Opinion: NPA spends week cleaning house

While the Vision dominated Vancouver School Board has been putting the final touches on what chair Patti Bacchus refers to as “housekeeping,” tidying up its transgender policy, the NPA has been working on a little tidying up of its own.  

(Please note: this flurry of domestic activity has been taking place on the threshold of next fall’s municipal election and ahead of either party issuing their complete roster of candidates. For the NPA that includes just who will run for mayor.)

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While all that tidying was going on, the media was gleefully targeting NPA school board trustees Ken Denike and Sophia Woo because of their most bizarre opposition to that same transgendered policy.

It was a bit like shooting fish in a barrel. But let’s face it, this was a barrel of their own making and the two of them willingly jumped in.

As you may recall, while the discussion was taking place about the need to ensure a safe place in the school system for some of our most vulnerable kids, Denike and Woo chose to launch an attack.

They held a news conference at a Chinese restaurant to declare that some unnamed realtors “expressed concern” that the transgender policy would drive down property values on the West Side of town.  

That same day, last Friday, the NPA caucus — the remaining elected officials on council, park board and school board — decided to put Denike and Woo out with the trash. They were dumped out of caucus.

The usually conciliatory NPA councillor and caucus chair Elizabeth Ball was blunt in her comments about the long-simmering rift: “The decision to expel Denike and Woo was necessary given that the two have chosen to follow their own course in various matters without consulting with the other members of caucus. The caucus has concluded that Denike and Woo do not share the same level of sensitivity and understanding of the LGBTQ+ community.”

The NPA board not only endorsed the move, they decided to toss out Woo and Denike (the party’s longest serving elected official since being elected to the school board in 1984). They would not be endorsed in the coming election.

In fact, the NPA has a long history of supporting diversity and gay rights. It goes back to at least 1986 with the election of Gordon Campbell as mayor.

While he was dragging the party into the modern era, he brought with him the first openly gay city councillor Gordon Price. Price incidentally was also an avid cyclist and supported increasing resources for public transit.

But back to the here and now: The NPA deck clearing didn’t end with ditching two rogue school trustees. This week they booted out a troublesome board member and former NPA council candidate, Ken Charko.

There are at least four versions about why he was turfed. Two come from him. First, he says he was prevented from introducing a motion about campaign contributions to the NPA. Second, he says it was because he raised concerns about the method for selecting a mayoral candidate.

There are also two offered by the board. One, from board member Stacy Robertson, was the allegation that Charko used “certain Internet domain name related to the NPA.” And two, coming from the board’s news release: Charko “repeatedly violated” board confidentiality.

One final point about collateral damage particularly related to Woo and Denike and the campaign they have been running for the past number of years against board policy to end homophobia and support transgendered youth and their parents.

Judging by the audience they have been preaching to — audiences that are largely Chinese-speaking — you might think that Canadians of Chinese origin are monolithically opposed to these policies. But you would be wrong. I am confident they are as diverse in their views and sexual orientation as any community.

You could more accurately categorize them as a colleague from the Chinese language media described them to me at Monday’s school board meeting: “These are typical right-wing devoted Christians.”

That would also describe the chair of the Lord Byng PAC, Cheryl Chang, whom parents forced to apologize for professing to represent them in her open letter attack on this policy.

Chang, by the way, is white.


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