COMMITTEE OF SUPPLY
EDUCATION AND TRAINING
Mr. Chairperson (Gerry McAlpine): Will the Committee of Supply please come to order. This afternoon, this section of the Committee of Supply meeting in Room 254 will resume consideration of the Estimates of the Department of Education and Training. When the committee last sat, it had been considering item 16.2. School Programs (d) Program Development (1) Salaries and Employee Benefits on page 48 of the Estimates book. Shall the item pass?
Ms. Jean Friesen (Wolseley): Mr. Chairman, at the end of last time, the minister was going to bring some information on information technology and, I believe, a number of other pieces of information about the Assiniboine Community College platform and the arrangements with school divisions that are proposed and may have been made within the southwest, and a few other things.
Hon. James McCrae (Minister of Education and Training): Mr. Chairman, further to our discussions related to the hosting of the southwest consortium Web-based course on World Issues 40S, Assiniboine Community Colleges and the southwest consortium are working in partnership to pilot the delivery of the World Issues 40S course during the 1999-2000 school year.
As its contribution to the partnership, Assiniboine Community College has agreed to host the Web-based course on their server at no cost to the southwest consortium. The southwest consortium has agreed to pay Assiniboine Community College, based on an hourly rate, for any technical support that is required. With respect to the technical support, this is a matter that the department is still reviewing.
The honourable member asked about keyboarding and the implications for early, middle and senior years. I am advised by the Program Development Branch of the School Programs Division as follows: the government of Manitoba has initiated a process of educational renewal referenced in Renewing Education: New Directions, which identifies technology as one of the four foundation skill areas required for kindergarten to Senior 4. In August 1998, the department released the document technology as a foundation skill A Journey Toward Information Technology Literacy to support the integration of technology as a foundation skill into all curricula.
With the increased emphasis on information technology in schools and specifically on the use of computers as tools to enhance student learning at all grades, competency in keyboarding is essential. The department acknowledges the need to review the status of existing senior years keyboarding courses and to examine the options for ensuring that students develop keyboarding skills at an earlier age in their schooling. Existing keyboarding curricula Senior 1 Introductory Keyboarding 1993 and Senior 2 Advanced Keyboarding 1993 are being implemented much less frequently in the senior years classes. Rather, schools increasingly are focusing on middle years as the time to introduce keyboarding. This approach is consistent with the skills continuum in technology as a foundation skill, which identifies that introduction and mastery of keyboarding as an expectation for students in Grades 4 to 8.
The department will undertake to develop a teacher support document related to keyboarding skills, as well as, identify commercially produced multimedia learning resources for keyboarding as options to facilitate keyboarding instruction. Pertinent information will be communicated to schools in the near future.
I am tabling also, further to our discussions last week, a document entitled Locally Developed Curricula: School-initiated Courses and Student-initiated Projects, A Handbook for Senior Years Schools.
I am also tabling a document off our web. It is entitled Implementing School-Initiated Courses (SICS) and Student-Initiated Projects (SIPS), along with frequently asked questions and the answers thereto.
I am also tabling a document for 1998-99 of School-Initiated Courses Registrations, and in here, I understand, are a few student-initiated projects as well, even though it is entitled SIC Registrations. This is for the information of the honourable member as well. That information is on the website.
Ms. Friesen: I thank the minister for tabling that material, but it does not actually take us very far.
The first question I had asked, which the minister was responding to, was the Assiniboine Community College issue and the exchange of contracts, or the exchange of money between school divisions and ACC. The minister said, as I understand it, that there is no cost to a school division in this pilot project. Does that mean, first of all, that there is going to be no cost to any school division who gets involved with the ACC platform? Then, secondly, the minister said: But there will be charges on an hourly basis for technical support.
Now I had also asked: were these contracts being–not necessarily submitted to the department–but was the department aware of the contents of the contracts, and did it foresee this as being part of a larger set of initiatives toward developing website programs in Manitoba high schools that were not overlapping, where we are not going to have every high school division creating and working with different institutions on the same courses? It is the expenditure of effort in the same course that gives me concerns.
I am interested in what level of co-ordination there is in the department, if any, and the avenue for asking that was the role of ACC and what it is doing. I had asked for some discussion of where MERLIN fit into this, and the minister basically answered, I think, last time, that MERLIN is essentially the technical arm that negotiates technical agreements for particular kinds of equipment and for rates.
So I wonder if the minister can be a bit more specific on the Assiniboine Community College role in the development of the technical supports for high school programming. Is this the means to developing a broader program throughout the province?
Then, secondly, on the keyboarding, well, the minister essentially has answered: yes, we do a lot of keyboarding, and it is important to do a lot of keyboarding. Anything we do beyond the middle years is a school-initiated project, and he has tabled the material for how to create a school-initiated project. But what I had asked was: was the department compiling a compendium of school-initiated projects in the technology area or in the information technology area? Is there anywhere some kind of central record of what is being done in the high schools of Manitoba in school-initiated projects and information technology that takes us beyond keyboarding? I am interested in what standards are being set, which schools are participating, and what material we have at a provincial level. I would ask the minister to table that so we could have some sense of an overall perspective of what is happening in high schools.
Mr. McCrae: I am not sure that we have not been responsive to the honourable member, certainly not for lack of trying in any event. If we could get a really, I guess, clearer read on what it is the honourable member is asking or where she wants this to go, we might have a better idea.
As we understand it or as I understand it, the ACC role here is a project going with the southwest Man. consortia, and it does not mean that other school divisions can or cannot get involved. What I know of it is that the ones that are involved got involved because that was something they wished to do and did so in partnership with ACC. Being a pilot project, it is not appropriate or possible at this point, at least, to say if this is any part of any larger scheme or broader program as I think the honourable member referred to it. ACC's role here is as a partner to provide the platform at no cost. There are certain costs with respect to technical support. As I understand it, that is a cost-recovery situation and not an unusual situation at that.
MERLIN is not a platform provider or a designer. I think we discussed MERLIN's part last time. This is a pilot, as I have stated, which is specific to divisions in the southwestern part of the province, and for the department we do not see it as anything more than a group of education institutions working together to achieve satisfactory mutually agreed upon objectives. The department is looking at the future as a whole of Web delivery, such things as other platforms and roles and responsibilities. So I do not know that we have not been responsive. I think that we have.
This type of thing, I do not know, recently, I have been finding that questions arise that call on a role to be played by the Department of Education and Training that in certain instances has not been seen to be an appropriate one. I know having met last week, I enjoyed an opportunity to spend some time with the delegates to the annual meeting of the Manitoba Teachers' Society, and Mr. MacIntyre presented me with a button to wear that said to say no to the YNN, the Athena proposal which, as I have said to the honourable member, I felt that this is a matter that can and should appropriately be reviewed at the division level. Indeed, in my own division, Brandon Division No. 40 reviewed it and decided they did not want to go with that; others may see it differently. But Mr. MacIntyre wants, as a former president of the Manitoba Teachers' Society, the government to get involved in something that is essentially the responsibility of school divisions.
