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Motion: ACSTA Consultation Process

I was going to bring forward a motion to the March 21, 2017 ECSD Public Board however I received some clarifications to my questions from ACSTA President Adriana LaGrange which you can find in italics next to the questions posed.  I will however be bringing forward the following updated motion based upon the answers I received from President LaGrange:

The Alberta Catholic School Trustees Association is an association comprising of democratically elected trustees from across Alberta, the Yukon and the NWT. It is an Association which is funded by membership fees from 24 Boards: 18 Alberta Catholic Boards, 4 Alberta Francophone Boards, 1 Yukon and 1 NWT. Edmonton Catholic School District paid $154,801.66 in membership fees to ACSTA in 2016 and will be paying $164,023.21 in membership fees in 2017. In 2017, the ACSTA will receive a total of $786,246.32 in membership fees to operate — all of which will come from per student education grants from provincial and territorial governments funded by tax payers.

Given that the ACSTA is a tax payer funded organization that represents 24 Boards and over 100 trustees, I was very concerned to read then, in a March 10, 2017 edition of the Edmonton Journal that the ACSTA wrote a letter of complaint on September 16, 2017 against Dr. Kris Wells of iSMS to the Douglas R. Stollery, Chancellor of the Senate, University of Alberta.  I was concerned and surprised because this was the first time I heard of any issue from the ACSTA with Dr. Wells’ comments.   I was also concerned because I had no opportunity as a democratically elected trustee to speak to the issue.  Had I been able to, I could have offered some insights into it and prevented what has now become a media storm.

As I made inquiries with our Board of Directors representative on the ACSTA, Larry Kowalczyk, I learned that he failed to inform our Board of the issue between September 9, 2016 and March 10, 2017 when the information was released to the public.  He apologized for this oversight and I have accepted it.

I learned from a highly constructive conversation with President Adriana LaGrange that after coming out of camera on September 9, 2016, the ACSTA Board of Directors neglected to list the action item of writing to various representatives at the U of A.  This is the usual practice for Boards – no decisions are made in camera, only discussions occur in camera.  I believe it is important for our Board to remind the ACSTA that in the interest of transparency, action items should be listed after coming out of in camera discussions.  (If you go to the September 9, 2016 minutes you will note that another in camera discussion item that led to an action was listed however the one to write the letters to the U of A was not).

I believe that some clarification is also necessary on the part of the ACSTA to remind their Board of Directors that the Bourinot Rules of Order allow for in camera discussions to be shared with their Boards.  President Adriana LaGrange assured me that this was the case with the Bourinot Rules of Order.

I also learned that any additional documents in the Board of Directors’ packages are attached to their agendas not to their ratified minutes.  I believe that any documents referred to in the ratified online minutes should be attached to them so trustees and the public can better understand what is being discussed.  In the November 18, 2016 minutes, there is a motion made by Ron Schreiber to request that ACSTA respond to the October 28, 2016, letter from University of Alberta President, David Turpin.  The letter that sent to President Turpin and the letter back from him are not attached to the minutes making it very difficult to understand what Trustee Schreiber is referring to.

I would also suggest that when the ACSTA makes mention of an issue in their minutes, they do so in a more transparent fashion to allow trustees and the public to understand clearly what is being addressed.  For example, the letter to and from President Turpin as referred to in the November 18, 2016 minutes could have referred to inviting him to an ACSTA event.

So in the interest of transparency, I request the following:

That the ECSD Board of Trustees write a letter by April 21, 2016 to the ACSTA and request that in the interest of transparency they make the following changes in their governance process:

  1. When the Board of Directors meets to deal with an in camera item, that that in camera item be brought back from the Board Director to their respective Boards for discussion and input
  2. when the Board of Directors meets in camera, they are permitted by the Bourinot Rules of  Order to share their discussion with their Boards
  3. when the Board of Directors meets in camera, that when they come out of camera, they list their action items in their minutes
  4. when the Board of Directors makes reference to  any documents in their minutes, that they attach those documents to their ratified minutes
  5. when the Board of Directors makes reference to an issue in their minutes, that they do so in a manner such that trustee members and the public can understand what is being referred to
  6. that the ACSTA President and Vice President speak to their Board of Directors and remind them that they are representatives of their respective Boards and therefore have a duty to inform their Boards of ACSTA conversations, legal expenditures, legal actions, activities, concerns, etc.

