Education contract bargaining, solar industry discussed at Sask. Legislature

Education Minister Gordon Wyant said he is not considering classroom sizes and composition as an item for discussions at the education contract bargaining table.

This comes after the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation (STF) announced they have requested a conciliation board to assist the sides at reaching a provincial bargaining agreement.

Following question period on Thursday at the legislature, Education Critic Carla Beck suggested the government isn’t bargaining in good faith and refuses to deal with the main issues brought up by STF and teachers in the province.

She admitted that it’s unfortunate, yet this isn’t a surprise to her.

“We see a tone of disrespect and wedging rather than sitting down, looking for common ground and finding a solution,” said Beck. “It needs to happen and it needs to happen in a hurry.”

Beck believes there is unchecked growth and increased complexity in schools which the government is not paying attention to.

Wyant said he’s been clear on his stance on discussing education policies at the bargaining table such as classroom sizes and composition.

“If you look at other jurisdictions where class size and composition have been included in a collective agreement, quite frankly it’s a mess,” he stated, mentioning that they’ve spoken to jurisdictions such as British Columbia for their feedback.

“We’re not prepared to introduce that kind of chaos into our collective agreement or our education system in Saskatchewan.”

Instead, Wyant has established a new committee of nine members which will focus on these two issues. They are expected to meet later this month for the first time.

Of the nine members, five are representatives from government or education boards. However Wyant added that STF does not want to take part in said committee and that they have informed their members disciplinary measures will be taken if any member wants to participate in the committee.

“I’m a bit disappointed with that because I believe a teacher’s voice is really important, but we’re prepared to go ahead without them.”

The goal of the committee is to build a framework on class size and composition with the hopes of applying the recommendations during the 2020-2021 school year.

‘It’s all coming to an end’

It has been two weeks since the Sask. government began taking in applications for their new net metering program.

Solar companies in the province say the decision from the government continues to have a negative effect on the industry, resulting in a drop in projects and job losses.

Finance Critic Trent Wotherspoon said after question period they are continuing to push the government to fix their choice to turn the program into net billing instead of net metering.

“This will be such a tremendous loss,” declared Wotherspoon when referencing information from the Distributed Energy Association of Saskatchewan.

“Projects are down 99 per cent which is a direct consequence of the choice from the government and an abject failure for workers, local businesses and the economy.”

Wascana Solar Co-Op President Josh Campbell shares his thoughts to reporters on Thursday. (Photo: Moises Canales/620 CKRM)

He added that the government’s decision to switch to net billing will force workers to leave the province, resulting in the loss of technical expertise in this area if the government chooses to expand to a larger scale solar project in the future.

An individual who has suffered from this situation after being laid off is former TruGreen Energy employee Khurram Iftikhar, who has been working in the industry since 2016.

A graduate from the University of Regina, Iftikhar said he wants to stay in the province so he can continue with the career he worked so hard to obtain in post-secondary. But if he wants to pursue his solar career, he might be required to leave the province to find work under the government’s new program.

If there are no solar-focused jobs left in Saskatchewan, he said all of his experience now is obsolete.

“With the solar relevance experience, I cannot apply anywhere else in Saskatchewan, so now I’m on ground zero again and I have to compete with all the fresh graduates.”

President of Wascana Solar Co-Op Josh Campbell was present at question period on Thursday, too.

He said companies across the province have been hit hard, resulting in solar installers being laid off and more layoffs on the way.

“What the minister is failing to understand is the net benefits that come from the net metering program to go solar and contribute to the government’s goal of being 50 per cent renewable by 2050,” he stated. “That is a huge part of it.”

Campbell mentioned they are going to do another request for proposals and invitation to anyone interested in having installations done under the new program in the new year. He said this will be a good indication as to whether the co-operative will exist going forward or not.



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