The Central Okanagan is one of eight school districts across B.C. participating in a new political experiment for school board civic elections on Oct. 15.
ParentVoice BC is a candidate slate movement started in Abbotsford that is advocating for 29 candidates in multiple school districts.
In the Central Okanagan, ParentVoice is supporting three candidates in Kelowna and one candidate for West Kelowna.
Fritz Radandt, campaign manager for ParentVoice BC, says their main goal is to back candidates supportive of their broad viewpoints of greater parental involvement and transparency to the decision-making process of public education, and to represent local community values, but also claims most of B.C.’s 60 school boards are run by trustees who are there for employers, government bureaucrats and special interest groups.
While the idea of a slate has raised criticism from other trustee candidates of seeking a block vote control on the school board against independent candidates, Radandt said ParentVoice BC’s singular focus is to help candidates with the task or organizing and running a campaign, and raising money to help with the cost.
“The candidates still have their own independent views on issues and should be viewed from that perspective.”
Radandt said the genesis behind ParentVoice BC started with his friend Marc Valla, as both know each other from their long-time involvement as campaign organizers for the Conservative Party.
“Marc lives in Abbotsford and became involved in a school issue concerning his kids…and through that process he started to feel like the public school system was not there for parents or kids, but it was totally about bureaucracy and top-down decision-making,” he said.
“He came to me with the idea for ParentVoice BC and thought there was no reason why we could not support candidates in multiple school district jurisdictions and advocate for parents to be heard.
“So we networked with friends we know through the Conservative Party to get it started…and were shocked by the positive reaction as we seemed to touch a nerve that resonated with people, that there is a real sense out there schools are being run by centralized government, by special interest groups and while parents want input, they are basically insulated and told to leave decisions to the experts.
“But the frustration in that is one of the prime responsibilities of a parent is the education of their child.”
Radandt said community values tend to differ between urban and rural communities, and parents should have the chance to see those values reflected by school board decisions.
“Our strategy is not once size fits all. We recognize a lot of the decision-making now is centralized in Victoria, but local school boards can still create transparency and openness in the community, say to people here is the kind of stuff we are dealing with. What do you think?”
“Our feeling is to advocate for two things, to give parents more of a voice and to shine sunlight on the openness and transparency of the decision-making process.”
Not everyone is thrilled with the presence of an election slate for school board here in the Central Okanagan, raising concerns it is an attempt to hijack the school board to reflect a particular fundamental Conservative viewpoint.
Also being circulated on social media is a lengthy opinion piece posted by the Unmask The Right website, calling ParentVoice BC another reactive political vehicle adopted by the right wing of the political spectrum.
Robert Ages, who co-researched and wrote the article, says the ParentVoice BC brand is all about building a power base for the right wing.
“You can’t miss the forest from the trees. This is not about improving education or changing education. It is just a tactic in building a broader far right movement,” said Ages.
Ages said before social media websites were cleansed of controversial comments, many candidate voiced opinions that reflected the feelings of the anti-vaxxer and trucker convoy protest movements, outlined in the article.
“Locally, the city council and school board elections on Oct. 15 represent an important phase in the fight to resist this right wing wave. If nothing else, anti-vaxx activists know how to use the levers of power in office…the first step in defeating them is making sure British Columbians know exactly who they are and what they intend,” says the Unmask The Right critique.
Randandt feels such criticism is unwarranted, that advocating for parents to have greater input on their child’s education is hardly revolutionary.
He argues it is difficult for an independent candidate to defeat an incumbent with special interests group vote and financial support.
“For us we are just trying to create a brand. We know how difficult it is to get elected. So we are trying to give people the training and organization support to run a campaign.”
He says the upcoming election will offer some insight into how the ParentVoice BC brand resonates and helps or hinders election candidates.
“We will keep the elective organization going for the next four years on a minimal level until the next election, but there is no party leader, no caucas, not Kevin Falcon or David Eby saying how to think or vote, no caucas meeting for elected people, as they are independent.
“Despite the fact they run on a slate, they will be as independent as anyone. I think the fundamental battle here is the left has had their way for a long time on education policy, so now we are poking the hornet’s nest a little in an organized way, which is something they are not used to.”