It’s either the B.C. education minister or the chair of the Vancouver school board who’s not telling the truth.
The matter revolves around last month’s appointment by Education Minister Peter Fassbender of a special advisor to review the budget of the school district.
Fassbender’s announcement on March 12 caught Vancouver school board chair Christopher Richardson by surprise.
On that same Thursday, Richardson issued a statement indicating that board had already signed a contract with accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers to do essentially what the provincially appointed advisor will do.
According to Richardson, the Ministry of Education was notified of this arrangement earlier in March.
But Fassbender claims the opposite.
“Neither I nor the ministry team were aware prior to our announcement of the special adviser that Vancouver had made an in-camera decision, which was in camera and happened the Tuesday before the Thursday that I made the announcement,” said the B.C. Liberal MLA from Surrey-Fleetwood, according to Hansard.
Fassbender was speaking on the floor of the legislature Monday (April 13) during estimates of his ministry’s budget.
Speaking opposite and probing Fassbender was Rob Fleming, B.C. NDP MLA for Victoria-Swan Lake and education critic.
“Why would the ministry come in, at the cost to taxpayers of $180,000, and impose another auditor to do what looks to be duplicative and not welcomed work being imposed on the Vancouver school board?” Fleming asked.
“Why would he do that if he knew that Vancouver already had a blue chip audit firm working for it to identify savings?” the Opposition MLA continued.
But Fassbender held his ground.
“Absolutely, I did not know that until after the fact,” the education minister maintained.
Fassbender also said that upon learning of the Vancouver school board’s contract with PricewaterhouseCoopers, he offered to “pay any cancellation charges that they may have incurred or would incur in cancelling the review that they had done”.
“I did that for a very specific reason. They are not the same review,” Fassbender also said.
For Fleming, what’s happening between the ministry and the Vancouver school board is utter “absurdity”.
“Instead of agreeing and cooperating on some kind of efficiency expertise or audit, they each appoint their own that reports to themselves, and not the other party directly,” Fleming said.
According to Fleming, “I would never recommend this kind of approach. It would never work for, say, a mediation or arbitration process. Both parties have to have confidence in an independent individual.”
In the minutes, Fassbender indicated his wish for the ministry and the Vancouver school board to have a better relationship.
After all, the board has a new set of trustees elected in November last year. It’s Richardson’s first term as trustee.
If this issue of who knew what and when regarding the appointment of a special advisor is any indication, Fassbender and Richardson have a lot of things to work on.