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Friesen gets education critic assignment

Morden-Winkler MLA Cameron Friesen is the new education critic in Manitoba Legislature.

Morden-Winkler MLA Cameron Friesen is the new education critic in Manitoba Legislature.

By Lorne Stelmach

A 12 year teaching career had Cameron Friesen on the front lines of the school system at the local level including in Morden.

Now the new Morden Winkler MLA will focus on the bigger picture of Manitoba education with a role on the 'shadow cabinet' of the Conservative opposition in the legislature.

Friesen was recently appointed as the Manitoba PC caucus critic for education by outgoing leader Hugh McFadyen.

Friesen was among five new MLAs given critic roles alongside other experienced members of caucus.

"There's going to be a steep learning curve ... but I'm really looking forward to following this path," said Friesen.

"I'm very excited to have this responsibility," he continued. "Having been a teacher in the public school system for 12 years, I'm aware of the many challenges we have in education in the province at this time."

The least for the most

Friesen identified a few key concerns that he believes will need to be focused on in relation to education.

It's a priority that takes about 14 per cent of the provincial budget, yet he noted recent statistics and reports indicate the NDP government isn't getting much bang for those bucks.

"Manitoba has one of the lowest graduation rates in the country ... yet Manitoba expenditures per student are the highest in Canada," he noted. "So it is a concern that we are spending the most ... but we're achieving the least."

He also said there are concerns about how well our students are performing compared to the rest of the country. In one recent national assessment, for example, Manitoba students ranked second last in mathematics, he noted.

"I think there is a lot of discussion now across Manitoba about why this is the case. We should be striving for better than this."

As well, Friesen said he will be watching closely to see how the government plans to put into action its commitment to limiting class sizes for Kindergarten to Grade 3.

The idea has merit, but there are many questions about how they will implement this promise and whether their funding pledge will be adequate to cover the potential financial impact from schools needing more staff and space as a result.

And how flexible will the plan be if particular classes are just a few students over the limit, or will those students be sent to other schools as a result?

"The logistics of it are what concern me," said Friesen. "A concern about those extra costs is they could be trickling down to the local level."

Other appointments

Along with appointing Friesen, McFadyen also gave responsibilities to other new MLAs:

- Reg Helwer (Brandon West) - Critic for Manitoba Hydro and Manitoba Public Insurance and lead critic for issues related to the City of Brandon.

- Ian Wishart (Portage la Prairie) - Critic for water stewardship.

- Dennis Smook (La Verendrye) - Critic for consumer affairs, entrepreneurship, training and trade and lead critic for small business issues.

- Wayne Ewasko (Lac du Bonnet) - Critic for advanced education and literacy, aboriginal and northern affairs.

McFadyen also assigned experienced members of the caucus several senior roles. Kelvin Goertzen (Steinbach) will continue to serve as justice critic, Mavis Taillieu (Morris) will continue to serve as Official Opposition House Leader and Heather Stefanson (Tuxedo) will continue to serve as finance critic. Myrna Driedger (Charleswood) will remain as health critic, and Bonnie Mitchelson (River East) will continue as Child and Family Services critic.

Other MLAs from southern Manitoba also have roles. Blaine Pedersen (Midland) has been assigned the role of agriculture critic, while Cliff Graydon (Emerson) will assume the role of critic for cooperative development, Manitoba Lotteries Commission and gaming.