 

 

Previous Motion for March 21, 2017 (please see answers to my questions in italics)

To: Board of Trustees

From: Patricia Grell, Trustee

Re: ACSTA Consultation Process

The Alberta Catholic School Trustees Association is an association comprising of democratically elected trustees from across Alberta, the Yukon and the NWT. It is an Association which is funded by membership fees from 24 Boards: 18 Alberta Catholic Boards, 4 Alberta Francophone Boards, 1 Yukon and 1 NWT. Edmonton Catholic School District paid $154,801.66 in membership fees to ACSTA in 2016 and will be paying $164,023.21 in membership fees in 2017. In 2017, the ACSTA will receive a total of $786,246.32 in membership fees to operate — all of which will come from per student education grants from provincial and territorial governments funded by tax payers.

I was very concerned to read then, in a March 10, 2017 edition of the Edmonton Journal that the ACSTA wrote a letter of complaint on September 16, 2017 against Dr. Kris Wells of iSMS to the Douglas R. Stollery, Chancellor of the Senate, University of Alberta.  I was concerned and surprised because this was the first time I heard of any issue from the ACSTA with Dr. Wells’ comments.   had never heard  claiming to speak on behalf of ACSTA and “the member school boards we represent”.   As a democratically elected trustee on a Board that is a paying member in good standing with ACSTA, I am concerned that this letter was sent out without any consultation and deliberation from ACSTA’s member Boards’ representatives. The ECSD representative on the ACSTA Board of Directors is Trustee Larry Kowalczy.  He told me today that he first learned of the letter at a Board of Directors’ meeting during the November 18 – 20, 2016 ACSTA AGM.  He attempted to speak to the letter at an ECSD Governance and Priorities meeting after the AGM however the Board ran out of time, the item not mentioned and then got missed on future Board agendas.  It is unfortunate that no Catholic trustee at least was cced on it. Nor was information about this letter raised to the general membership at the November 2016 ACSTA AGM.

Because we as trustees are democratically elected and our Catholic Association is tax payer funded, I move the following:

That the ECSD Board request by April 21, 2017 that the ACSTA Chair, Vice Chair and Board of Directors answer the following questions:

  1. Who made the decision to send this letter of complaint against Dr. Wells? The Board of Directors which met on September 9, 2016.  Please go to the minutes of this meeting here.
  2. What role did the Edmonton Archdiocese and/or Alberta bishops play in sending this letter? The Archdiocese did not play a role in raising the issue over Dr. Wells.  The Council of Catholic Superintendents of Alberta communicated to ACSTA President LaGrange that they were going to write a letter to the U of A regarding Dr. Wells and wanted ACSTA to do the same.  
  3. Why did President Adriana LaGrange write that she was representing the ACSTA member school boards when none of the Boards representatives were consulted? The Board Directors were consulted at a  Sept. 9, 2016 meeting and together they made a decision to write a letter to the Chancellor.  They neglected to put their action item in their September 9, 2016 minutes after they came out of camera even though another action item was listed.  
  4. Why did the ACSTA not raise their concerns regarding Dr. Wells or inform their membership of their complaint letter at the November 2016 AGM? The minutes were distributed at their November 18, 2016 Board of Directors’ meeting with the letters sent to the U of A attached to their agendas.  These letters unfortunately were not attached to the ratified online minutes of Sept. 9 or Nov. 18, 2016 to ensure trustees understood the actions the ACSTA were taking.  The ACSTA did not raise the issue at the November AGM because they believed that their Board of Directors was taking the information back to their respective Boards and sharing it.  This was not the case with our Board of Director Larry Kowalczyk.  He did not share any of this information until I phoned him after reading the March 10, 2017 story in the Edmonton Journal.  I have met another trustee on a Catholic Board who stated that their Board Representative also failed to share this information with them.  I am unsure how many other Catholic trustees experienced the same lack of communication from their Board of Directors representative.
  5. Why did the ACSTA choose not to use the resolution mechanism available to it to ensure that the letter truly reflected support from the “member boards”? The ACSTA Board of Directors wished to move quickly on addressing their issues with Dr. Wells.  Using a resolution mechanism would have delayed their action of writing the letter to the U of A.  The ACSTA could have asked their Board of Directors representatives to go back to their respective Boards to inform and consult them to see what action the trustees wished them to take on such a serious public issue.  Had they taken the time to do this, trustees would have been informed of the actions ACSTA wished to take and could have offered their input.  The ACSTA’s decision to act quickly and without proper consultation with trustees has led to a media storm.  

