On Oct. 11, Minister of Education, Don McRae announced that there will be an election in November of 2013 for a new board for School District 79.
The decision comes, perhaps not surprisingly, after mayor and council from the Town of Lake Cowichan presented an emergency resolution to members of the Union of B.C. Municipalities at an annual meeting in Victoria on Sept. 28.
This resolution asked that the UBCM petition the province to issue a ministerial order for elections to be conducted in a local government where vacancies are caused by ministerial intervention.
In a telephone interview, Min. McRae explained that he would like to see a democratically elected board reengaged in the district.
“I’ve made the decision that we will have a by-election . . . in November of next year. ” said McRae.
He also stated that one of the reasons for waiting until next November for the election, besides the fact that they are typically held at that time of year, is to give Cowichan Valley residents enough notice.
“I just want to make sure that people have well advance notice so that if they wish to participate as a candidate or as an electorate that they do so because traditionally mid-term elections, or by-elections, don’t have a great turn out,” said McRae.
Duncan Brown, a former trustee on the SD 79 board, says he is more than a little disappointed that the minister did not decide to call the election for this year, if not in January of 2013.
“People have to realize that we have a publicly appointed official that’s got the power to override all the policies that are there and to pick and choose which ones he wants to follow and make new policies up if he chooses to do so, all without any mandate from the community,” said Brown.
Brown would still like to see a face to face meeting between Lake Cowichan mayor and Council and McRae, but Mayor Ross Forrest said he is not sure that a meeting is necessary now that an election has been called.
With elections happening in November of next year, it will mean that any newly elected board will have less than a year before another election takes place.
“We really don’t start to sit until January,” said Brown.
In the meantime, the appointed trustee, Mike McKay decided at the Oct. 3 school district board meeting to defer any decision to adopt Policy 1500 to a later date.
Policy 1500, as it is currently drafted, would give the appointed trustee the ability to change or amend other district policies without consultation from the public or the districts policy committee.
McKay says the decision to defer this policy came about because of feedback and concerns that were expressed by Diana Gunderson, a delegation at the meeting, along with six letters read at the meeting that also shared concerns and perspectives on the policy.
McKay said he does not know when the policy will come back to the table, but it has been given to school board staff to modify and address the concerns presented which centred around transparency and openness.
“There will be other public input opportunities as well,” said McKay. “We will keep working on the policy and receive feedback. We want to make sure that it meets the test of being open and responsive.”
“Policy 1500 is a far cry from the structure that we had,” said Brown.