The Union of B.C. Municipalities is backing calls for a byelection to replace Cowichan school trustees who were fired for refusing to pass a balanced budget.
A majority of delegates to the UBCM convention in Victoria Friday supported a resolution asking the provincial government to order a new vote.
Governance without representation in my opinion is not democratic, said Lake Cowichan deputy mayor Tim McGonigle, whose council sponsored the motion.
Former education minister George Abbott fired the nine-member school board in late June for violating the School Act.
The board voted 5-4 to submit a budget more than $3.7 million in the hole, because the majority felt they could no longer continue to trim education programs to balance the books.
The province, senior administrators and a minority of trustees argued it was possible to submit a balanced budget without making deep cuts.
Abbott replaced the board with an unelected trustee, Surrey school superintendent Mike McKay.
The minister said McKay would remain in place until municipal elections are held in 2015.
Cowichan Valley Regional District director Ian Morrison, who spoke in favour of a byelection, said Cowichan voters should not have to wait that long to elect their school government.
I wouldnt debate the merits of whether the minister was right or not, he said. But the fine citizens of the Cowichan Valley are without elected representation at the school board for well over two more years.
In addition, he said, those voters will have no opportunity to hold McKay accountable for the job he does, because hes not an elected official.
Thats part of the election process: If you like what the guys in there were doing, you get to re-elect them. If you dont like them, you get to toss them out. So I think democracy is well served by having a byelection.
North Cowichan councillor Al Siebring argued against the resolution on the grounds that the UBCM had no business interfering in the affairs of Cowichan Valley.
I have no problem with the notion of a byelection to replace this school board, he said. But I think that initiative should come from the local community. I dont think the UBCM should be meddling in that.
Siebring said the Cowichan community has proven in the past that it can rise to a cause. But Im not sensing that theres overwhelming community support here for this, he said.
Siebring also said that if there were a byelection, trustees who broke the law the first time should be ineligible to run again. If we dont do that, the community is so divided on this issue, wed probably wind up with exactly the same result.
Former board chairwoman Eden Haythornthwaite welcomed the UBCMs support, but was unsure what impact it would have on the government.
All I know is its just nice once in a while not to have someone throwing tomatoes at you, she said with a laugh. I guess, my hope is that the minister his heart will be softened a bit by this, and he might sort of rethink his predecessors decision.
Education Minister Don McRae, who replaced Abbott earlier this month, issued a statement Friday saying the government would review the resolution.
Before any decisions are made, I am going to have a conversation with official trustee Mike McKay about the progress being made in School District 79, he said.
Under the School Act, McKay will remain in place until the next election unless the cabinet decides to order a byelection.
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