Legal Opinion from Don Cranston, QC re: Possible Conflict of Interest

As a democratically elected official for Ward 71 I feel I owe my constituents an explanation for my comments and actions at the January 27, 2017 public Board meeting at which the Board was voting on renewing the contract of Superintendent Joan Carr.  When I first commented at the January 27, 2017 public Board meeting that I thought Trustee Kowalczyk could be in a conflict of interest, I did so after having spoken to the Ethics Commissioner.  The Ethics Commissioner told me the previous day that according to the ECSD Bylaw 11 (bylaws0001)  Trustee Kowalczyk could be in a conflict of interest.  When the media attempted to verify what I heard from the EC, the EC refused to comment.  I therefore asked for a legal opinion from donald-cranston-legal.  If you read through Counsel Cranston’s opinion you will see that he comes to the same conclusions as the Ethics Commissioner.  No, Trustee Kowalczyk did not break any laws according to the School Act but he possibly could have been in a conflict of interest according to the Board’s Bylaws. The Board’s Bylaws are attempting to protect the Board from any non – pecuniary conflicts of interest that are not covered by the School Act.  These Bylaws are not contrary to the School Act but supplementary.  ECSD Counsel Karbonik at the Jan. 27, 2017 public board meeting stated that our Bylaws were contrary to the School Act so she dismissed them.  Our Bylaws reiterate the School Act in regards to pecuniary conflicts of interest and supplement the School Act by addressing non-pecuniary conflicts of interest.  I can understand that it might be difficult to make a legal ruling on your boss’s contract ( organizational-chart ) so that is why I asked the Board in the in camera portion of the Jan. 27, 2017 public board meeting to seek a second opinion.  The Board chose not to do so. This afternoon I was confronted with a reprimand at the public Board meeting (thiberts-reprimand) by our Board Chair stating that I was in breach of our policies.  I would suggest that Chair Thibert’s public reprimand this afternoon was ironically in breach of our policies.  According to our Bylaws, if “A Trustee who has reasonable grounds to believe that a fellow Trustee is in violation of the above duty must respect the principle of `first contact`, which means that the Trustee who has the concern has a responsibility to express the concern to the Trustee believed to be in violation.” (cf. sanctions-and-censure-bylaws ).  I did not receive a call or an email from the Chair prior to today’s meeting stating that she had concerns around my behaviour.  I inadvertently learned on Saturday, Feb. 25th that she had concerns around my behaviour after the Jan. 27th meeting only because I contacted her.  I did not know what her specific concerns were until today.  The Board does not have a Bylaw that suggests that if a trustee has a problem with another trustee’s conduct they are to reprimand them at a public board meeting.  So I find it quite ironic that in the Chair’s statement she speaks of addressing breaches to our policies.  Perhaps the Board should look at it’s own breach of its Bylaw 11 and then proceed to Bylaw 13.

I think Paula Simons should have the last word in this case as she had the last time when I was called out for acting according to my conscience.

Cooperation is the Foundation of the Future of Catholic Education in Alberta

Recently, Paula Simons wrote in the Edmonton Journal:  “It is undoubtedly maddening when Catholic and public boards across Alberta routinely refuse to cooperate on things like school construction or busing.  How hard would it be, for people elected to serve children and families, to put turf wars aside and collaborate sensibly?”

I couldn’t agree more, and I want to make it clear that Catholic Education is an eager and willing partner in finding ways where Alberta’s parallel school systems can work together to improve educational outcomes for all our students.

Currently, ECSD is working on a partnership with EPSB to share the operation and costs associated with busing.  EPSB and ECSD have established a joint Edmonton Student Transportation Authority or ESTA which will significantly reduce the costs of busing and lower ride times. EPSB and ECSD have agreed to establish ESTA because a preliminary study in 2014 revealed that more than a $2.5 million/year would be saved with this collaborative effort and ride times would be reduced significantly.  I commend our administration for continuing to work on this partnership with EPSB so that our students get the best possible transportation service we can offer.  We are following the example of Parkland Public and Evergreen Catholic school boards which already share busing.

What other administrative areas can we consider to find further efficiencies? The Alberta Catholic Schools Trustee Association in their document Catholic School Facilities in Alberta Fundamental Principles, Process and Guidelines has listed many areas of school operation where collaboration would not be considered a challenge to  Catholic identity. It states:

Community Partnerships with other Catholic and Public Boards Partnerships can mean more than sharing physical space. There are many ways that the Catholic school community can benefit from partnerships that do not include actual sharing of a building. Where fiscally beneficial, sharing among divisions with Catholic schools [sic] could include: 

  • Curriculum development and resources
  • Purchasing cooperatives
  • Centralized computer services
  • Waste management Accepted by Board of Directors on February 12, 2016
  • Capital construction design
  • Professional development services and consultants
  • Personnel for specialized courses
  • O, H and S (Occupational Health and Safety)
  • Technology Services/Web Consulting
  • Payroll
  • Courier services