I was reading the newspaper, and the newspaper basically made the point that Mr. MacIntyre had stepped down in order to run for the New Democratic Party in the River East constituency. Well, he did not step down; he was defeated in a broad election. The teachers of Manitoba–[interjection] Well, it is not the honourable member's fault or the honourable member for St. James' fault if the Winnipeg Free Press wants to say that Mr. MacIntyre stepped down.
I know people who have been defeated in elections, and they did not really describe their experience as a stepping down. Some people would use much stronger language to describe what happens to them when they have been defeated by their peers. The teachers of Manitoba made that decision, but I guess the reason I bring it up is because we are being asked a lot of questions about decisions being made, and rightly so, by other agencies in the education system. It is very good for the department to be up to date and knowledgeable about what is going on out there and learning all we can about the best practices in a rapidly changing world, so that any way the department can help out or any way any of our institutions can help out or help each other, these are laudable goals, I suggest.
But I think the example I use of the Athena proposal is simply to make a point. I mean, there have been other issues I have been asked to get involved in, and I have kind of tried to make the point that, you know, we have elected people at the school division level, elected by the people in those local division areas–well, another example is the music and phys ed issue in Brandon, where a proposal came out. I mean, divisions every year, as they address their planning, their operations and their budget, they look at all the various proposals that get made.
Now, in the case of the Brandon School Division, there was a proposal to reduce, or equalize, I guess is the way they put it, the amount of instruction time for things like music and phys ed. There was a proposal–[interjection] Well, the honourable member may editorialize about the kind of equalizing that they were talking about in Brandon, and that is fair ball, but that was an appropriate discussion at the school division level.
I know the honourable member wants to bring some matters to the Legislature, and the more that that happens, the more I get a little concerned that perhaps the NDP is moving toward getting rid of school boards. I know they will deny that, but when the questions repeatedly–
An Honourable Member: Can Hansard record raucous laughter? Get on with it.
Mr. McCrae: My honourable colleague wants the record to show that she is laughing hysterically about my comments.
An Honourable Member: No, I did not say hysterically. Raucously.
Mr. McCrae: Raucously, I am sorry. I guess I will shorten this because I think that may accord with the honourable member's wishes.
I just want to make the point that we do respect the rights of other institutions and divisions to work out issues that arise. We do respect that. I mean, if we are getting an overall movement in directions that are clearly just bad for the kids and bad for the system, well, sure, under The Public Schools Act there are responsibilities at the level of the government of Manitoba, and we would not shrink from responsibility to move if that were indicated. The department, along with others, is looking at the whole future of Web delivery, such things as other platforms and roles and responsibilities and funding, curriculum approvals, et cetera.
As to the future of the Web, we have already said that we are working with the southwest on its pilot project. We are seeking guidance and help and advice from the Council on Learning Technologies on the many important Web issues, such as ownership of curriculum and approval processes and platforms and the role of divisions and the department and funding issues. I think that we do that review as a matter of ongoing business.
The fact is, technology is making the world so different and is doing it so quickly that I think some of the things that are suggested tend to leave us in a situation where flexibility just goes out the window at a time when flexibility is exactly what is needed in order for us to learn to identify what best practices are emerging and to make appropriate comparisons.I mean, goodness' sake, if we just allow nothing to happen, we will be so hidebound in our education system, our kids will be so poorly served and so unprepared to function in the society that we know is going to be different from the society we have seen, the big question mark for everyone is, well, what will society look like in another 10 years? I have been known to quote Bill Gates in this regard. Bill Gates has said–well, a lot of people have made comments about the future; Yogi Berra, for example. He said that predictions are always hard to make but especially about the future. [interjection]
I will tell you what. I think honourable members may have lost interest in the sage advice of the likes of Yogi Berra and Dwight Eisenhower and people like that who had some pretty forward-looking things to say, things like the future ain't like it used to be, or things are more like they are today than they have ever been before in history.
So with those profound comments, I will maybe stop and let the honourable member ask another question.
Ms. Friesen: It was not that we were losing interest, Mr. Chairman, it was that we were losing the thread, and I have a feeling the minister had lost the thread, too.
My question dealt with the government's co-ordinating role in senior years information technology curriculum. The minister said: we are looking at Web delivery, looking at the whole future of that, but what I am asking about is: what is being taught now and does the government have a compendium of the curriculum that it is prepared to table of the courses that are being taught now in senior high schools in Manitoba? The minister tabled a list of the 1,760 school-initiated courses in Manitoba. Several of these do deal with information technology courses. I would like to see whether the minister can table those courses for us, those outlines.
Mr. McCrae: I did table a long list of school-initiated course registrations. The specific courses that the honourable member is asking are the following: the one at Cecil Rhodes School, Personal Applied Technology 11G; the one at Daniel McIntyre, Advanced Software Applications 41G; Daniel McIntyre, Desktop Publishing 31G; Gordon Bell High, Computer Awareness 11G; Sisler High School, Keyboarding 21G; St. John's High, Computer Animation 31G; St. John's High, Visual Basic 41G; St. John's High, Programming in C++Java, 41G. I hope the honourable member does not expect me to know the whole content of these courses.
St. John's High, Computer Research 21G; Tec Voc High School, Business Software 41G; Tec Voc High School, Recording Technology 21G; John Taylor Collegiate, Computer Applications 11G; Sturgeon Creek, Computer Awareness 11G; Oak Park High, Computer Applications 31G; College Beliveau, Computer Diagnostics/Repairs 31G; College Beliveau, Multimedia 31G; Pierre Radisson, Info Processing 21G; Pierre Radisson, Data Processing 21G; Pierre Radisson, Data Processing 31G; Arthur A. Leach, Computer Applications 11G; Vincent Massey, Fort Garry campus–you see, we have a Vincent Massey in Brandon too, so we will call it the Fort Garry campus–Computer Awareness 21G; Vincent Massey, Fort Garry again, Software Applications 31G; Vincent Massey, Fort Garry, Word Processing 41G; Glenlawn Collegiate, Computer Graphics 31G; Highbury School, Computer Applications 11G; Jeanne-SauvJ , Applications Multimedia 21G; Minnetonka, Intro to Computer Technology; Miles Macdonell, Multimedia Technology 41G.
Garden City, Computer Explorations 11G; Maples Collegiate, Computer Explorations 11G; West Kildonan, Computer Explorations 11G; West Kildonan, Computer Communications 41G; West Kildonan, Keyboarding Applications 21G, half a credit; West Kildonan, Advanced Software Applications 41G; West Kildonan, Computer Graphics and Animation 31G; West Kildonan, Computer Graphics and Animation 41G; Lord Selkirk Regional, Networking II, 31G; Lord Selkirk Regional, Networking I, 31G; Lord Selkirk Regional, Advanced Word Processing 41G; Lord Selkirk Regional, Software Applications II, 41G; Lord Selkirk Regional, Advanced Program in Visual Basic 41G; Transcona Collegiate, Advanced Software 41G; Agassiz School Division No. 13, Computers and Accounting 41G. Then there is the Empower Project, Advanced Desktop Publishing 41G; Powerview Advanced Desktop Publishing 41G. Perhaps I can finish this list either in my next response or next time we get together.
