Parent angry at Yes ads on VSB school websites

Secondary school parent Koula Stoubos is incensed every public school in Vancouver has a message on its website promoting the Yes side in the Metro Vancouver Transit and Transportation Plebiscite.

“It’s like that thing about state and religion, how you try to separate it,” she said. “To me, the school website should just be the school website. If you can open it and make it political, then you have to give that space also to the opposing viewpoint.”

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Stoubos was even more incensed when the Courier told her teachers were asked to distribute material promoting a Yes vote to their students at the end of March.

“The [Vancouver School Board] should be focused on running schools — providing programs and support for students — not running civic political campaigns,” she wrote the Courier in an email.

Stoubos expressed her indignation about the web-based promotion to Elections B.C., the Ministry of Education, the VSB, the B.C. ombudsman and the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, which sponsors the No side.

Kurt Heinrich, public relations manager for the VSB, said he and other district staff have received complaints from a handful of parents about the websites. The school board has also heard concerns from staff, primarily teachers, about the websites, printed materials, and an email sent on behalf of VSB chairperson Christopher Richardson outlining the board’s reasons for supporting the Yes side.

The board sent information from the Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation to schools at the end of March for delivery via students to parents. Teachers quizzed their union representatives about handing out the material and the union questioned the board about this plan.

Richardson said he and VSB superintendent Scott Robinson decided to cancel distribution after several schools disseminated the material.

Richardson said the pamphlets were returned to the Mayors’ Council to be directed elsewhere.

Jordan Bateman, B.C. director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and the leader of the No TransLink Tax campaign, told Stoubos that the campaign called upon the VSB on March 27 “to cease using school children to send partisan, taxpayer-funded ads home.” It also requested an apology.

VSB trustees voted unanimously in February to support the Yes side and to support no- or low-cost actions “to help provide a Yes vote with parents and staff,” the motion reads.

“The board, in its decision, didn’t in any way indicate that in expressing our Yes position that it was necessary to acknowledge and justify the No side,” Richardson said. “This is staff taking direction from the unanimous vote of the trustees that this matter was of significant interest to both our staff and our students that depend upon public transit to get to and from both school and their daily lives…”

Metro Vancouver’s Regional Growth Strategy projects the region will grow by one million people by 2041. The Mayors’ Council proposes a 0.5 per cent regional sales tax on the majority of goods and services that are subject to the provincial sales tax. Information provided by the Mayors’ Council on Elections B.C.’s website states all revenue collected through the tax would be dedicated to the council and transit plan, and that revenues and expenditures would be subject to annual independent audits and public reporting.

Stoubos is voting against the tax and doubts TransLink’s decision-making, management and accountability. She questions population growth projections and how many newcomers will choose to settle in Vancouver, rather than less expensive areas such as Surrey.

Stoubos, who lives near 41st Avenue and Main Street, uses the Canada Line once or twice a year.

“It’s much faster to go with a car,” she said. “Anybody who’s taking transit, if they had the money, would probably buy a car.”

Elections B.C. is collecting votes until May 29.

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