 This list is not exhaustive and Catholic school divisions should continue to explore areas and services where sharing can be achieved. Where no savings are gained or inefficiencies of time and level of services are lost the purpose and value of cooperating is lost as well. Partnerships with public boards and Catholic boards can be beneficial and not inhibit the goal of Catholic education and could include:

  • Transportation
  • Software licensing
  • Bulk Purchasing
  • Courier services
  • Sports leagues

I commend the ACSTA which has wisely suggested these various opportunities for partnerships between Catholic and Public schools.  These partnerships certainly have the potential to free up education dollars to be put into the classroom where they are most needed.  Minister Eggen has recently stated that “especially in tough economic times, we must all be careful with the public dollars we are entrusted with”.  He goes on to say that he wants to see “every public dollar that we provide for education…be spent on supporting our students and preparing them for success”.  I believe the time is ripe for our Board to consider the ACSTA recommendations. We need to ask ourselves what other ways besides transportation we can find efficiencies.

Though the ACSTA strongly oppose the sharing of facilities with non-Catholic entities, there are examples around Alberta where these shared facilities exist. In Sylvan Lake there is a partnership between the Catholic and Public school boards:  Fox Run Public School and Ecole Mother Teresa exist under one roof.   In 2004 a new Catholic school called St. Marguerite Bourgeoys opened in the same facility as John Wilson School in Innisfail, AB.  John Wilson School was once the largest public elementary school in Alberta with 800 students.  The story of how this Catholic school within a public school came to be, is an interesting one.  Bill Hoppins former principal of John Wilson School shared in a Western Catholic Reporter article that the Sisters of Notre Dame (namely Sister Anna Cordeau), “tried as much as possible in a public school system to share our Catholicity and our belief in Christ, in an appropriate way.” Grade 5 students were then eventually offered a religious education with an ecumenical approach. Further concessions were made within John Wilson Public School to allow Catholic students to learn their catechism after the bell rang at 3:30 pm.  Eventually a small portion of John Wilson School was leased out to begin the Catholic school.  Opening in 2004 with 85 students, St. Marguerite Bourgeoys Catholic School now educates students from Pre-K to Grade 9.

From a perusal of the Marguerite Bourgeoys’ February 2017 school newsletter permeation of Catholic identity is alive and well.  In their latest newsletter you will read about the religious origins of Valentine’s Day and see announcements for upcoming First Reconciliation and Communion classes as well as Confirmation classes.  The school calendar included in the newsletter, ensures that their students are aware of Ash Wednesday, the First Sunday of Lent, World Day of Prayer, Faith PD Day, and when the Grade 6 Stations of the Cross will take place.   So the concern that such public – Catholic facilities could lead to a weakening of Catholic identity doesn’t seem to hold true.

Soon after the Catholic – Public schools of Innisfail and Sylvan Lake opened, the Alberta Catholic School Trustees Association made a new policy to discourage such partnerships in their “Fundamental Principles”.  Briefly, the policy states that

The ACSTA and its member boards oppose the joint use of school buildings with public school boards in any manner that has the effect of undermining or interrupting the full permeation of Catholic values and beliefs.

I recommend that the ECSD Board of Trustees request that the ACSTA study the Innisfail and Sylvan Lake examples of public –  Catholic partnerships and see if indeed after thirteen years the quality of Catholic identity is significantly different and less authentic in these schools compared to free standing Catholic Schools elsewhere in the province.

In recent weeks I have come to learn of many other Catholic- public partnerships around the province. In a Feb. 7, 2017 Edmonton Sun article, Janet French reports that

“The Nisku-based Black Gold School Division runs Roman Catholic religion classes as an option at five of its schools in Beaumont, said superintendent Norman Yanitski. The classes have been running for more than 20 years, he said.”

St. Paul Regional School Board and Conseil Scolaire Centre Nord are examples of shared Catholic – public Francophone school boards that exist in the province.  As well, I have learned that Rocky View Public and Fort Vermillion Public School Boards administer Catholic schools under their umbrella.  These are the many ways Albertans have used their creativity and innovation to provide Catholic schools and Catholic programming in partnership with public school boards across the province.

It seems to me then, that if ECSD has an opportunity in an area of the city to keep a Catholic presence available to Catholic students by sharing a facility with EPSB which is also suffering from lack of students, a shared approach seems feasible.  I am thinking specifically of the South East area of the city where in 2015 our administration recommended that we close 4 aging Catholic schools.  This is an area where Edmonton Public has had to close several schools (e.g. Gold Bar public elementary).  St. Gabriel elementary school which is closely associated with St. Michael Resurrection Parish narrowly missed being closed in the 2015 round of closures.  Our administration recommended closure because of the decreasing student population as well as the significant infrastructure dollars required to keep the school up to code.  If this school were to close, the connection between school, parish and home would be lost and only St. Brendan school would remain as a Catholic school presence in the whole South East portion of the city.  Certainly we should be able to find ways we can work with Edmonton Public to continue offering Catholic programming in our communities, keeping schools open, reducing yellow bus ride times, and reducing costs for both Boards.