Ms. Friesen: I was riveted.
Mr. McCrae: What is that? All that information.
Ms. Friesen: Mr. Chairman, actually I was riveted. The reason is that I am trying to get the information all in one place. So for the minister to finish the list actually would be helpful for people to have that list all in one place.
Mr. McCrae: We will make the effort then. We will complete that this afternoon, and you can have a complete record in Hansard.
Ms. Friesen: Thank you, then. There is something I am not understanding. We have the list of all the school-initiated projects in front of us. I think you are up to Agassiz School Division. There is more beyond that. [interjection] No, it is here.
Mr. McCrae: What I was doing, Mr. Chairman, was of all these school-initiated and student-initiated courses and projects, I was extracting the technology ones for the honourable member to save her the trouble of having to go through every one. My staff are busily bringing that list up to date for me, so I can continue now. We left off at Agassiz. So then at St. Norbert Collegiate–this will not take very long, by the way–Desktop Publishing 41G; Green Valley School Computer Communications 31G; Steinbach Junior High Computer Communications 41G; Steinbach Junior High Intro to Computer Programming 21G; Steinbach Regional Secondary School Computer Programming 21G.
Sanford Collegiate, I think the honourable member has been reading about Sanford Collegiate recently, Intro Multimedia Technology 31G; Sanford Collegiate again, Advanced Multimedia Technology 41G; Sanford Collegiate Advanced Multimedia Design 41G; Sanford Collegiate Intro Multimedia Design 31G; Sanford Collegiate Computer Communications 41G; Stonewall Collegiate Advanced Software 41G; Arborg Collegiate Advanced Multimedia 31G; Gimli High School Desktop Publishing 31G; Riverton School Advanced Multimedia 31G, one credit; Riverton School Advanced Multimedia 31G, half a credit; Lundar School Computer Communications 11G; Lundar School Computer Research 31G; Lundar School Microcomputer Applications 41G.
Arthur Meighen High Computer Animation 41G; Arthur Meighen High Applied Publishing 31G; Arthur Meighen High Applied Publishing 21G; Portage Collegiate Microcomputer Applications 41G; Carman Collegiate Multimedia 31G; Elm Creek Multimedia 31G; Miami Collegiate Technical Communication/Application 11G; Garden Valley Software Applications 41G; Garden Valley Keyboarding Speed 21G; Major Pratt Computer Communications 11G; Strathclair School Computers 11G; Elton Collegiate Computer Enrichment 21G; Elton Collegiate Integration of Computer 11G; Erickson Integration of Computer 11G; Minnedosa Integration of Computer 11G; Minnedosa Future and Computers 11G. That is a student-initiated project.
Rivers Integration of Computer 11G; Rivers Television Journalism 31G; Brandon Adult Education Centre Computer Applications 31G; Brandon Adult Education Centre Computer Applications 41G; Crocus Plains Advanced Word Processing, Vincent Massey–this would be the Brandon Vincent Massey, the one I attended and the one my kids all attended–Word Processing 41G; also Vincent Massey Brandon Advanced Computer Science 41G.
Virden Collegiate Advanced Computer Applications 41G; Souris Valley School Division No. 42 Multimedia Design 41G; Souris Valley School Division No. 42 Computer Communications 41G; Wawanesa School Business Maintenance 11G; Pierson School Advanced Computer 41G; Boissevain–down in Jerry Storie country–Advanced Software Application. Did you know Jerry Storie's dad is from Baldur?
Jerry, I know he calls himself a Flin Flonner too, but he is also from south-central Manitoba basically. [interjection] Well, we do not know if he is still NDP. We suspect he has probably changed over now. [interjection] You started it.
Margaret Barbour, Advanced Word Processing 41G; Margaret Barbour, Desktop Publishing 41G; Margaret Barbour, Videography 31G; Margaret Barbour, Desktop Publishing 31G; Margaret Barbour, Videography 41G; Hapnot Collegiate, Word Processing Practicum 41G; Morden Collegiate, Formatting 21G; West Lynn Heights–Jerry Storie would know about this one probably–Technology 31G.
R.D. Parker, Auto CAD 31G–that is a student-initiated project; Auto Computer-Assisted Design 31G, that is at R.D. Parker; again, at R.D. Parker, Computer Applications 41G; at Pinawa Secondary School, Radio Broadcasting 31G. It is a student-initiated program and in brackets they have got Brian. So maybe Brian initiated that, I assume, Brian being a student. Ross L. Gray School, Secretarial Science 41G; Leaf Rapids Education Centre, Technology 41G; George Knott, Exploring Technology 21G; Calvin Christian–these may be independent schools–Computer Application 11G.
St. Boniface Diocesan, Advanced Desktop 41G; St. Boniface Diocesan, Advanced Desktop 31G; St. Boniface Diocesan, Publishing Internet 21G; St. Boniface Diocesan, Publishing Internet 11G; St. Boniface Diocesan, Introduction to Multimedia 21G, a student-initiated project.
St. Johns-Ravenscourt, Computer Studies 31G; St. John-Ravenscourt, Computer Studies 21G; St. John-Ravenscourt, Computer Studies 11G; South Winnipeg Tech, that is now called Winnipeg Technical College. I had the privilege of attending the changeover ceremony and was joined there by a number of people, including the brother of one of our MLAs in this place. Winnipeg Technical College, Networking III 41G; and Winnipeg Technical College, again, Networking II 41G; Springs Christian School, Internet Communications 11G.
University of Winnipeg Collegiate, Word Processing 41G; University of Winnipeg Collegiate, Internet 41G; University of Winnipeg Collegiate, Internet Publishing 41G; University of Winnipeg Collegiate, Desktop Publishing 41G; University of Winnipeg Collegiate, MicroComputer Applications 41G; Western Christian School, Computer Applications 41G; Yellowquill College, Computer Applications 41G.
Manitoba School for the Deaf, Keyboarding II 21G; Manitoba School for the Deaf, Desktop Publishing 31G; Manitoba School for the Deaf, Writing Workshop 41G; and, Manitoba School for the Deaf, Corel Draw 31G.
Ms. Friesen: Mr. Chairman, it is useful to have all of that in one place, and I wonder if the minister is able to table any of those curriculums.
Mr. McCrae: My having given her the information that I did, the honourable member then followed up by asking if we could make those curricula available to her, and the answer is that we cannot. They are not ours. The copyrights held on them are held by school divisions. What I would invite the honourable member to do in this case, since I do like to try to come forward with the information that is being asked for, and when I cannot do it, I can maybe offer an alternative approach.
The honourable member may wish to approach the school divisions themselves that have the copyright on these curricula. We have a set of criteria that I think school divisions use to develop and design curriculum. We also register them, but we do not own them. I think that is the best way for me to answer that.
