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Saskatchewan’s education minister apologized in the legislature Thursday for rhetorically asking if he should give up his first-born child when speaking to a woman whose daughter died.

Jeremy Cockrill said he used a poor choice of words in the private meeting with Taya Thomas. They were discussing negotiations with the teachers’ union and how teachers want more supports for students with extra needs.

The woman’s daughter, 13-year-old Mayelle, was her first-born child and died last year after dealing with multiple medical conditions.

Thomas said when she met with the minister earlier this week about the teacher negotiations, he asked her, “What do they want me to do? Give up my first-born child?”

Cockrill told reporters Thursday he knew he made a mistake the moment the words came out of his mouth.

“I apologized for that and I’m human, I made a mistake. It was a really poor choice of words on my part,” he said.

Thomas said the minister’s comment was careless and that he didn’t apologize to her during the meeting. She said she then called him out.

“I was sad. I was mad. I feel like after that, I realized I don’t think he’s listening, because you would not say that to someone,” Thomas said.

Cockrill said he did apologize to Thomas at the meeting.

The Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation has been pushing for the Saskatchewan Party government do more for students who require additional supports as it works out a new contract with the province.

Teachers are to vote next month on an offer. It includes salary increases and a commitment to honour promises of more funding for student supports.

Teachers went on rotating strikes and refused for months to do volunteer activities, such as lunchroom supervision and extracurricular work, to push the province to negotiate. Job action in March caused a provincial basketball tournament known as Hoopla to be cancelled.

Thomas said her daughter used a wheelchair, had seizures and would often overheat.

Mayelle was not able to attend high school, because there was no room for her in a specialized program, said her mother. She added that there are other students who aren’t having their needs met.

Thomas said another comment from Cockrill also insulted her.

“He did it again today by saying parents need to be more engaged. I promise you, any medical mama like me, we are fully engaged,” she said.

Cockrill told the assembly he was making a general statement when he said parents should be engaged.

“I never said in this house, Mr. Speaker, that Ms. Thomas was a bad mother,” he said.

“But I do believe across the province, it is important for all parents to be engaged in the lives of their children when it comes to education. It is evident to me that after meeting Ms. Thomas, she is very engaged with the education of her children.”

Opposition NDP member Aleana Young, who invited Thomas to the legislature, said the mother didn’t deserve a lecture.

“I think what anyone would do when they realize they’ve said something incredibly thoughtless, other than feel like garbage, is immediately apologize,” she said.

“Today what we saw was a casual apology in the chamber. He didn’t look at [Thomas] and doubled down on this claim he apologized to her day-of.”

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