Lisa Beare is sworn in the new MLA for Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows in the provincial legislature.                                Contributed

Lisa Beare is sworn in the new MLA for Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows in the provincial legislature. Contributed

MacDuff’s Call: School board should actually hold by-election

MLA Lisa Beare is a lame duck as school trustee.

Congratulations to MLA Lisa Beare for being the first woman representing the communities of Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows at the provincial level. We should all be very proud of her; I am.

However, I am also deeply disappointed in her and in her colleagues on the school board.

The Local Government Act, which oversees municipal elections, prevents someone from running for two municipal positions in the same riding, but the Elections Act, which oversees the provincial election, is void of the requirement that a provincial candidate cannot hold a local government position, if elected to the legislature. This leaves municipal politicians open to retain their seat at the council or school board tables – the latter being the case for Beare.

Since Beare cannot be lawfully forced to vacate her school board seat, the legislation within the School Act that states a board of education must hold a by-election to fill vacancies that occur between general school elections is of no use. There is a clause that if the byelection would occur in the same year as the next municipal election, it need not occur. Beare was sworn in as an MLA 15 months prior to the next election, so this clause does not apply.

The board actually should be holding a byelection, except, due to the aforementioned flaw in the legislation, they don’t have to.

This leads to the historical practice of boards and councils pretending councillors and trustees alike are participating fully in their local roles, when in fact they are lame ducks. And make no mistake, Beare, as a trustee, is now a lame duck.

I do give this board some credit, as they truly know Beare cannot attend to her duties as a school trustee, which is a no-brainer when taking into account the minority government situation she is operating within, so I thank them for stating she has been granted a leave of absence, rather than pretend otherwise.

With the present provincial situation of a minority government no leave is being granted to any MLA, for any reason, for fear it will upset the precarious power balance in the legislature.

In 2013, when Doug Bing was elected MLA he remained on Pitt Meadows council long enough to avert a byelection, which his colleagues strongly urged him to do. I didn’t agree with it then and I don’t agree with it now. This happens all across the province when the provincial election poaches local elected officials.

This is an issue the public doesn’t seem to have a problem with, most likely because most of those elected to a higher level of government stop taking the municipal stipend, as Bing did. This in itself is telling, though, as by not taking the stipend it becomes clear they intend to focus their attention on their MLA role.

However, in Beare’s case she truly would be nothing more than a placard in the school district board room. Okay, maybe her picture would still be there too.

Regardless, the board knew she wouldn’t be, so they granted her leave, which is why I am disappointed, as she should have stepped down.

More than any other level of government, school boards get a bad rap. They are basically the Rodney Dangerfield of politics – don’t get no respect. And they have every right to feel this way. They are often overlooked at the municipal level and they are neglected by their provincial colleagues. I served under both the NDP and the Liberals while on school board and they both used school boards to serve their own agendas, often to the detriment of boards’ abilities to effectively govern.

Much of the public is not aware of the role of boards and feel they have no reason to pay attention to them if they do not have kids in the system; yet boards of education oversee operating budgets that are often more than that of their municipal colleagues.

So, when this school board decided to grant Beare a leave of absence, as they felt it was more important to save the $70,000 it would cost for a by-election, they mirrored the indifference that is leveled at them.

Board Chair Mike Murray summed it up in reference to the $70,000 –that’s almost a teacher.

Seriously? Well then, should they all step down? As that would be another part of a teacher position.

I don’t agree with that sentiment, because I believe in publicly elected boards. I also believe they are just as important as the teachers, as the trustees are the voice of the public, and to lose that would be a detriment to education.

The bottom line is, I don’t agree with the practice of averting by-elections that should rightly be held. And I am very disappointed that none of the trustees around that table felt that having the views of the public fully represented at that table was worthy of the $70,000.

And sadly, at least to me, Dangerfield and Co., the reason you don’t get no respect, is because you don’t appear to respect yourselves – and that is disappointing.

Cheryl Ashlie is a former Maple Ridge school trustee, city councillor, and constituency assistant