We list the school-initiated courses on the Web. We list them on the Web so that, if people are interested in knowing more about these courses, they then can identify them on the Web and then contact divisions. I guess, by having it on the Web, divisions and citizens can, therefore, know that there are rights held by the holder of the courses, and they can contact the divisions involved directly.
Ms. Friesen: Can the minister tell me how many students are enrolled in the information technology courses at the senior high school, the ones that we have just been listing?
Mr. McCrae: I am not sure I can obtain the answer to that question. We are aware with respect of the number of students involved with respect to department-developed courses, and those courses are Senior 1 Keyboarding and Senior 2 Keyboarding, Desktop Publishing, Software Applications, Data Management, Computer Awareness, and others, I understand.
Now we know about those ones, but the ones that are school-initiated, we do not have that kind of data available.
Ms. Friesen: Could the minister then table the department's developed programs, curriculum and information technology at the senior high school? Can he tell me at some point, obviously not today, the number of students who are enrolled in those courses?
Mr. McCrae: Yes, Mr. Chairman, we could table a list of courses tomorrow. It will probably take us longer to determine the number of students enrolled in those courses, but we will table the courses tomorrow and then hold the rest of the undertaking until we follow through with it.
Ms. Friesen: The minister said that he had committee which was looking at–not a committee, but the department was looking at Web-based delivery, and I understand that there are also committees which are looking at information technology generally in schools in Manitoba. What I am interested in is what kinds of conclusions the minister has drawn from the list of school-initiated programs. There are obviously a great number in the information technology area. It sounds as though, without looking at the curriculum, there are two or three which are common, and I will be interested in looking at those to see how they are different from the departmentally initiated ones, but what conclusion is the minister drawing from the number of other courses and their geographical distribution? Is he assured, for example, that Manitoba students across the province are getting the needed kind of access to information technology courses and tools? Is the regional distribution right, or are there parts of the province which are not getting what other parts are? Secondly, what is it that school initiation projects are telling us is missing?
Mr. McCrae: I am being asked in this question, Mr. Chairman, for my take or my level of comfort or confidence in information technology instruction, courses and curricula. I can say that I am given some level of comfort about this. In a changing world I hasten to add to that the fact that there is a departmental criterion that we are encouraging everybody to use as they develop the courses they are putting out as we have listed them and tabled them for the honourable member.
It has to be borne in mind that the school-initiated courses are not in existence simply for the purposes of dealing with technology. I mean, we are dealing of course with technology. This is an important thing to do. But we are talking about communications. We are talking about programming, multimedia, desktop, communications again, applications of technology, applied publishing, keyboarding. I mean, that is certainly part of the technology, but it is not the technology all by itself. Microcomputer applications, we are talking about enrichment, the overall integration of computers. So it is hard to describe technology very simply these days.
Television journalism: There is certainly technology involved in television journalism. It is not exactly what one conjures up when we hear the word "technology." We may not have in mind that there are different types of technology besides just computers. Word processing, of course, there is a lot more to word processing than knowing how to program your word processor. You have to–well, I was going to say you need to know how to spell, but I have talked to some people who do not allow their kids to use the spellcheck. Not a bad idea. We still need to know some basics that go beyond technology.
Speaking of spelling, my mother used to be involved in the spelling bees. She always used to tell us as we were growing up to pay attention to our spelling because you never know when you might want to be in a spelling bee, but also it will be good to be able to spell all the rest of your life.
Now, my dad, who is gone now, could recite every word in his Grade 3 spelling book in the order that they appeared in the spelling book. Now, I pressed Dad on that. Why would you know, after all these years, every single word, not related? I mean, you try to do it. Try to list off virtually hundreds of words that are not joined in any way. Well, my dad could do that. I pressed him further about it, and I guess he had to write them on the blackboard a lot of times. I do not know if it was strictly so that he could remember how to spell them or if there was some other project being completed. But it was really quite amazing. I never knew anybody like that who could actually do that. You would wonder why anybody would want to recite every word in your Grade 3 spelling book in the order in which they appeared. I asked him that too, and he said that it really was not something that he had planned out or wanted to do. He was an amazing fellow though; his ability to remember things was unique, I thought, but I digress slightly.
The point is that technology is a very broad and all-encompassing kind of thing. Business maintenance, this is another area where technology assists but it is not the whole story. Formatting, I suppose you could say, is somewhat more technical, but it depends what it is you are formatting for. Videography, another perhaps good example of the point I am trying to make, secretarial science, radio broadcasting, publishing Internet. I think those examples give a flavour.
The other thing that needs to be said is that if you go through the list that I have put on the record a little while ago, you will see that virtually every part of the province is brought into that and every part of the system, including the public and independent part of the school system. So these school-initiated courses, as I say, are not in existence simply and only to learn about technology. As I say, there is a fairly sound and even distribution of these courses. I am advised the school-initiated courses are of a much higher quality than in the past. Now, that is not to say that anybody should be faulted for that. It may well be that my predecessor is the one responsible for the higher quality that we see today, and as usual my predecessor was quick to pass on the accolades to other places, humble sort of person that she is, and I do appreciate that.
The fact is it may not simply be one person or one group of people that can be credited for this. The fact is that technology is becoming more and more a part of our everyday lives, and so therefore all of us are learning a little more all the time about quality and how to improve quality, and I think you see it. I was watching something on television, I did not know it existed and I do not have enough investments to really qualify for this, but if you are into the mutual funds or you are playing the stock market, you can do it directly now on the Internet from the comfort of your own home without even having a broker or an agent working for you. Maybe this has been around for a while, but each week or two I seem to learn something new that is available that simply was never dreamed of in the past.
In that kind of environment that the statement can be made that our courses are of a much higher quality than in the past, that is, I think, a generally held view in the education community. It is a positive thing to be able to say, something that we need to be able to say and to be able to prove so that our students can basically learn how to learn about technology, because if they simply took a course at school about a specific thing, and that was all they were going to learn for the rest of their lives about how to apply technology, they would soon fall behind.
I was a court reporter in my other life, and this is another example of technology, I learned to write on a stenograph machine which was arguably–I say arguably because I respect court reporters who use other methods to do their work, such as the steno mask or the pen shorthand writers, there are still some of those around. The technology that I learned on a stenotype machine was sort of state of the art in the late '60s when I was learning this. Well, it was not that many years before we had the CAT, that is Computer Assisted Transcription, which was refined and refined and refined to the point where my daughter the court reporter still writes on the stenograph machine in exactly the same way I did, probably better though because her notes have to be computer compatible; in other words, I think that she needs to be even more accurate. In my time when I would read my notes, I could read through some of my shading and my errors in shading and so on, on the machine.
Well, the computer frankly picks up all the mistakes, so I do not think the court reporter of today makes as many mistakes as the court reporter of the past. And of course it is a marvel. There is no time spent dictating notes into a dictating machine, having it transcribed by a typist; those days are goine. So in the space of 10 or so, 15 years, we have seen a sea change, but at the end of it all is still a person writing the same things on the keyboard of a stenotype machine, but everything else after that is different. It has produced a faster product, the transcript is available so much faster than we were able to do it in the past. That is only one example out of probably thousands and thousands.
