Vancouver school board selects new chair, ousts Patti BacchusDecember 9, 2014
Although she topped the polls during the Vancouver school board election last month, Patti Bacchus was unable to muster sufficient support at the board table Monday night to continue as chair.
Janet Fraser, the lone Green trustee, surprised many by casting the deciding vote in favour of newly elected Christopher Richardson, a Non-Partisan Association (NPA) trustee who captured the least number of votes of nine trustees Nov. 14.
Fraser explained later that she believed it was time for a change but Vision Vancouver stuck with Bacchus, who had served as chair since she was first elected in 2008. Fraser noted that Richardson, a chartered accountant, has experience as a three times Vancouver Park Board commissioner.
Her decision signaled that Fraser – rather than the new chair – will be the one to watch during the next four years. She holds the balance of power between four NPA and four Vision Vancouver trustees and is obligated to neither.
There had been early speculation that Fraser herself might become chair, but she tweeted Monday that she was facing too steep a learning curve as a first-time trustee and didn’t feel ready for the job.
After the vote, social media erupted. Bacchus has strong support in Vancouver – as evidenced by her top vote standing in 2008, 2011 and again this year – and many like the way she has repeatedly challenged the Liberal government, especially over education funding.
A skilled communicator who was always willing to talk to reporters, Bacchus is probably the best known school trustee in the province.
“What a loss to have Patti Bacchus removed from the chair of the VSB. She’s been a champion of public education in our city,” tweeted Vancouver NDP MLA David Eby.
Some suggested the vote will cost the Green Party support in future elections and questioned whether Fraser would have been elected if voters had known that she would not support Bacchus. A few accused Fraser of abandoning Green Party principles by siding with the NPA, despite its support for a controversial Chevron program that provides financial donations to schools.
Even Fraser’s running mate, Mischa Oak, was critical of Fraser’s vote, saying he was very sad that Bacchus will not be continuing as chair. “I would have supported you in a heartbeat,” he tweeted to Bacchus.
Of course not everyone was sorry to see Bacchus removed as chair, but Fraser was feeling the heat Monday night. She remained calm, however, in responding to the criticisms. “This is one vote on one issue, not an alignment with the NPA. Every issue will (be about) what’s best for students.”
On Tuesday morning, she offered an explanation for her decision, which can be found here. She also said she thinks the chair should be rotated over the next years, rather than remaining with one person.
Bacchus, who received a standing ovation at Monday’s meeting, was gracious in defeat, tweeting congratulations to Fraser and telling her supporters: “I plan to keep advocating and speaking out for VSB kids. Lots of work to do!”
Later, in an interview with the Vancouver Province, she took a tougher stance, saying: “People think I was outspoken before – they have no idea what’s coming. The gloves are off.”
Keith Baldrey, political journalist for Global TV, may have summed up the evening best with this tweet: “Ousting Bacchus as VSB chair is the most powerful thing the Green Party has ever done. In politics, power is everything.”
Other B.C. school boards are also electing chairs this week and at least two are worth watching: Coquitlam (Tuesday) and Victoria (Wednesday). UPDATE: In Coquitlam, incumbent trustee Judy Shirra was acclaimed chair while incumbent Edith Loring-Kuhanga is the new chair in Victoria.
I am a guest blogger for BCCPAC and do no speak for the organization.