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Election of Bill 18 critics moot: experts

Province has ultimate decision

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Two veteran political scientists say it's possible opponents of the provincial government's anti-bullying bill could be elected in 2014 on slates to councils and boards in the Steinbach area.

"That it could be done, I don't think is in much doubt," University of Manitoba senior scholar William Neville said.

But, he added: "What difference will it make?"

University of Winnipeg Prof. Christopher Leo agreed with Neville that all the power would still lie with the provincial government, regardless of who holds local office.

In a Feb. 24 sermon now widely seen online, Southland Church Pastor Ray Duerksen told his congregation in Steinbach that God can replace members of the RM of Hanover council, Steinbach council, and Hanover school board, along with other people in prominent public jobs, if they do not oppose Bill 18.

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That anti-bullying legislation from Education Minister Nancy Allan is expected to be law when school opens in September. It includes a provision that any school receiving government funding must accommodate any student who asks to form a gay-straight alliance in the school.

Southland is said to have at least 2,000 members of voting age and sources in Steinbach said there is talk in the city of running slates in the October 2014 municipal elections. Several seats are already held by congregation members.

In 2010, seven of the 23 seats on the three municipal bodies were acclaimed, and voter turnout was as low as 14.7 per cent, with several people elected with fewer than 200 votes.

Given the relatively small number of electors and the traditionally low voter turnout, slates could be elected if their supporters show up in strong numbers at the polls, Neville and Leo said.

"It's possible they might be able to turf a bunch of people and replace them. (Turnout) generally runs less than 20 per cent," Leo said. "So what? What happens then?"

Leo said generating province-wide opposition to Bill 18 is highly unlikely. If two municipal councils and one school board are run by people opposed to Bill 18, "they'll be subject to Bill 18," he said. "If I were (Premier) Greg Selinger, I'd say, let them rant."

The crunch comes if a school board refuses to comply with Bill 18's provisions, Leo said.

"The provincial government would be well-advised to tread lightly, not provoke a confrontation immediately."

Neville said, "Ardour may cool" by election time, which will be 14 months after Bill 18 takes effect.

"They may control the school board, but the school board is not powerful in this situation," he said.

"The Conservatives aren't rushing to embrace this. This is a poison chalice for the Conservatives" because opposing Bill 18 will not sell in the Winnipeg ridings the Tories need to form government, Neville said.

Allan has refused to say what sanctions she may write into Bill 18 should any public school division or funded private school refuse to comply with Bill 18.

The Public Schools Act allows the province to replace a school board with a provincially appointed trustee, but that power has been used only once, during the adult-learning-centre financial scandal in the former Morris-Macdonald School Division.

The government has not cut funding to a private school in recent memory.

"It's wiser for her not to specify at the moment," Neville said. "It's more likely to fan the flames than to dampen them."

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Public office in Steinbach

Official 2010 election results in the Steinbach-area municipal bodies cited by Pastor Ray Duerksen in his Feb. 24 sermon:

Hanover school board:

Two acclamations: Landmark, 1,805 eligible voters, and

Bothwell/Kleefeld, 2,085 eligible voters

Niverville: 30 per cent turnout of 2,438 voters, two candidates, 633 votes to win

Blumenort/Mitchell, 23 per cent turnout of 2,396 voters, two candidates, 363 votes to win

Steinbach, 21.9 per cent turnout of 8,737 voters, five candidates for four seats, 1,277 to 1,424 votes to win

Grunthal 14.7 per cent turnout of 2,405 voters, two candidates, 199 votes to win

 

Steinbach city council:

35.86 per cent of 8,612 electors voted. Mayor acclaimed.

Six of 13 candidates elected, won with 1,345 to 1,639 votes.

RM of Hanover council:

Four councillors of seven were acclaimed

Turnouts in three contested wards of 20.6 per cent of 1,107 voters, one of two candidates won with 189 votes; 48 per cent turnout of 1,043 voters, one of two candidates won with 359 votes; and 27.1 per cent turnout of 1,179 voters, one of two candidates won with 177 votes

-- source: official results from returning officers

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 22, 2013 A4

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