Ms. Friesen: We have little laptops here now. We did not before.
Mr. McCrae: Yes, you see laptops almost everywhere now in common use. You will see the laptop computer behind the desk of an office or behind the desk when you check in at a hotel. You see them on airplanes. You see them in airports, people doing their work or whatever they are doing on these things. I do not have one, but probably that will be part of my future too. So the application of technology is something we really have to think hard about. It seems to me that you could have a full-time job just thinking hard about different applications for technology, and you would never work yourself out of a job simply because, once you figure you got them all figured out, then there is technology change again. So then you have to figure out how to apply the change to technology to all the different persuasions that you have spent the first part of your career discovering.
We see also, in the development of technology teaching in our school system, divisions develop courses that are more in concert with their broad community, the community to which they feel they are accountable, from which they draw some of their revenues, which is a whole other debate. Over the weekend, the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Doer) was raising the issue of school taxes again. This is not the first time, and I do not think it will be the last time. But he is going to have to answer some of his own questions before we are done with this discussion. They are important questions–there is no doubt about that–but people want to know some answers. They do not want to just hear what one person thinks is wrong all the time.
So I am going to be pressing the honourable member for Concordia (Mr. Doer) and his colleagues to give us some straight answers on some of these questions. They do not give straight answers. They give multianswers. I have been around quite a bit, and I notice that answer is different in one place than it is in another place. This is very confusing for taxpayers, because they need to know–I mean, they already have the teachers all riled up. The Teachers' Society is mad as heck, I assume at the NDP, for all of their talk about reducing taxes and all of the talk about property taxes. Maybe they are mad at the government too.
You would think so if you listened only to Mr. MacIntyre who, as I pointed out awhile ago, did not step down as president of the Manitoba Teachers' Society. He was defeated in an election. The teachers of Manitoba removed Mr. MacIntyre from that position. He did not step down. But the point is there is concern about this tax issue, and rightly so. I notice Jan Speelman, the new president, the one who was elected by the teachers across Manitoba, has singled out this concern. I mean, if we are talking about lower taxes, how much lower, and will this affect funding for schools, very good points to be making.
You can bet that I have to be accountable not only to my own constituents but to the Jan Speelmans of this world who are raising legitimate questions, and as has been pointed out by the throne speech and by the Minister of Finance (Mr. Gilleshammer), there will be a tax commission, a Lower Tax Commission. I do not think Ms. Speelman need to be too concerned at this stage, because we have reduced taxes at this budget while increasing funding for education by 2.6 percent. So, you know, just simply talking about lower taxes need not be a frightening thing for anybody who is concerned about education funding.
We have cut taxes before, and we still see an overall improvement in the commitment of government to funding for education, and that includes technology which is the subject of this afternoon's discussion. We put–oh, I cannot remember the exact figure–an additional $5 million this year in the budget for–and maybe this is why the honourable member for Wolseley supports this budget, because there is all that money in there for education. That is one of the reasons, but I think that there may be other reasons too. Frances Russell maybe got that one right. Maybe time will tell whether Frances Russell was right or the NDP was right, and I am not sure. Was it dishonest? That is Frances Russell's view. Was it tactically stupid? That is Frances Russell's view.
I do not suppose the NDP members are going to want to–Ian MacIntyre included–are going to want to go to the public saying that this decision on the part of the NDP was either dishonest or tactically stupid. So it will be an interesting debate. Interestingly, it will be very much the debate as we go forward to place our record and our proposals before the public for their judgment in a decision that will be made some time in the fall. It is at that time that the focus of these things becomes sharper and sharper, and if anybody out there is even contemplating, which I do not think there is much of this going on, but contemplating changing their support, they will sharpen their focus on that group to which it might be proposing to attach its support.
That is when it falls apart. It just does not stand up to the scrutiny that reason suggests has to take place for that kind of a decision to be made. So in all of this, when I know that significant new dollars are being made available so that technology can become a more integral part of the everyday learning experience of Manitoba's children and Manitoba's students, it is nice to know that the government is doing the best it can within the resources that are available to lead in this matter, to lead and to encourage innovation in the area of technology, curriculum development, and course content. But I repeat that the department does have criteria that it wants divisions to look at when they are developing courses and when schools are developing courses.
I think that it is going to be an interesting number of years ahead. I do not think I actually–I mentioned Bill Gates before but I did not actually quote him. Bill Gates said that technology change will–there will be as much technology change in the next decade as there has been in the last five, which means, if you lay down too many rules and regulations, they might be, just like some computers, obsolete before their ink is dry on the regulations. So that is the challenge that seems to–well, seems to, does exist. I do not know for sure, but others have made the point that in the last 50 years civilization has changed more than throughout the whole history of humankind. So Bill Gates may have understated the situation, which makes you wonder. He must know something or he would not be so rich. But I think he may have understated the amount of technology change in the next decade.
We need some flexibility, but we also need some direction because this thing could just be all over the place, and we do not want to see precious public resources used to, I do not know, just go on a constant sort of fishing expedition. There needs to be some structure, I know that, but I do not know what it should look like. I think there are others who know more about this who could give us advice about that.
All I know is that the department is involved in this way, certainly through the funding part, but we need to be able to justify all that funding too, and that is why the member's questions are on the point. They are appropriate questions because I am sure that she would like that the dollars be used wisely as well so that we get maximum benefit and have the smartest bunch of people anywhere just coming out of our Manitoba school system.
Ms. Friesen: I understand the department has been conducting an inventory of computer information technology, computers, number of schools, classrooms hooked into the Internet, et cetera. Is the government prepared to table that information?
Mr. McCrae: Such a compilation we think might exist, and if it does, we would like to make it available to the honourable member. It does not exist in the department itself, and that is why I worded my response in the way that I did. So, on this one, we will take it under advisement and perhaps make some information available to the honourable member.
Ms. Friesen: Well, if the minister is going to do that, let me clarify what it is I am looking for. I am not looking for or only for the Statistics Canada analysis which does have some information on computers per household, et cetera, and computers per school on different provincial bases. I would be interested if the department has more recent information than the latest Statistics Canada material. But, as I understand from the schools, there has been a survey done by the department, at least the schools understood it to have come from the Department of Education, asking for the number of computers, the age of the computers, the capability of the computers and their distribution per classroom or throughout the school, along with some information on attachments to the Internet.
Now, I may have read much more into that questionnaire than exists. Actually, one of the people who talked to me about it was concerned that in fact the government did not leave much space for details on the age of the computers, and they were concerned about the bias in the questions which might indicate a wide range of computers but did not actually give their age. That really does not give you a sense of what is being used in the classroom.
So it is that that I am interested in and if the department perhaps could give me an update. I am sure they do not have the information available at the moment, but could the minister under this line tell me what it is the government has been collecting, how long they have been collecting it and what form it will eventually be published in?