In conclusion, I believe that we should explore with the Alberta Catholic School Trustees Association ways in which we can show Albertans that as Catholics we are aware of our province’s fiscal realities and that we are willing partners in education.  As leaders in education we need to impress upon Albertans that we will use our creativity, innovation and good will to find efficiencies that will allow Catholic education to continue in our province.

I therefore recommend the following:

That the Board of Trustees at their March 21, 2017 public Board meeting agree that given the tough fiscal position our province finds itself in and given the fact that we are committed to putting kids first, Edmonton Catholic Schools will:

  1. support our commitment to permeation of faith in the classroom and reaffirm our confidence in the Catholic teachings that take place there
  2. collaborate with municipalities, health centres, libraries, community leagues, post- secondary institutions, and other K-12 learning institutions including public and francophone school boards in sharing efficiencies in transportation and operational matters according to the ACSTA Document Catholic School Facilities in Alberta Fundamental Principles, Process and Guidelines
  3. advocate to the Alberta Catholic School Trustees Association to repeal policies that constrain collaboration and opportunities of working together with non – Catholic school districts. The portion of the Fundamental Principles that we would specifically request to be amended are:
  1. Free-standing Catholic schools on separate sites have a long and successful history in this province and remain the standard for Catholic educational facilities.
  2. The ACSTA and its member boards oppose the joint use of school buildings with public school boards in any manner that has the effect of undermining or interrupting the full permeation of Catholic values and beliefs.

 

Update: Conflict of Interest

It has come to my attention from several media contacts that they would like to do a story on the conflict of interest issue which I outlined below but they can’t because the Ethics Commissioner won’t verify that I indeed contacted them. I imagine that the EC is doing this to protect my confidentiality.  I appreciate that but unfortunately, without their verification it looks like I fabricated the contact and the content of our conversation.  Thanks to the wonders of technology I have a screen shot from my phone to prove that I wrote them an email asking for help with the issue and they responded 1 hour and 21 minutes later by by phoning me back.  Because there is nothing in writing to verify that they told me Trustee Kowalczyk was indeed in a conflict of interest, I am seeking additional opinions on the matter from lawyers who practice administrative law and professionals in the area of ethics and governance.  Perhaps once I get these opinions, the Ministry of Education which has jurisdiction over trustees, will take action.

Conflict of Interest in Vote on Motion to Renew Superintendent’s $429,923 (i.e.$430,000) Contract

An important note: My readers need to know that I am in no way accusing Trustee Kowalczyk or his wife of any wrong doing — on Friday, Jan. 27th he followed the advice of ECSD’s internal legal counsel which he trusted and which he should be able to trust.

In the afternoon of Thursday, Jan. 26 I phoned the Office of the Ethics Commissioner to ask a question in regards to Trustee Kowalczyk’s eligibility to vote on the motion to renew Superintendent Carr’s $430,000 contract.  They took my question seriously and told me they would get back to me as soon as possible given that the vote was to take place at 9 am on Friday, Jan. 27th.  They returned my call that same afternoon and told me unequivocally that Trustee Kowalczyk did indeed have a conflict of interest due to the fact his wife was a principal and that he would be in breech of the Board’s  Organizational Bylaw 11 if he voted on this matter.  They clarified further stating that if his wife had been a teacher, he would not be in a conflict of interest.  According to  Org Bylaw 11.10 on p. 25, it states under Designated Non-Conflicts:  A trustee shall not be considered to have a conflict of interest solely on the grounds that the matter before the Board involves…(d) a pecuniary interest of the Trustee that is so remote or insignificant that it cannot be reasonably regarded as likely to influence the Trustee”. According to 11.10 (d)  Trustee Kowalcyk is in a significant conflict of interest that is not at all remote:  if he votes on the contract of the superintendent who can promote his principal wife Eugenia Kowalczyk (Principal of St. Thomas More Junior High School) to Assistant Superintendent, his wife will get an increase in pay and hence he has a pecuniary interest in voting to renew the superintendent’s contract.  His vote would very likely be influenced by the relationship his wife has with the Superintendent.

