Devon Rowcliffe: Cooperation, not confrontation, key to success at split Vancouver school board

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      They promised to change. Sadly, they haven't.

      After Vision Vancouver recently plodded back into power with a diminished mandate, Mayor Gregor Robertson promised that his political party would change. They would listen. They would consult. Ramming through their plans without collaboration wouldn't happen again.

      But at Vancouver's school board, Vision is showing signs of becoming less collaborative than ever before.

      With Vision losing majority control of the school board, Green party trustee Janet Fraser now holds the balance of power—no single party can pass a motion without the help of another. And on Monday evening, during the first school board meeting of the new political term, the NPA's Christopher Richardson became temporary chairperson—thanks to Fraser's deciding vote.

      In justifying her decision, Fraser argued that Vision had relied upon a confrontational approach with the provincial government over the past six years, and that the tactic had been less than fruitful. She stated that a change to the chair was needed to reset the relationship with the province, yet also suggested that the chair position should be rotated. Without saying it directly, Fraser seemed to imply that the chair would alternate between the NPA and Vision, perhaps each year.

      Many people were puzzled—some even outraged—by Fraser’s decision to award the chair to the NPA. There were accusations of betrayal, suggestions that the Greens had become a right-wing party, and even the spurious idea that the Greens were now against the public sector.

      Most of these comments were hysterical nonsense; however, there may be some truth to the suggestion that Bacchus’s ouster was a political “hit” by the Greens. Bacchus has an enviable reputation as an ardent proponent for public education, as receives a lot of attention for her advocacy. It is possible that the Greens wanted to remove Bacchus from the limelight primarily for reasons of political expediency. If this is true, Bacchus’s dethroning is an action by the Greens that puts party before principle; one that puts political gain above the needs of students.

      However, Vision’s response to the chair appointment indicates that they too may be putting politics before students. Vision swiftly went on the attack, attempting to demonize the Greens as a conservative Trojan horse. Former chair Bacchus referred to the non-Vision trustees as a “right-leaning majority” (despite no such alliance), and stated that she “hopes this wakes voters up at all levels of [government regarding the] risk of voting Green.” Former vice-chair Mike Lombardi also chimed in, stating that the “Greens reveal true blue conservative colours under [a] green veneer.” The pair also reposted dozens of unflattering comments about Fraser and the Greens that were written on social media. They were joined by hyper-partisan Vision apparatchik Stepan Vdovine, who wrote that “[the Green] party supports [the] closure of schools and Chevron funding for those that are lucky to stay open”—a blatantly untrue smear attempt that Vdodine later apologized for.

      Is this wise behaviour from Vision? In a split school board, like in a minority government, cooperation is a requirement for any work to get done. But rather than showing a willingness to collaborate with the Greens to pass progressive motions that would benefit Vancouver’s students, Vision thus far seems to prefer to the route of confrontation instead than diplomacy.

      This is particularly strange given Fraser’s comment about rotating the chair position during the next four years. One gets the impression that Vision would rather be relegated to perpetual opposition status than cooperate with the Greens. Vision’s two most prominent school trustees already seem to be campaigning for the 2018 election, as if sharing power is some sort of political heresythat they’d rather have no power than merely some of it.

      Clearly, this is a case of Vision putting politics before principles. If Bacchus and her trustees truly want what’s best for Vancouver’s students, they need to have a say in the school board’s approach over the next four years. Green trustee Fraser has made it clear that public education is a priority for her, and that she expects to work with Vision. But a refusal by Vision to compromise with Fraser would perhaps only serve to push the Greens into greater cooperation with the NPA.

      "I don't compromise when it comes to standing up for students," Bacchus wrote online. “I’ll vote according to Vision Vancouver’s education platform and the commitments I've made to students, BC education and voters." Which essentially means that a line has been drawn in the political sand: do it my way, or you won’t receive Vision’s votes.

      “People think I was outspoken before—they have no idea what’s coming. The gloves are off,” Bacchus told the Province yesterday.

