On a recent trip to Ireland and during a brief lesson on Irish history, I stood in front of the original Irish Parliament (now a bank), where in 1801 the parliamentarians decided to vote themselves into history to join the United Kingdom, essentially voting themselves out of a job. At the time, the United Kingdom had much of the power over Ireland when it came to land ownership and many other economic controls. I learned that Jonathan Swift of Gulliver’s Travels fame spent most of his time as an Irish political commentator and said of this Irish Parliament “They have very little power and desire far less”.
Fast forward to 2014 and move to Calgary and we have a similar historic equivalent. In 1993 The Alberta Government under Ralph Klein took taxation powers away from school boards leaving them to rule over a budget they had little way of adding revenue to in any significant way. This made the boards less independent and more dependant on the provincial government. Alberta Education holds the purse strings, the curriculum, the grants, and controls the school act that governs education. The power left to school boards was to deal with the budget they are given.
This is why when I heard the quote I immediately thought of The Calgary Board of Education. There have been many people engaged in school board politics debating on whether or not Trustees are necessary or add any value to the school system. Now the board is faced with the decision of whether or not to hold a By-Election for a vacant seat given up by Sheila Taylor to run provincially in a by-election.
Trustees have launched a survey (on their website until November 24th) to gather input from citizens as to whether or not to hold a by-election. What is generally held as an automatic in Federal and Provincial politics when members resign is now up for debate at the local school board level. The first question asked on the survey is “How would CBE students benefit from a by-election?” Other points brought forward against holding a By-Election include the cost, a reported $150,000, the lack of voter turnout in previous by-elections and the level of representation that some Trustees think is necessary with constituents.
These four points could be made in debating the value of having Trustees at all in the Province of Alberta. Be careful what you wish for Trustees. Whatever the results of the survey, if Trustees fail to call a By-election, “They have very little power and desire far less”.