I reported this to the Board on Friday at the Special Public Board meeting but Carole Karbonik, ECSD’s internal legal counsel advised Trustee Kowalczyk he was not in a conflict of interest and that he was therefore eligible to vote.   You will note in Org Bylaw 11.6 that a trustee has the right to make a claim that another trustee is in a conflict of interest and “shall state the substance of the conflict of interest and advance his or her reason for believing that the trustee named has such a conflict of interest”.  This I did at the  Special Public Board Meeting on Jan. 27th.  After a claim has been made, the Org Bylaw then goes on to state in 11.7 that “the Trustee alleged to have a conflict of interest shall in all cases be given the opportunity to disclaim such a conflict of interest, state the substance of the disclaimer and advance his or her reason for the disclaimer”. We can say he did this through ECSD internal Counsel Karbonik.  In 11.8 the Board was then supposed to take a vote on “whether the trustee alleged to have a conflict of interest does, in its opinion, have such a conflict of interest, and the decision shall be final and binding, subject only to a decision of the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta or Court of Appeal of Alberta.  Neither the Trustee or Officer advancing the claim nor the Trustee alleged to have a conflict of interest shall vote on the decision of the Board”.  Not only were we not given any advice by our internal legal counsel on how to proceed with my claim according to our Bylaws (watch the video), but we did not take this important vote.   Had we taken the vote and voted that he had a conflict of interest, Trustee Kowalzcyk would have recused himself from the vote, and the outcome would have been extremely different. The vote on my claim was not taken and Trustee Kowalczyk remained for the vote which was 4-3 in favour of renewing.  Without his vote, the result would have been 3-3, the motion therefore lost and we would have begun a search for a new superintendent.

The Board under the advice of internal counsel Carole Karbonik, has broken it’s own bylaws and contravened the Alberta School Act Section 83 (1) (b) which states that “When a trustee has a pecuniary interest in a matter before the board, any committee of the board or any commission, committee or agency to which the trustee is appointed as a representative of the board, the trustee shall, if present (b) abstain from voting on any question relating to the matter, and (d) subject to subsections (2) and (3), leave the room in which the meeting is being held until the discussion and voting on the matter are concluded.”

On Monday I will be calling the Ethics Commissioner again to ask advice on how to proceed now that the vote was taken contravening the process outlined in our Org. Bylaws 11.8 requiring the Board to vote on my claim, contravening 11.10 (d) of our Bylaws that states he would not have a pecuniary interest if the influence is remote–which it wasn’t, and contravening the School Act.  If the Ethics Commissioner has no jurisdiction over trustees as was reported in some versions of the Edmonton Journal article on this issue, then I wonder why they were so helpful in answering my question.  If they indeed do not have any jurisdiction over trustees, I will contact the office of the Minister of Education because this is a very serious matter that in my opinion, needs to be addressed by his office.

Addendum:  Darrel Robertson, Superintendent of EPSB made $361,783 to oversee 229 schools whereas Joan Carr, Superintendent of ECSD made $429,928 to oversee 95 schools–2.41 times fewer schools but $68,145 more.  Who decides on the salary of school superintendents?  Answer:  School Trustees.

Motion: Reduction in Municipal Voting Age from 18 to 16

At the May 31, 2016 public Board meeting I brought forward a motion to recommend that the Government of Alberta amend the Local Authorities Election Act to reduce the municipal voting age from 18 to 16.  The following was my introduction to the motion:

“By the age of 16 young people can live on their own, pay property taxes, join the army reserves, be a parent, drive a car but they cannot vote.  They use our city’s road, facilities, buses, transit but they do not have a say in shaping our city’s future because they are not allowed by law, to vote.  They learn about government in school and they have shown in so many ways that they are engaged in their communities more than ever and understand the issues at hand but they are not allowed to vote until they are 18 years old.

Cameron Somerville the Vice Chair of the City of Edmonton Youth Council did a survey of 16 and 17-year-olds, and they overwhelmingly responded that they were in favour of lowering the voting age.

In his research, he learned that Austria lowered its voting age to 16 for national elections in 2007. Six years later the voter turn out for 16 and 17 year olds was higher than for 18-20 year olds.

Mr. Sommerville commented in a recent CBC interview that “This is important because people who vote in their first election are more likely to become lifelong voters…So that higher turnout among people voting in their first election means there will be lifelong voters, and ultimately more voter engagement for city council, which allows them to have more of a mandate from the people and also potentially run on broader platforms.”

In regards to school board elections he says lowering the voting age would allow youth to have a say in who runs our school system.  “It would also give a great opportunity to school trustees, people running for those positions, to have in their platforms issues catered to students, which will ultimately allow school boards to do their jobs more effectively.”

The ECSD Board of Trustees is being asked to support the City of Edmonton Youth Council’s initiative.  In the words of Mr. Sommerville:  “It’s not just about 16- and 17-year-olds, it’s about creating a better environment for everyone.”