Mr. McCrae: Yes, if we can find out what data is available perhaps through the Council on Learning Technologies, perhaps through them. They have made recommendations to the department, or the other source we will check would be the Manitoba Association for Computing Educators, who may have some data. But I think the honourable member is right. There has to be some data around in order to be able to rationalize the expenditures that have been made in recent years, just very, very significant investments of money for the purpose of wiring and cabling and creating various little local area networks and different things like that, all of those, and computers and software and all of the things that go with it–just a tremendous commitment on the part of the government to the integration of technology, in this case, computer technology, in the curriculum of our public school system.
Having visited a few places since my appointment, the classroom of today has little resemblance to the ones in former days, for obvious reasons, but just the numbers of computers being made available for example through the direct monies made available for that but also through the Computers for Schools and Libraries program. This is taking computers–with the government changing over to new systems everywhere and new equipment everywhere–taking the former equipment and rather than disposing of it in some other way, bringing it up to a level where it is usable and useful for students in our school system. That seems like an excellent approach, rather than some other disposal that does not make as much sense. The children are getting the opportunity to have technology more than ever before, and that is probably what should be happening. I mean, it might be one thing to provide a bunch of computers to schools through allowing government computers to be given to the schools, but it is not much use to them if they cannot plug them in. So that requires significant investment in getting the wiring.
If you go down to any of the offices in this building and check around, you will see wires that certainly when this building was designed, nobody ever thought we would need to be stringing all those wires that we are. That is happening in our schools too, and that is appropriate so that use can be had of all of the computers that are being made available in various ways but certainly through the Computers for Schools and Libraries program. I guess thousands of them are being made available across the province, and that requires a lot of wiring and cabling. That can be an expensive project too, depending on the layout of a school, depending on what other work has to go with it. I mean, sometimes as you are wiring and cabling, you find things that you do not necessarily want to find, but you do anyway. Then the Public Schools Finance Board has to go to work to address issues that arise just from things being discovered through going through the process of getting schools wired for all of this new technology or not so new, previously enjoyed technology, we could say, that the students need.
So with regard to this inventory, we will do the best we can to get this information for the honourable member. We think that it does exist in some form. The other thing, I am reminded that wiring and cabling and computers, they are all dandy, but they are not much good for anything unless the teachers have skill at using them and students skill at learning and demonstrating learning with them. So we have to assist to make sure that our teachers get the opportunity to have their skills developed to make technology a reality and a foundation skill in our students.
I really have been quite impressed, although I have not completed my total investigation here, about how these teachers out there have become such crackerjacks on technology. There are some very, very smart people out there when it comes to technology. They are needed, and they are very appreciated because they are doing a heck of a job. If you go into their classes and see what some of their students are doing with what they have been learning from these teachers, it is quite astounding that, with young people not even the age of majority yet, there are so many things they can already do. There are students who are into profitable businesses. They have not even finished high school yet, and they are able to further their own businesses' interests, technologically speaking. Can you imagine the headstart that they have once they complete their education? They already have a going concern of a technology-based business.
This is partly due to the fact that some students are very adept at picking up the technology and running with it, but it had to start somewhere. I am sure some of the teachers I have met have had a lot to do with the success already being enjoyed by relatively young Manitobans in business interests that are technology based.
The honourable member has talked about, as I say, an inventory or a survey, and the next sitting I think I will be able to report to her about that.
Ms. Friesen: In the same vein, Mr. Chairman, the government has specific allotments for computer purchase in its grants to schools in part of its funding of public schools. What kind of reporting system is there back to the department on the use of those particular funds, and how are those records compiled? How have they been compiled, for example, over the course of the existence of that grant?
Mr. McCrae: When grants are made available to school divisions from the government, they then, through categorical granting, have to report on how the dollars that have been granted are spent, and the honourable member is familiar with the Financial Reporting and Accounting Manitoba Education Report, the FRAME Report, which touches on the spending of dollars that are made available by the government.
Ms. Friesen: Mr. Chairman, what I was asking for was what information is returned to the government about the kinds of computers or networks or software that have been purchased with the money allocated in the FRAME Report. So what kind of information is returned to the government? How does the government keep that information, and has there been a compilation since the initiation of these grants?
Mr. McCrae: All throughout the relationship between government and school divisions, Mr. Chairman, you will see that with accountability still being a key feature of the relationship, accountability by the province but also accountability by the school divisions or schools involved, the information the honourable member is talking about here, I suspect, I mean I could be wrong, is more detailed than that sort of relationship would suggest is appropriate. By that I mean to say, I am kind of going back a little bit to the other conversation we had about things like the Athena proposal or the music and phys ed in Brandon examples that I have given, where I simply believe that some decision making is appropriately made at the local level. To some extent, I do not need to know what make or model of a particular piece of equipment is. I do not think I need to know that, because the school division to which my department is granting money has to make available certain information in the form prescribed in the FRAME, or we have to make information in a way that is prescribed by the Provincial Auditor or by the financial administration act or whatever legislation–I do not even know if there is such an act–but whatever legislation we operate under, we have to obey those rules.
What I am thinking is that the honourable member is asking for information that gets into the kind of detail that you could probably get but not by asking the government. You could probably get it by asking a school division. If you are really wanting to get a breakdown, for example, of what types of equipment, what make or model, where it was purchased, under what kind of contractual arrangement it was purchased, whether it was all done appropriately or not, those are legitimate questions in a publicly funded system and I have no quarrel with that, but I think they need to be asked at the appropriate level. If I felt that it was necessary for the government of Manitoba to know this much detail, then I would probably direct that but I do not want to micromanage and I think we have enough management going on as it without getting carried away with it.
I do agree with accountability and, you know, a transparent system so that everybody can know what is happening with their dollars. I do not mean to be unco-operative or anything like that. I am simply saying some of the information the honourable member asks about is appropriately available and if you ask in the right place. To what extent we should be required at this point to go to find out the finer detail that I think the honourable member is seeking, I do not know how much responsibility I have for that without maybe knowing more specifically. If there is a specific thing the honourable member needs to know, then we need to look at it and say, well, should I be the one providing that information, or should the honourable member go and correspond with the school division involved? Many, many boards, the comment has been made, they feel they are already micromanaged and too much reporting is required.
Well, if that argument is being made, if you can make that argument and still satisfy the taxpayer that you are not trying to escape accountability, then so be it. If governments are criticized, it is often because they have too many–I hope my staff do not mind these expressions–number crunchers and people like that. I mean no offence but that is what people call big government. We have been able to reduce the overall size of the government in the last few years, and we intend to carry on with that. We believe, I know this is an arguable point with the honourable member and her colleagues, but not only believe that we are doing better with less, we are doing as much as well. We are more effective and we are more efficient than we were when we started.
