Delaying education reform is risky

The Yukon Party government is turning the education-reform project into “a dog-and-pony show,” charged Liberal MLA Eric Fairclough on…

The Yukon Party government is turning the education-reform project into “a dog-and-pony show,” charged Liberal MLA Eric Fairclough on Thursday.

And it could rip the territory apart, he said.

The reform project was created in August 2005 as a partnership between the Council of Yukon First Nations and the Yukon government.

It is supposed to find solutions to barriers aboriginal students face within Yukon schools that risk splitting the system in two.

But disenfranchised aboriginal voices have been starting to suggest alternatives since the project was created.

Recently, the Kwanlin Dun First Nation and Little Salmon/Carmacks expressed frustration with the government.

Both are now musing about creating their own education systems, as is their right in their final agreements.

On Thursday, Fairclough warned Education Minister Patrick Rouble that he must be transparent and quick to address demands for change, or risk sparking a “major upheaval.”

But the review of the Yukon Education Act itself is late by some seven years, and the reform project has become shrouded in a “veil of secrecy,” he noted.

The project’s work has been complete since December.

But dozens of position papers have yet to be made public. The reform team has been barred from releasing them.

That’s led some to question whether the project is at arm’s length from government, or a branch of it.

Liberal access-to-information requests for the position papers have been rejected because the project is an “arm’s length” body and not part of the government, said party officials.

But those same requests have also been denied by the reform project itself.

And now the project is touring Yukon communities to consult with people who have already been consulted, said Fairclough.

It’s stonewalling, he said.

“The time for consultation is long over,” said Fairclough. “The education-reform project should now be reviewing those consultations and working to formulate a report.

“Why is this government allowing such an important project to be turned into a dog-and-pony show?”

First Nations are also not happy with the long delays, he later added.

“Is it the intention of this government to drag its heels on this report to the point that First Nations simply throw their hands in the air and walk away from the minister?”

The government’s goal is to ensure that every Yukoner that wants to provide input into the project can, said Rouble.

A calendar of public consultations for the education reform project is expected “in the very near future,” he said.

Those consultations will be held in Yukon communities before the end of June.

The education-reform project has been told to file a report by the early fall, he said.

Its final report will identify education goals, barriers and will recommend strategies to overcome them, said Rouble.

“Yukoners have to be involved in taking a position on education and finding the solutions,” he said.

But why more consultations?

The first round of consultations were “focused” meetings with stakeholders and groups such as the Yukon Teachers’ Association, school councils and First Nations, said Rouble after question period.

The next round will be broad and open to the public, he said.

The education-reform project was created to consult with First Nations governments and communities to address the disparity in outcomes between aboriginal and non-aboriginal students in the Yukon.

The group has already held many consultations.

Add to that other consultations on education and the need for further public input starts to look blurry.

Consultations on the education act received 7,500 comments, with 25 per cent related to the act and 75 per cent on broader issues, according to the education-reform project’s website.

Once the final report is submitted, the system will be examined in light of the recommendations, said Rouble.

As for changes, some will be made “as immediately as we can,” while others will be “more systemic, long-term changes,” he said.

Will the public be able to see the existing position papers?

“We’re not there yet,” said Rouble.

Asked if the papers exist or not, he seemed unable to respond with a yes or no.

“There’s been a lot of work done by the education-reform team, they’ve been working on this for quite some time,” he said. “Has the final position been taken? No, a position has not been taken.”