Recommendation:

That the Board of Trustees write a letter to the Minister of Municipal Affairs Danielle Larivee advocating for a reduction in the municipal voting age from 18 to 16.”

The Board determined at the May 31, 2016 meeting that instead of voting on the motion immediately, I would provide the Board with more information and bring the motion back for a vote later in the Fall of 2016.  I am presenting the following information to Board in preparation for this Fall public Board meeting.

As the August 14, 2016 issue of the  Edmonton Journal states:  “[Lowering the voting age to 16 is] an idea slowly gaining traction in Europe and North America”.  The idea has also gained traction in South America as the following list of countries shows (I have included the year that the lower voting age was introduced in brackets if it was available):

  • Austria (2007)
  • Argentina (2012)
  • Norway (2011)
  • Municipality of Takoma Park, State of Maryland, USA (2013)
  • Scotland (2015)
  • Brazil (1988)
  • Germany (1995, municipal and regional level)
  • Cuba
  • Switzerland (municipal and regional level)
  • Ecuador
  • Nicaragua
  • British Crown Dependencies of  Isle of Man (2006), Jersey and Guernsey
  • Bosnia
  • Croatia
  • Serbia
  • Slovenia
  • Montenegro
  • Dominican Republic
  • Estonia (2015)
  • Malta (2013)
  • Indonesia, Sudan and Timor Leste allow 17 year old to vote

So the idea of lowering the voting age to 16 is hardly a new idea and certainly worth exploring given the number of countries across the world that have found merit in including 16 year olds in the democratic process.

The subject of lowering the voting age has received much attention recently within Alberta and Canada:

  • In February 2015 David Coon, MLA for Fredericton South introduced a petition to lower the voting age to 16 for New Brunswick’s provincial elections.
  • In September 2015 the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association discussed a resolution (pp. 37-39) brought forward by Lethbridge City Council to lower the municipal voting age to 16.  Though the resolution was defeated 77% to 23%, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi expressed his support in a Globe and Mail article.  He commented that allowing 16 and 17 year olds to vote would be a great way to get them interested in the democratic process.  He referenced the research which shows that the results of mock student votes reflect closely actual results within 3 or 4 seats.
  • In January 2016 Don Davies, MP for Vancouver Kingsway introduced Bill C-213 which would allow 16 year olds to vote in federal elections.

The United States as well is also studying the subject:

  • The City of San Francisco has placed the question of lowering the municipal voting age on the November 2016 federal election ballot.
  •  Massachusetts, New York and New Mexico state legislators have recently been grappling with the issue as well.

The interest and attention of this issue across Alberta, Canada, Europe, North and South America stems from the many studies on the subject which dispel the fears and myths around lowering the voting age to 16.  In fact many of the arguments used against lowering the voting age to 16 were used years ago when the discussion was around lowering the voting age from 21 to 18.  The following are summaries of a few of the studies I have read which assures us that our democratic process will only benefit if the voting age is lowered to 16.

A study done by M. Wagner et al and published in Electoral Studies in 2012 addresses some of the criticisms for lowering the minimum voting age to 16.  The beauty of this study is that it involved under 18s who actually had the right to vote.  In 2007 Austria permitted under 18s to vote in their federal elections so this age group has casted ballots for the 2008 national parliament, the 2009 European Parliament, and the 2010 presidential elections.  The Wagner research study used data collected from a survey done in the run – up to the European Parliament elections of 2009 which over-sampled young people under 26.  So this study got rid of one considerable flaw from previous studies and that was collecting data on young people who did not have the right to vote.  It goes without saying that it is difficult to measure motivation and incentive to vote on a population that does not have that right.

This study addressed the following criticisms for reducing the voting age to 16:

  1. Young citizens under 18 are less able to participate and less motivated to participate in politics effectively than older voters
  2. The lower turnout of young people under 18 can be explained by their lower ability and lower motivation to participate in politics
  3. The quality of vote choice among voters under 18 is lower than among older voters

This study revealed the following:

  • Interest in politics is by no means particularly low among under 18s
  • There is some indication that political knowledge of the left to right continuum may be slightly lower for under 18s compared to other age groups. The study’s authors suggest that this could be due to the fact that younger citizens do not yet have the experience necessary to place parties correctly on a left-right scale.
  • Under 18s’ willingness to participate in non-electoral politics (rallies, party membership) is relatively high showing that they are as motivated to take part in political life as older age groups
  • Trust in institutions among citizens under 18 is significantly higher than the overall mean among all citizens so there is no indication at all of disaffection.

Given this, there is little evidence that citizens under 18 are less able or motivated to participate in politics.