When I say efficient, that clearly implies a reduction in the overall size of the government, and that has happened. We remain committed to that because we think governments ought not to be doing what people should properly be doing for themselves. We do believe that some people legitimately need assistance from a publicly funded institution of some kind and we agree with that. That is appropriate, but the comment has been made, and this is by school divisions who themselves are criticized from time to time for being top-heavy, meaning on the administrative side. A lot of people, myself included, sometimes say when things are going bad, well, have you looked at the administration part and have you cut back there instead of cutting back in the classroom or whatever the debate happens to be. It is not a bad argument to make, but if you have the facts to back it up, then you are in a stronger position.
We are accused as a department sometimes of micromanaging. There are an awful lot of forms that have to be completed, and some people would think that we should give them money and never ask them another question. This is what makes for public debate. This is how and why the honourable member, any day of the week, could find a new question to ask in Question Period, because it is always what is the right place and what is the right balance. There are some who just say give us the money and do not ask us any questions, and there are others who would say give them the money but ask a lot of questions, and another group that would say, yes, indeed, give them the money but lay out some criteria, which is a good think, not a bad thing, especially if they are an elected group. Then they have some responsibility too. They have people to whom they have to respond directly.
This has happened in Winnipeg over different things recently. It is happening with respect to the Athena. My question is, you know, what do the parents think? What do the teachers think? Have a public discussion about it before you go and make a decision. Those who want to make a decision without having a public discussion, sometimes there is a price to be paid for that, and I am assuming that more and more in our information age people are much more informed. That is an overall observation I am making, rightly or wrongly, but I think it is rightly. Public institutions are far more responsive today to the feelings of the ordinary citizen than they used to be, and part of the reason for that is technology has made that happen.
Think, Mr. Chairman, what life was like before television came on the scene. There was a whole different society. That one technology alone changed the very culture and fabric of the way we live our lives. Television changed politics. Radio started that change. Television came along and changed it even more. I read Pierre Berton's book, The Promised Land. I do not know if the honourable member has read that book. Probably. I understand she has done a lot of reading. Pierre Berton spoke of the politicians of the time of the turn of the century in this book, and Clifford Sifton was one of them. There was a fair bit of emphasis on Clifford Sifton. Well, I am interested in Clifford Sifton because he was the last Attorney General from Brandon, and I was the next one after that. Quite a few years between us, but the point is Mr. Sifton had a very key role at a very important time in the history of our country. I know the honourable member knows all about this.
What Pierre Berton, the spin that he put on his book, The Promised Land, was that, you know, there were people back in those days who were rascals in politics, and some people would say that is the case today too. However, the rascals of today, everybody knows who they are. At the turn of the century, not everybody knew who the rascals were because there was no television and there was no radio. There was a newspaper, the Winnipeg Free Press, but who owned it and who controlled the editorial content? Clifford Sifton. That is the way it was then. It is not like that now, I do not think, subject to correction. However, that was the point that Pierre Berton was making in his book. I do not know how much of a rascal Mr. Sifton was. Coming from Brandon, he could not have been all that bad. But things were different, that is all.
You cannot impose today's standards on what went on then. Those people were very important in the development of our country. Clifford Sifton, God bless his memory, opened up the West. Although he was Minister of the Interior for the federal Liberals, he started out in this House or in the provincial Legislature and moved on to federal politics. As Minister of the Interior, I think was his title, he was responsible for all those waves of immigration that brought the settlers to the West and opened up the West for habitation and civilization. He did a lot of things to get us going as a civilized province, so I speak with pride. I do not always agree with everything Pierre Berton said in his book, although the point I am making is the technology has changed the way we do everything.
I know of certain activities that do not happen anymore because there are hockey games on TV all the time. This is important too though, is it not, Mr. Chair, that there be hockey on TV, or as long at the right team is winning. I cannot seem to get the chairman involved in this discussion. So there are so many more ways for us to be accountable now than there were in the olden days. It would be simple enough to say, oh, we are very accountable because it is all published in the Public Accounts. My grandad had a Grade 2 education, and when he learned to read, he kind of forgot most of it in pretty short order because he only achieved Grade 2 education.
So it is published in the Public Accounts. Big deal. What kind of accountability is that for the ordinary citizen of the turn of the century? Well, today it is a little different. You have a vigilant media for the most part; you have all these ways to get information to people. I heard yesterday 36 percent of Canadians have access to the Internet, mostly in their homes now. That is expected to grow by about 30 percent every year or so, the level of it, of participation that way.
So nowadays I do not think anybody who is really interested in a topic can claim that there is something being held back unless you can make a really good case that somebody is covering something up, which is different. The fact is people have access to information, and nowadays politicians are more conditioned than before to being very forthcoming with information, government politicians and other politicians as well. I refer to school division politicians and to municipal politicians, so that nowadays, something is happening in our school system, we just do not take it for granted that that person that we elected to be our school trustee will do the right thing, and if we really hate it, it must be the medicine that we needed. We do not think like that anymore, because we have access to so much information. We almost instantaneously can say we do not think this trustee is right because of this, this and this that we know about because of our right and our ability to acquire information about the subject matter.
So that is why I do not think that we ought to be meddling and micromanaging school division responsibilities. That does not mean to say that we have no interest or ought not to gather information. I started by saying it is a balance that we need to look at. You cannot use a certain set of principles one day to make a particular point, then move over to a whole different set of principles to make another point. If you want to be believed, I mean, if you do not care if you are believed or not, do whatever you like. The point is I think there is a balance that needs to be identified and used.
There are forms coming out of people's ears that they have to fill out, and I think it is incumbent on us, if we are interested in efficient and effective government at every level, to encourage efficiency giving due regard to the whole principle that these are public dollars we are talking about. I mean I do not believe that we should just give them money and never ask them another question, for example. I do not believe that, but there is another school of thought that wants us to fund and direct and control, and as I say, we are trying, striving to find that responsible balance. I think here is an area where, if you are looking for something that shows a difference between the different approaches taken by the political party at the provincial level, it could probably be said that there is one group that wants to direct and control and control and control. George Orwell, I think he referred to that group as big brother. That is on the one side. Then there is the libertarian side who would not fund very much and have even fewer questions. That is the other extreme. Somewhere in the '90s and in the new millennium, there are those who strive to find the right balance that is absent of slavish adherence to philosophy, absent of that but interested in getting the job done. That is where you want to find the balance. That is where it should be.
Mr. Peter Dyck, Acting Chairperson, in the Chair
I will just put it on the record, I am against the big brother concept of government. There are others who slavishly adhere to that even though you know, what is his name, Tony Blair–Tony Blair is the latest one whose shrine some people pretend to be worshipping. Even Tony Blair dare not undo the good work of the Maggie Thatcher administration, Margaret Thatcher.
An Honourable Member: He probably has blue on the background of his billboards too.
Mr. McCrae: I do not know; it may be that he does, but the point is they are labelling themselves the new socialists or the new whatever they are called.
An Honourable Member: Like the New Democrats, today's New Democrats.
Mr. McCrae: Like today's New Democrats. The point is you cannot fool everybody about that. You could fool everybody about it if you were consistent long enough, if you were consistent, but if you are not consistent, then you do not fool very many for very long.
