School division/district amalgamation in Manitoba: a case study of a public policy decision
Yeo, David P.
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On November 8, 2001, the Government of Manitoba announced that the number of school divisions and districts in the province would be reduced from 54 to 37. With that policy announcement, Manitoba embarked upon the most significant restructuring of school board governance arrangements since the late 1950s. The purpose of the research was to examine the school division amalgamation initiative as a case study in policy-making by the Government of Manitoba. The study investigated the nature of this initiative, including its origin, development, eventual conclusion and implementation. The fundamental question addressed by the study was this: Why was school division amalgamation an idea whose time had come in Manitoba? Discussion of amalgamation had been active within the Progressive Conservative administration of Gary Filmon since the early 1990s, but despite the recommendation in 1995 of a provincially established Boundaries Review Commission to move forward with government directed amalgamation, the idea languished until a newly-elected provincial government under Gary Doer, leader of the New Democratic Party, assumed power in 1999. The theoretical framework used in addressing the question posed relied primarily upon the work of John Kingdon (Agendas, Alternatives and Public Policies) who contends that there must be a timely convergence of three key aspects of policy formation: problems, solutions and politics. Therefore, the study examined the key role of elected officials in promoting certain policy ideas and their impact on the decisions of government at specific times. It also compared and contrasted the differing policy approaches taken by the Filmon and Doer regimes on this question, and assesses the opportunities and constraints which explain the differences found. The study relied on extant public documents and other primary sources, and especially the expressed view or position of certain elected officials and supporting staff gained through one-on-one in-depth interviews. The focus of the analysis was an attempt to assess the interplay of problem, solution, and politics, and whether or not it reveals what Kingdon has called a “window of opportunity” for decisive action by government. The study showed that, indeed, the window of opportunity for amalgamation occurred with the convergence of three forces by 2001: pervasive indicators of a problem; promotion of amalgamation as a policy solution previously tried in Manitoba and elsewhere; and the election of a new government in 1999 which was receptive to pursuing some degree of change with respect to school division governance and organization.