Candidates address Morinville school issue at forum

Wildrose candidate Link Byfield was challenged on his “deeply religious views” in one question Monday night. – Stephen Dafoe Photo

By Stephen Dafoe

Morinville – Monday night’s All Candidates Forum delivered MLA hopefuls with a wide-variety of questions, some of interest to all Albertans, others of particular interest to Morinville and area residents. One of the written questions submitted dealt with the issue of public versus Catholic education in Morinville.

The question – If elected what do you plan to do about the current school situation in Morinville – resulted in responses from all five candidates.

Liberal candidate Leslie Penny said she was the product of a public school system in Edmonton and had friends attending a Catholic separate school six blocks from her school.

“If we are going to solve an education problem in a community, we need to involve the players,” Penny said. “We have to be able to sit down with the school boards involved, and I believe that we have a Catholic system and we have a public system – and the public system has some different players involved. But we have to talk to parents and with administration and the school boards. We can work this out. It is something that has to happen and it’s the only way we can do it.”

Evergreen candidate and Morinville resident Lisa Grant said people could be in the auditorium all evening talking about the school issue alone. “It is something that needs to be worked out as soon as possible,” Grant said. “There is a need for a secular program in this town, and the beginnings of it that were created last year were definitely a strong beginning. I know people who are taking part in the new secular program and are thrilled with it. We do need to further that program.”

Grant said the issue is a difficult one because of infrastructure and the fact a new school cannot be built overnight. “There’s a lot of people hesitant to hand over one of the currently Catholic schools over to that secular program,” Grant said. “I don’t know what the solution is right now. We definitely have to talk to more of the public. We need to work it out but soon.”

NDP candidate Trudy Grebenstein said the issue was a popular one with younger families she spoke with while door knocking in Morinville. “They wanted to know what I thought the current Education Minister Thomas Lukaszuk would do next,” she said. “My answer to that was, ‘Well, I don’t know that he’s going to be the education minister after this election.’” The comment drew some enthusiastic applause in the hall.

Grebenstein said she does not support the idea of former Education Minister David King that there should be a single school system in Alberta. “I do not believe Albertans are ready for that,” she said. “I don’t think they should do that. Parents and children are very passionate about the schools they go to.”

The candidate said she does not know how the issue will be solved because she does not know what is on Lukaszuk’s mind.

PC candidate Maureen Kubinec said the Morinville school issue is a complex problem that is unique in the province due to the separate and public school systems being the reverse of how they are elsewhere in the province and country.

“Together the communities and school boards work out a solution and Bill 4 was passed so the flip has happened,” Kubinec said. “The problem is the facility issue, if I understand it correctly. The work on the administrative and the operational changes is ongoing. There is a commitment to have something in place by September.”

Wildrose candidate Link Byfield said the Morinville schools issue will come down to numbers. “To answer that question we need to know how many parents want which one,” Byfield said of the choice between public and separate systems. “You can’t start allocating schools if you don’t know what the people want.”

Byfield said he believes the next necessary step is to find out how many parents would support a secular system and how many would prefer to stay with a faith-based system. “That requires parents actually signing up,” he said, adding he believed that would be the next step and one that would be taken soon.

Subsequent question challenges Wildrose candidate’s religious views

A subsequent question challenged Byfield’s position on putting the Morinville school issue to the public through the lens of the questioner’s perception of the candidate’s deeply religious views. Byfield began his answer by asking how the questioner would know of his deeply religious views.

“The question on the Morinville schools is not one of rights,” Byfield explained. “The rights have already been decided. They’ve been known all along and they’ve been more recently clarified.”

The candidate said both those who want a secular and those who want a faith-based program have rights. The issue is down to infrastructure.

“The question is how do we know how many kids are on this demand side and how many are on that demand side,” he said, adding perhaps a plebiscite or referendum is the wrong term to use. “It has to be an awful lot more than the kind of surveys that have been done so far by both school boards. It has to be a parent signing up for this one or that one, and then the space can be made available.”

Kubinec responded to the question by saying the solution is being worked on.

NDP candidate Trudy Grebenstein said it is important for people to realize all schools are built with public dollars and as such belong to all Albertans. “They really belong to all of us, and while we are having a struggle to decide which school goes to which system, I believe that once the schools get built that need to be built in this constituency that it will be just something we look back on and say why did we make such a fuss.”

Education Minister Thomas Lukaszuk met with Morinville parents Mar. 15, and although assuring media a decision on infrastructure would be made in a few days’ time, no decision was announced prior to the writ being dropped for the provincial election.

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