Editorial: City finances or educational policy?

Politically engaged Thompsonites will have a choice to make on the evening of April 25 when a pair of public consultations are held respecting the municipal budget and the provincial government’s review of kindergarten to Grade 12 education.

Though one could possibly attend at least part of both meetings – the education commission workshop begins at 6 p.m. and the city’s financial plan presentation at 7 p.m. – most likely anyone who cares enough about both of these issues to leave the house during NHL playoff season is going to have to make a choice about which one to attend.

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Obviously the city budget affects everyone who lives in Thompson, whether directly or indirectly, while once could argue that education is mainly of concern to people with school-aged children or who work in the school system or even people who plan or hope to become parents one day. On the other hand, if Manitoba isn’t producing enough capable students to become doctors and nurses and engineers and what have you, the economy is going to suffer and perhaps people individually, if health authorities can’t find medical professionals to fill available positions in more remote or northern communities, as has happened at the Flin Flon General Hospital, where obstetric services were suspended recently because the health region felt it couldn’t ensure that the level of care being provided to pregnant women was adequate.

Thompson’s municipal government has its issues for sure, mainly in the form of a declining business tax base and population, a problem familiar to many other resource-industry towns whose resource-industry employer shut down or contracted. The solutions to those problems aren’t easy and the fact is, if you wanted to have an influence on the city’s budget, you needed to get involved a long time ago, probably shortly after the new mayor and council – well, most of them – were elected last October. The city’s financial plan for budget year 2019, though not set in stone or actually approved yet, probably isn’t going to change much before council votes it through, no matter what anyone who shows up to the April 25 presentation has to say about their fiscal road map.

The commission on education, however, is just getting started, with the “interactive public workshop” in Thompson taking place just a day after the first one is held in Winnipeg April 24. Thompson is one of only two Northern Manitoba communities, along with The Pas, that will get the chance to deliver input to the commissioners in person, so if you want to get the most bang you can for your time, the education meeting might be the one to attend. Manitoba’s education system also has a number of warts, including the fact that fewer than one of every two Indigenous students who starts Grade 9 will graduate from high school within four years, and that Manitoba students are not meeting provincial expectations in every key subject area while also falling behind other students in Canada and around the world on national and international assessments.

The education commission is due to give tis report to the provincial government by February 2020 and some of the changes they recommend may not be implemented for years, if they ever successfully are. But unlike the city’s financial presentation on the same night, the implications of what they decide to do are broader and may have far longer-reaching impacts. Unless you can clone yourself and be in two places at the same time, it seems like the education commission meeting on April 25 might be the more important engagement.

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