not telling us to teach the truth," he says. "This government has a hard time with the truth."

With files from Caitlyn Gowriluk

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