In regards to turnout, the study shows that under 18s do have a lower voter turn – out compared to the rest of the population but it isn’t by much:

  • Under 18s’ average voting intention score was 5.91
  • 18-21 scored 6.24
  • Ages 22-25 scored 6.98
  • Over 30 scored 7.38

So under 18s only scored 0.33 less than over 18s and only 1.47 less than over 30s. This study did not explain why the voter turn- out was slightly less for under 18s but it was able to determine that it was not because of a lack of knowledge or interest in politics.  Nor was it due to democratic dissatisfaction and alienation.

In regards to the quality of the decision i.e. how under 18s choice in party lined up with their personal ideological preferences, they scored no differently than other age groups.  Even though it isn’t significant, under 18s scored higher than other age groups in congruence between their ideology and the party they chose compared to other age groups. So there is no convincing evidence that voting decisions of under 18s is in any way of lesser quality than that of older groups of voters.

The study’s authors conclude then that “Lowering the voting age does not appear to have a negative impact on the authentic preferences of the members of a community and the quality of democratic decisions.  This means that the potential positive consequences of this reform merit particular consideration…Our findings show that a key criticism of lowering the voting age to 16 does not hold:  there is little evidence that these citizens are less able or less motivated to participate effectively in politics.”

Daniel Hart, a psychology professor at Rutgers University in New Jersey published a study in the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences in 2011 that concluded that 16 and 17 year olds are ready to vote.  The study’s abstract states:

“American adolescents manifest levels of development in each quality of citizenship that are approximately the same as those apparent in young American adults who are allowed to vote. The lack of relevant differences in capacities for citizenship between 16- and 17-year-olds and those legally enfranchised makes current laws arbitrary…Awarding voting rights to 16- and 17-year-olds is important, given the changing age demographics in the country, which have resulted in the growing block of older voters displacing the interests of younger Americans in the political arena. Finally, the authors critically examine claims that adolescents are neither neurologically nor socially mature enough to vote responsibly and conclude that empirical evidence and fairness suggest that 16- and 17-year-olds ought to be awarded the vote”.

A 2011 working paper on Youth Electoral Engagement in Canada by Andre Blais, University of Montreal and Peter Loewen, University of Toronto reveals that youth electoral engagement in Canada is declining.  This is verified by the April 2010 publication Youth Voter Turnout in Canada published by the Parliament of Canada :  in the 1972 federal election, 72% of 18 – 24 year olds voted.  By the 2000 election however, that number had dropped to 60% and by 2011, only 38.8% of 18-24 year olds voted in the federal election.  Blais and Loewen suggest that though the causes for this decline are unknown, it is known that the most powerful predictors of voting are interest in and information about politics.  It is safe to say that if our schools were to expand 16 and 17 year old students’ understanding of and interest in politics while they had an actual opportunity to vote in an election, a higher percentage of young people may continue to vote into the future.

The fact that voter turn out of 18-24 is in a nose dive begs us to consider ways that the federal, provincial, municipal levels of government as well as school boards can better engage our young people in the electoral process and ensure that they become life long voters.  I recommend that the Board of Trustees of Edmonton Catholic request the Government of Alberta amend the Local Authorities Elections Act to lower the minimum voter age to 16.

Addendum:  A helpful summary of arguments for amending the Local Authorities Elections Act has been provided by the City of Lethbridge in the Resolution they brought forward to the AUMA meeting in September of 2015.  Go to pages 37-38 at AUMA Resolution 2015.B5

Two Sides to a Story

Today Principal Hugh MacDonald was featured on the front page of the Edmonton Journal stating that he had been bullied by 2 trustees.  I believe that some facts were missing from the article which I am compelled to share with the public here.

First of all, the public needs to be aware that ECSD has an Administrative Regulation 408.1 which disallows any political campaigning on school property except under certain conditions.  Janet French did not cite the existence of this Administrative Regulation in her article.  The trustees running for their second term in 2013 when Mr. MacDonald made his comments at the principals’ meeting, were very much aware of this regulation as was I as a new candidate.  Principals are very cognizant of the regulation as well.  Several times principals shooed me off the public sidewalk in front of schools as I handed out flyers, citing this regulation.  I was getting such grief from principals that I called EPS to verify that I indeed was legally allowed to stand on a public sidewalk outside schools.  EPS assured me that I was able to do so as long as I was not disrupting traffic or being a nuisance to the public.  So principals and seasoned and unseasoned trustees know very well that this regulation exists and what its contents are.

The question becomes  why was Mr. MacDonald allowed to break Administrative Regulation 408.1 with impunity leading the 2 trustees to seek justice elsewhere?