N.W.T. education minister says she's not qualified to make call on Aurora College program

Caroline Cochrane says she'll leave those decisions to a yet-to-be-hired government official.

Official responsible for post-secondary renewal to be hired by end of October, Caroline Cochrane says

Caroline Cochrane, the N.W.T.'s minister of Education, Culture and Employment told MLAs Monday she'll let a yet-to-be-hired associate deputy minister make the decision on Aurora College's social work program. (Kirsten Murphy/CBC)

The minister responsible for N.W.T.'s Aurora College says she's not qualified to make a decision on the future of its social work program. Instead, she'll leave it to a government official who hasn't been hired yet. 

Regular MLAs grilled Education Minister Caroline Cochrane Monday in the Legislative Assembly about the ongoing uncertainty at the college.

They wanted answers about what's next for the school's social work program, which will likely be halted at the end of this school year. 

Cochrane didn't provide many concrete answers though, saying those decisions will be the responsibility of a soon-to-be-hired associate deputy minister.

"It is not appropriate that a minister [who] doesn't have the expertise in bringing forward post-secondary education would be designing what that post-secondary education would look like," Cochrane said.   

"My degree is in social work, it is not on running post-secondary education, I need the expertise," she said. 

Search for new hire 

The search for that expert began at the beginning of September and that person will ultimately be responsible for determining the next steps for the social work program, Cochrane said.

"This is about building a strong foundation," she said. "We need strong leadership to guide this forward."

The hiring search is expected to wind up at the end of the month and the successful candidate will start before the end of the year. Their first task will be developing the plan for the social work and education programs, Cochrane said. 

Yellowknife Centre MLA Julie Green, left, led the questioning into the future of Aurora College's social work program. (Mario De Ciccio/Radio-Canada)

In February 2017, then-education minister Alfred Moses announced his department planned to cut Aurora College's teacher and social work programs. At the time, he said the college was facing budget cuts and those programs were targeted due to low enrolment and completion rates. 

Following public backlash, the program's been on hiatus instead, while a review was completed. 

Yellowknife Centre MLA Julie Green made that review public last week, leading Monday's line of questioning in the legislature with Kam Lake MLA Kieron Testart. That review recommends the social work diploma program be expanded into a four-year bachelor of social work degree. 

This is a question of political will. Do you have the political will to reinstate the social work program?- MLA Julie Green

"It was a political decision to cut that program, based on the government's decision we needed extensive budget cuts," Green said. "The minister is hiding behind the bureaucracy, saying it's their decision to restore it.

"This is a question of political will. Do you have the political will to reinstate the social work program?" Green asked Cochrane. 

Cochrane did not make a commitment either way, but acknowledged the importance of the social work and education programs at the college.

"We will keep the strengths that are offered within the social work program currently and address the weaknesses that have been identified in both reports," Cochrane said, listing culturally appropriate curriculum as an example of one of those strengths.     

Meanwhile, cabinet's response to the comprehensive review of Aurora College, released in May, is expected to come later this sitting. 

With files from Loren McGinnis and Michael Hugall