Health Minister Audrey GordonMIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

The Tories are dismissing accusations the health minister broke election blackout rules over her comments at a contentious meeting about a proposed high school expansion in Southdale —where her re-election campaign is ongoing — last week.

On Aug. 30, Progressive Conservative MLA Audrey Gordon attended a parent council meeting at J.H. Bruns Collegiate to discuss a planned renovation to accommodate an influx of students as a result of catchment changes that will take effect in September 2024.

The Louis Riel School Division submitted a priority capital request for the addition in 2021-22.

The project is but one part of a blueprint that aims to address growing enrolment pressures, especially in French immersion, across southeast Winnipeg.

When pressed on the limbo status, which has frustrated families, Gordon told parents she met with ministerial colleagues earlier that day and discussed making funds available to move things along before April.

“What we’re saying is, with me being here, is that it’s no longer just LRSD’s No. 1 priority or on their wish list. It is now a priority for our government. It is now on our capital plan as being No. 1 for the 2024-25 school year,” she said during the hybrid meeting that was attended by roughly 50 people.

Father John Baert said he showed up to the event in anticipation it would be a regular meeting, so he was surprised to see an MLA in attendance and even more so when he heard “a commitment that I sensed was offside.”

“This will affect (my son) and it will affect other parents in the community who have kids going to this school and I think all of us are owed some transparency and accountability on a file like this that’s going to impact thousands of families,” Baert said, adding he’s paid close attention to project developments.

The father, who has worked in government and union leadership jobs, is well versed in election campaign rules.

Manitoba’s guidelines on communications during a fixed-date election bar government officials from making new announcements during 60 days leading up to an election and on election day.

The PC party denied any rules were broken at the meeting, suggesting Gordon was simply completing her MLA duties, and indicated the expansion at J.H. Bruns has not been approved.

“Audrey Gordon is doing her job well, tirelessly advocating for her community of Southdale. She will always fight for better schools in her community — as will our entire PC team,” party spokesman Shannon Martin said in a statement that also noted the party’s commitment to open 23 schools by 2027.

Dougald Lamont, leader of the Manitoba Liberal Party, said the situation is another example of the Tories “not being able to tell the difference between their own party and the government.”

Renée Cable, NDP candidate for Southdale, said the comments appear to be an “11th hour” announcement motivated by politics after years of budget cuts to public schools.

“It’s clear from talking to families in Southdale that this is a priority for families. If it was a priority for this government, it should’ve been done (before the campaign),” Cable said.

By Maggie Macintosh, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Sep 08, 2023 at 05:23

This item reprinted with permission from   Free Press   Winnipeg, Manitoba
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