Winnipeg School Division byelection to stay on schedule despite province asking for delay
Manitoba education ministry 'strongly' suggested delaying byelection late last week, board chair says
The Winnipeg School Division plans to go ahead with a March byelection despite receiving a message from senior education ministry officials late last week suggesting they delay the vote.
Trustees agreed at Monday's school board meeting to continue planning a vote in wards 3 and 4 on March 21, while asking for more information about why the provincial government wants them to delay the byelection.
"It is very odd for a level of government to insert itself into an election that's already started," chair Chris Broughton said after the meeting.
The province said the vote should be stalled to save taxpayers money, Broughton said.
"It comes as a shock to us," he said. "It is our understanding that delaying the byelection is actually going to increase costs for taxpayers."
Several trustees at the meeting asked chief financial officer Paul Kochan whether delaying the byelection would save money.
"The only way to save money for the taxpayer is if you didn't hold the election at all," Kochan said, citing conversations with City of Winnipeg election officials conducting the byelection.
The wards 3 and 4 trustees, Mark Wasyliw and Lisa Naylor, were elected MLAs in the provincial election in September 2019; the board informed the province then that it planned to hold a byelection in March.
"They indicated they had no concerns with us continuing the byelection. We have since followed up a few more times to ensure that nothing had changed," Broughton said.
But late last week, staff from Education Minister Kelvin Goertzen's office suggested to Winnipeg School Division administrators that the vote be delayed, a school board spokesperson said.
"It seems disingenuous that [saving taxpayers money] is the true underlying reason. I suspect there are other reasons why they want us to delay the byelection — and if it has to do with the review, then just come out and tell us what you need and what you want," Broughton said.
A provincial spokersperson told CBC by email it was contacted by division officials for advice on proceeding with the chosen date of March 21. The province suggested the school division hold off because there is no legislated requirement to hold a byelection at a fixed time.
The education review of kindergarten to Grade 12, announced in January 2019, will be released at the end of March, the spokesperson said.
"That report may include recommendations on the governance structure of the school system, including the future of trustees," the spokesperson said in the email.
"Holding a byelection with the imminent release of this report is an unwise expenditure of public money."
When Goertzen announced the education review, he said it would "tackle the issue of school divisions and potential consolidation."
"Nothing is off the table," the minister said about school division amalgamation, and he would have to be convinced that 290 trustees across 37 school divisions is appropriate for Manitoba.
Broughton is worried that the Education Ministry is not waiting for the review to be delivered before making decisions about how to change the system.
"[My concern] is that they've already made their decision and they're just waiting for the review to validate their plans."