      Vision’s school board trustees have a choice: cooperate to ensure that progressive motions succeed at the school board, or engage in confrontation that will yield few results.

      Adhering to one’s convictions may be noble, but refusing to cooperate during a split board would mean Vision voluntarily reducing the impact of their presence—and that’s not what their voters wanted. If Vision desires to retain a progressive school board, that won’t happen if they’re watching stubbornly from the sidelines.

      While Vision might not be able to control who sits in the school board chair, they do have control over their four votes. And if they refuse to budge an inch in order to pass progressive motions, it’s Vision that will bear sole responsibility.

      If progressive voters think that temporarily losing the school board chair to the NPA for one year is unfortunate, how would they react to Vision having little input into school board motions for four years—a choice that is entirely within the control of Vision?

      If schools are more important than a handful of egos, Vision trustees need to be able to work with others. It’s time for them to acknowledge the mix of school board trustees that the voters chose, and get on with the act of governing. Cooperation, not confrontation, will be the key to Vision’s school board success over the next four years.

      Devon Rowcliffe is a Vancouver-based political commentator who writes about Vancouver, British Columbian, Canadian, and East Asian politics. He can be reached online at devonrowcliffe@gmail.com or @DevonRowcliffe.

      Comments

      5 Comments

      Tommy Khang

      Dec 11, 2014 at 2:08pm

      Now paging the Vision Vancouver downvote brigade!

      Seriously its pathetic when Vision feels the need to still mobilize even though the next election isn't for another four years. If someone did an expose on the inner workings of the "progressive" party of the people, I feel like many of their supporters wouldn't be as supportive.

      ursa minor

      Dec 11, 2014 at 3:28pm

      It's on Fraser as much as it's on the Greens. If Mischa Oak had been elected instead of Fraser, he would have sided with Bacchus. This illustrates the problem with the Green Party, they're relatively new and have fewer members, which means that candidates are being nominated with less accountability and adherence to a party platform.

      Carrying a deciding vote over the leadership of the School Board should be informed by as many voices within Fraser's party as possible - citing a personal preference for "cooperation over confrontation" as rationale comes off as extremely naive in dealing with a provincial government whose only goal for public education is to destroy it.

      I don't support the Green Party because they have yet to decide if they are going to be as progressive on labour and human rights as they are on the environment, or if they will continue to appease the disproportionately high number of Anarchists and Libertarians that they attract. I'll take clearly defined policies and principles and voting out leaders who fail to deliver on those policies and principles over people who make it up as they go along and tell people what they want to hear.

      Katie S

      Dec 11, 2014 at 3:32pm

      Wow! Following what has been happening at the van school board, I now realize that those in the Vision Party are sore LOSERS. I for one cannot believe that those same LOSERS are now running the city. Greens, COPE, NPA, anyone but these Vision LOSERS is an improvement.

      Green Thumb

      Dec 11, 2014 at 11:56pm

      I used to support Vision but their treatment of Janet Fraser is a disgrace. The Greens can think for themselves and have every right to vote on issues as they choose. While Vision representatives screech and yell themselves into fits of rage, that once respectable party is self-imploding before our very eyes. It started before the last election and is gathering pace. Entertaining in some ways, very sad in other ways, and great for The Greens!!

      Patti who?

      Dec 12, 2014 at 8:14am

      The hysterical wind bagging from the Vision / NDP alliance is laughable and very telling. They’re nervous. They’re very nervous.

      “It's on Fraser as much as it's on the Greens. If Mischa Oak had been elected instead of Fraser, he would have sided with Bacchus. This illustrates the problem with the Green Party,”

      What’s the problem with Fraser and Green? That they think for themselves instead of cow towing to Vision bullying? Most people find that to be a huge positive. Micha should have ran for Vision if he’s a pure party ideologue who can’t think for himself.

      The Greens are seizing upon their opportunity to differentiate themselves from the other political parties. They are positioning themselves as the centrist party and it’s clearly scaring the backroom NDP / Vision hacks. It’s sad how many people think the school board should be about promoting a particular ideological instead of doing what’s truly best for students.