Education minister cancels democracy

Education Minister George Abbott has cancelled democracy in the Cowichan Valley School District

Education Minister George Abbott has cancelled democracy in the Cowichan Valley School District because he can’t abide “political grandstanding” by locally-elected trustees.

This characterization issued by a discredited provincial government that has turned political grandstanding into an art form over the past decade. The hypocrisy is delicious. So is the fact that news of Abbott’s coup d’état swept through the community on Canada Day, the day we celebrate the miracle of Canadian consensus.

There was no consensus here . . . just brinksmanship. The nine-member school board was sacked, and a Surrey school superintendent appointed in its place, because a majority refused to submit a balanced budget as required by law.

Abbott accused the school board of being “politically motivated,” but stopped just short of saying it was doing the NDP’s dirty work to embarrass the Liberals. “That political stand is clearly at odds with the School Act and that brings us to their dismissal,” he told reporters

Fired chair Eden Haythornthwaite, a Cowichan Valley resident since 1978 with two grandchildren in the school system, says the minister’s accusations of political bias are groundless. “I am not a member of the NDP,” she told me. “In fact, three of the five trustees (who constituted the voting majority) are not members of any political party.”

Haythornthwaite says: “Our position was that in the last three budgets alone, we’ve cut almost $11 million from our operating budget and we felt we had ceased to be able to provide equal access to quality learning opportunities for all the children in Cowichan.”

Abbott says: “I respect that often school districts have difficult choices to make. There are always things that people would like to do; there are always certain special challenges that exist in each of the 60 school districts. But 59 have taken the time, the effort and the energy to ensure that they balance off.”

In fact, attempting to resolve difficult choices was at the top of the trustees’ agenda, but no one in the provincial government cared to hear about their budget issues or offer a helping hand. It would have been so easy for Abbott to parachute a team into the Cowichan Valley to work with the school board to find common ground. Instead, Abbott chose the role of the school yard bully.

“We begged them for help,” Haythornthwaite says. “We wrote a letter to the minister asking for a meeting. We wrote letters to Treasury Board and to the Premier’s Office to reinforce that we wanted their help. We would have gone to Victoria day or night.”

All they got were threats . . . no help whatsoever.

Haythornthwaite says Abbott’s firing of the trustees will be challenged in B.C. Supreme Court. In a legal opinion, Vancouver lawyer Joanna Gislason says the provincial government has a “high burden to demonstrate that the removal of duly elected trustees is justified.”

Besides balancing the budget, trustees are obligated to improve student achievement and not to discriminate against students with special needs. However, the School Act “does not prioritize one obligation over another or provide a mechanism for determining how to reconcile conflicting duties,” Gislason states.

And so the courts will decide. But what a sorry day it is when the judicial system is obliged to arbitrate the fairness of a government’s public policy edicts. M

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Everett Bumstead (centre) and his crew share a picture from a tree planting location in Sayward on Vancouver Island from when they were filming for ‘One Million Trees’ last year. Photo courtesy Everett Bumstead.
The tree planting life on Vancouver Island features in new documentary

Everett Bumstead brings forth the technicalities, psychology and politics of the tree planting industry in his movie

Scaredy Cats television series has turned Empress Avenue in Fernwood into a Halloween themed neighbourhood. (Travis Paterson/News Staff)
PHOTOS: Trick or treat! Halloween comes to Fernwood in January

New television series Scaredy Cats filming in Victoria

Cindy Foggit plays the lead role of Eliza in Passion and Performance’s film production Eliza: An Adaption of a Christmas Carol. (Courtesy of Rachel Paish)
Victoria adult dance studio releases modern adaption of A Christmas Carol

Instead of usual stage performance, dance studio turns to film

James Summer, the City of Victoria’s new youth poet laureate. (Courtesy City of Victoria)
Slam poetry expert introduced as Victoria’s new youth poet laureate

Vic High alum James Summer will serve in the role for 2021

There are many options for enjoying a meal out locally during Dine Around and Stay in Town, on now through Feb. 7. (10 Acres Commons)
Dine Around Stay in Town Victoria carries added importance during pandemic

Special menu items for eat in or takeout/delivery, staycation deals available through Feb. 7

Peter Crema and Harmony Gray (from left), past participants of the Nanaimo Art Gallery’s Code Switching teen art group, at work in ArtLab in 2019. The NAG will be expanding the space thanks to a $75,000 arts infrastructure program grant. (Bulletin file photo)
Nanaimo Art Gallery, Nanaimo Aboriginal Centre receive new arts infrastructure funding

Province announces recipients of funding through B.C. Arts Council program

Ty Wesley, Nicole Darlington and Cameron Macaulay (from left) performed in the Beholder Entertainment production <em>Gender Sucks!</em> in the 2020 Nanaimo Fringe Festival. (Video still courtesy Sam Wharram)
Nanaimo Fringe Festival artist lottery open to local and B.C. playwrights

Organizers hope to stage plays in-person at indoor and outdoor venues this summer

Canadian singer-songwriter-actor Joëlle Rabu will join her son, Nico Rhoades, for a livestream performance courtesy the Tidemark Theatre Jan. 29. Photo submitted
Mother/son powerhouses Joelle Rabu and Nico Rhodes join forces for Island livestream

Campbell River’s Tidemark Theatre hosts online music revue

Dr. John Hooper is the new conductor of Island Voices. Photo supplied
Island Voices welcomes new conductor

Dr. John Hooper to lead mid-Island based choir

Jorie Benjamin does a modern dance performance to ‘La Vie en rose’ by Édith Piaf, Louis Gugliemi and Marguerite Monnot, choreographed by Elise Sampson during the Cowichan Music Festival’s Highlights Concert at the Cowichan Performing Arts Centre on March 1, 2020. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)
Cowichan Music Festival cancelled for 2021

The festival had already been limited to solo performances only for 2021

<em>Chinook Salmon: Breaking Through</em> by B.C.’s Mark Hobson was selected among 13 entries as the winner of the Pacific Salmon Foundation’s Salmon Stamp Competition.
Stained-glass lighting casts a win to B.C. salmon artist

Painting of chinook is Mark Hobson’s third win in annual contest

Most Read