But I digress. I am trying to make the point that the big brother system should be for somebody else, not for Manitobans. The big brother system suggests that elected school trustees are nobodies who know nothing and who should not be trusted to have any responsibility. I do not agree with that theory.
I believe we have a couple of former school trustees in our midst this afternoon, and I should speak with some respect. I would anyway, even if you were not here, Mr. Chairman, be speaking with respect about school trustees. They put their reputation on the line in order to do a job. They do not make huge piles of money to do that work. In fact, huge does not even come close to describing what school trustees get for their effort. They become trustees because they care. Therefore, they want to be good trustees. They are elected, and they can be removed too. I have seen it done, by the way. I think that system of responsible government at the school board level ought to be encouraged and not just meddled with through excessive regulation.
So there should be criteria because we, too, at the provincial level, have to be responsible. We have to answer for things that happen, I guess, at the school board level too. We had better be ready with an answer that says: well, these were our criteria when the dollars were made available. If those criteria were not followed, either it is serious enough that you have something in The Public Schools Act that allows you to do something about it, or the criticism can properly rest with the school trustees, at which level the decision was made.
I mean, I am not going to run away from a responsibility that should be mine. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Doer) has said that the curriculum belongs to the people. Therefore, the Athena business, we should be imposing from on high our will on an unsuspecting public, without even having the debate. Well, the debates are happening. It is a good thing that those debates are happening. There are some people with the Big Brother network who would say, it shall not be done under any circumstances, when perfectly intelligent, elected people, with their feet on the ground in the community, are quite able to look at some of these sorts of things and make decisions about them. The fact that decisions are going both ways suggests to me the system works.
So there should be broad criteria. I agree with that. The debate will always revolve around whether it is too broad or not broad enough or whether there is too much focus or too little focus. We want terms and conditions that attach to money. That is what the system is all about. We have set up a system where a good chunk of the education of our children comes from the coffers of the provincial government, and, of course, there have to be rules. That is why we have a Public Schools Act. That is why you see amendments being made to it from time to time to address issues that arise in a constantly changing world. Then we want to be informed in a general sense, sometimes more specific than other times, maybe more so in new programming, although it is kind of difficult with rapidly changing technology to get really specific about what we demand. So we work hard to keep on top of that, to keep our partners working with us to ensure that we are getting the best we can out of the dollars. But is it the very best? Well, I do not know until technology stops changing. Can anybody tell me when that is going to happen?
I had a friend in Los Angeles who gave me a date in August of 1969 that the world was going to come to an end. Well, it did not happen. That was 30 years ago now. He has been wrong for 30 years, and I remind him every time I see him too.
Anyway, we want to know if the money is spent according to the terms and conditions. That is where there are contractual arrangements. There are different kinds of ways. There are reporting mechanisms, when you have categorical funding. You want to know that your categorical dollars are being spent in a way that meets the objective that was hoped to be achieved when the dollars were made available. We do not see that it is in the public's interest for us to be gathering more and more data of the nature of the make and the model or the type of computer or the make or the model or the type of modem or network software. These are and should remain local matters. Unless someone can make a good argument to the contrary, that is my feeling about it. Otherwise, we would need a department considerably larger than the department we have. I think the people we have are working hard enough just to try to keep up on all the demands that we already make of them. Unless somebody can show me that I am off the mark here, I would like to continue in that way.
I see the system as just that, a system. Local boards can and should be permitted to operate somewhat freely within a defined scope–that is defined in The Public Schools Act–and to make entrepreneurial decisions, because entrepreneurial decisions are part of progress too. You see, public decisions can also be entrepreneurial. Some people do not understand that, because they make distinctions in broad, sweeping ways. It is all good or it is all bad. It is not always that simple.
We think that local school boards should be able to make choices about what vendors they use, because I know they have to be responsible to the public that elected them about whom they are dealing with and what they are getting for their ratepayers' money. If the honourable member and her colleagues are right, which I think they are, that local school taxes are an issue, I am just as right that provincial taxes are an issue. People simply want to be assured that they are getting value. They want to be in agreement with their government that those things that the government sees as priority reflect their own, things like health and education. I think there has been enough polling done, there has been enough door knocking done, there has been enough coffee shop talks done and public meetings in church basements and town halls and community centres to know that health and education are the priorities.
We do not require school divisions to report to us on a lot of local purchase decisions, many of which you could argue are just as important as local purchases on technology, for example, science equipment, band equipment. I mean, I do not care what kind of trumpet they are using, who built it or whether it was made in Manitoba or in Saskatchewan. I would prefer Manitoba, of course, but these are appropriately division-level decisions. Phys ed equipment, I mean are we going to start telling them what kind of soccer equipment to be using, what kind of basketball hoops they have to use?
Mr. Chairperson in the Chair
We provide help. I know that in terms of purchasing, we provide help through the Textbook Bureau because we know that we can get a good price, or a better price, in some ways. We provide help through MERLIN to negotiate broker pricing that can help. It is all with a view to being helpful. Copiers and fax machines, all those things, I would argue, are very rightly matters that ought to be made at the division level. So I guess it depends on the issue.
I am not saying the honourable member is wrong and that I am right. I am not even saying that, but I think on certain identifiable issues I might take a stronger position than that. When I have made the point that I think the NDP is wrong, I have said that. Sometimes we have been wrong, not as often as the NDP, but we have been wrong sometimes too, and that is why we are quite prepared to be accountable and to be open with the public of Manitoba.
Ms. Friesen: Well, the minister chose to talk about the nature of the decision. The question dealt with the nature of the reporting, and I asked the minister what information is reported back from school divisions as a result of receiving the per capita grants for technology. So I am asking for what is reported.
Mr. McCrae: The honourable member is asking specifically what is reportable, and it may be that I took more from her question than she intended. If I did that, I am sorry. I thought that she was wanting more detail than I felt was necessary. As it turns out, I am right on this one in that the FRAME reporting arrangements require divisions that take the categorical dollars, let us say, for technology. We ask them to break down in three areas, and I do not think it is broken down much more than that. Supplies, equipment, and service, those are the three. You could have a hundred questions arising out of division A putting in a report for FRAME saying that X hundred thousand dollars was used for supplies. Well, you sure could have a lot of questions about that, and I would say, well, there is a place you can ask those questions.
The division involved with the expenditure of those dollars knows in much more detail what those supplies were. I do not know what they all are, and I do not think I need to know. As a department, we have identified in recent years the need for categorical funding for technology. It is appropriate that we ask about how much you are spending for supplies, how much you are spending for equipment, and how much you are spending on service. But then, if some division gets into some wonky contract with some fly-by-night supplier of service which raises some kind of issue, well, I think that issue should be fleshed out, but it probably should be fleshed out at the level where those decisions got made. Of course, the Manitoba government is going to be interested in knowing if monies are being inappropriately spent, but I do not think it is unreasonable to ask for the general categories of supplies, equipment and service.
Mr. Chairperson: Order, please. The hour being 6 p.m., committee rise.