Today’s Vancouver school board would look different if Mischa Oak had been elected on November 15 instead of his Green party colleague, Janet Fraser.
“I would have supported Patti [Bacchus] because of her strong stance in standing up to the provincial government on fair funding for public education,” Oak told the Straight.
On December 8, Fraser cast the deciding vote that ousted Vision Vancouver’s Bacchus from her position as board chair in favour of the NPA’s Christopher Richardson. In the November 15 election, Bacchus received 73,551 votes—more than any other trustee—while Richardson took 58,081 to place last on the nine-member board.
Oak, a teacher who placed 14th, said Fraser’s vote has caused Green supporters to question whether the party will pursue the progressive agenda it has promised.
“I really feel like that’s not what the electorate wanted,” he said. “Janet is going to have to do a lot of work to make sure that she is supporting progressive initiatives.”
In a telephone interview, Fraser maintained her vote for Richardson was about issues and not politics or Vision versus the NPA.
“What I’ve seen over the last six years with Patti Bacchus as trustee and as the chair of the board is that the board and the provincial government have entrenched their positions,” Fraser explained. “I’m hoping that with a new chair, we can have a different approach and maybe get better funding for our students.”
In the spring, a dispute over teachers’ salaries and classroom sizes developed into the longest teachers' strike in B.C.’s history.
Fraser, a first-term board member active in the Marpole community, maintained it was that sort of rocky relationship with the province that drove her vote. She dismissed arguments that she would support donations from Chevron making their way into Vancouver classrooms, a program that the NPA supports and which became a key election issue dividing it and Vision in the weeks leading up to November 15.
“I thought that a change could lead to a better outcome,” she said. “I certainly don’t want people to think that because I voted with an NPA chair that every subsequent vote will be with the NPA.”
In a separate interview, Richardson said he does intend to take a more reconciliatory approach to talks with the provincial government.
“We’re aware of the financial or fiscal constraints,” he told the Straight. “But within that envelope, we’re hoping that we can convince them that their money is well-invested in our children.”
Asked about the Chevron issue, Richardson, a chartered accountant, said he does intend to see the school board revisit policies on advertising and donations. (On November 19, the Straight reported on Fraser saying the same.)
For her part, Bacchus, said she knew Fraser’s vote against her was coming.
“It was pretty clear that we weren’t going to be working together,” she said in a telephone interview. “They [Greens] tend to be fiscally conservative and not very supportive of labour and that came out in our discussions with Janet Fraser.”
Bacchus questioned the benefits of a school board negotiating with softer hands.
“Most school boards have tried that,” she said. “It hasn’t really, in my opinion, made much of a difference. I think we know where the B.C. Liberals stand on public education. We do have the second-lowest per-student funding in the country.”
Bacchus noted she was reelected for a third term and took more votes than any other trustee in 2014, and argued that gave her a mandate to continue with Vision’s tough stance in negotiations with the province.
“This frees us up to be even more aggressive in our advocacy,” she said.