DPAC going provincial on conflict of interest

The New Westminster District Parent Advisory Council (DPAC) is taking its conflict-of-interest campaign to a provincial level.

The DPAC has approved a resolution that proposes British Columbia join Alberta and Ontario in not allowing teachers and employees of a school district to run for any board of education. The resolution is one of five DPAC would like to appear on the agenda of the B.C. Confederation of Parent Advisory Council’s (BCCPAC) annual general meeting in May. BCCPAC has to approve New West’s resolutions, or it may combine them with any similar ones from other districts.

In B.C., candidates are only barred from running for trustee if they work in the same school district. The New Westminster board has three trustees who are teachers in other school districts—Jonina Campbell (Richmond), Michael Ewen (Surrey) and David Phelan (Coquitlam).

DPAC president Wendy Harris said too often New West trustees have had to either excuse themselves because of conflict of interest, or should excuse themselves and don’t.

“We want a functioning board and if there’s conflict of interest it costs a district a lot of money and time in lawyer fees to find out if they’re in conflict of interest,” said Harris.

“It’s coming up over and over again.”

In its rationale, DPAC said, “The public deserves a full board able to consider all issues collectively to support good decision-making, in the best interests of the electorate unencumbered by outside, undue influence.”

The DPAC also points out the Supreme Court of Canada upheld Alberta’s legislation, ruling it didn’t violate either freedom of expression or equality rights.

“I find it interesting DPAC is choosing to go after three trustees when there’s a fourth who has declared a conflict on occasion,” said Ewen, referring to trustee Casey Cook whose daughter is an educational assistant in New Westminster. “I’ve got to believe that’s a political decision they are making.”

Ewen disputes the assertion the board has had to spend a lot of money on conflict-of-interest legal opinions because only one has been sought. It determined Ewen couldn’t participate when discussing the possibility of cutting back on custodial staff since he has a son that is a district custodian and there was a chance of loss of family income if it was determined layoffs were necessary.

In addition, an earlier court case had already determined teachers who are trustees can’t participate in teacher contract bargaining.

Ewen doesn’t believe it is necessary to eliminate teachers from being trustees in districts they don’t work in.

“It would be interesting to enter into that discussion. In my opinion it’s up to the voters to decide. I haven’t hidden my job as a teacher and they’ve continually voted to return me. I don’t know what Ms. Harris’s fear is,” said Ewen.

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