Manitoba

Manitoba Liberal leader wants education minister out over participation in webinar with far-right politician

The leader of Manitoba’s Liberal Party is calling for resignation of Manitoba Education Minister Kelvin Goertzen for his participation in two webinars that included a far-right politician from Germany.

'Fully accountable for my own comments,' Kelvin Goertzen says after webinar with politician from Germany's AfD

Manitoba Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont, left, says Manitoba Education Minister Kelvin Goertzen should not have participated in a webinar that included a far-right nationalist politician from Germany. (CBC)

The leader of Manitoba's Liberal Party is calling for the resignation of Manitoba Education Minister Kelvin Goertzen for his participation in a home-schooling webinar that included a far-right politician from Germany.

Goertzen was a speaker at two teleconferences this spring sponsored by Global Home Education Exchange, an international group that has advocated for home schooling since 2012.

One of the other conference speakers was Joachim Kuhs, a member of the AfD, or Alternative for Germany — a nationalist party considered to be on the far-right of the political spectrum. 

"I don't think it's possible to sit next to the extremists like he did and keep his job," said Lamont. Goertzen participated in the teleconference remotely.

Kuhs is a senior European Parliament member for the AfD, which reportedly espouses anti-immigrant and pro-nationalist views. 

The party has called for banning foreign funding of mosques in Germany, as well as banning the burka and the Muslim call to prayer, according to the BBC

Germany's domestic intelligence agency, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, labelled the party as "extremist" and said in March it would start surveillance on some of its top members.  

The Global Home Education Exchange is chaired by Manitoba's Gerald Huebner, who works along with a volunteer board of directors from the U.S., Europe, South America and Asia.

"We don't get involved in the politics of other countries. We try to positively influence things," said Huebner, who lives in Arborg.

'Big believer in choice' in education: Goertzen

During the May 27 teleconference, which focused on home education and the pandemic, Kuhs said his main concern is strengthening the "natural family," consisting of mother, father and children. 

"It should be the central task of the state to protect and promote marriage and family. I firmly reject attempts to weaken marriage and the family through the so-called gender mainstreaming or other ideologically motivated interventions with the intention to educate people and thus patronizing them," said Kuhs.

The United Nations defines gender mainstreaming as "the globally accepted strategy for promoting gender equality."

Lamont says even if Goertzen does not agree with Kuhs's ideas, he should know better than to participate in forums that give a platform to "extreme right wingers"  who, he believes, want to dismantle and undermine public education.

Lamont alleges Goertzen's presence had more to do with defunding K-12 schools, which were the subject of a recent government review, than promoting home schooling, which has been legal in Manitoba for decades. 

Throughout the two webinars, Goertzen didn't mention defunding public schools, but focused on promoting home schooling as an option for parents. Results for students should be the focus of  public, independent and home-schooling, he said during both the May 27 conference and an earlier one held on April 22.

"Education isn't simply a state activity — maybe shouldn't even be primarily a state activity," Goertzen said at the May webinar.

"I am a big believer in choice when it comes to education."

Other speakers at the webinars included U.S Sen. Ted Cruz and Angela Gandra Martins, Brazil's national family secretary. 

"I have participated in many national and international conferences with people of divergent views on many topics. That is the nature of these conferences," said Goertzen who declined an interview request but sent an emailed statement. 

"I am fully accountable for my own comments. The views of other participants in any conference are theirs to defend."

'We do not discriminate': advocacy group

The Global Home Education Exchange website says home schooling "can make a positive contribution to civil society and families in every country," and says that concept "exists regardless of motivation or methodology in home education."

Huebner reiterated that message.

"Whether those parents are right-wing evangelicals, whether they're liberal atheists, whether they're Muslim, whether they're Hindus — whatever their educational, their political or religious or spiritual motivation, parents want to pass on their values to children," he said.

When asked who the representatives of other faiths and ideologies were, Huebner said there isn't anybody on the council of the Global Home Education Exchange at this point who would represent those beliefs.

Huebner says there are home school families that have same-sex partners. 

"We do not discriminate based on that. We're there to support educational choice," said Huebner, who also chairs the Home School Legal Defence Association of Canada and the Canadian Centre for Home Education. 

He says his group is not asking the government for money. He estimates that every home-schooled student saves governments between six to eight thousand dollars.

"There's billions of dollars that are saved to provincial and state treasuries by parents taking control."

Huebner says he is grateful for Goertzen's participation and hopes he can influence the other policy makers on the teleconference.

"I appreciate Minister Goertzen's leadership and his balanced messaging," said Huebner. 

"In terms of Mr. Lamont's comments, he's entitled to say what he thinks, and so am I."

About the Author

Joanne Levasseur

Producer, CBC News I-Team

Joanne Levasseur is a producer for the CBC News I-Team based in Winnipeg. She has worked at CBC for more than two decades.

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