Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION

Saying you're a good person is not a campaign platform

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School trustee elections are typically overrun with cliches.

One candidate in Louis Riel — no, this time it’s Jeremy Friesen — seems to be taking umbrage on Twitter that I and others believe vows to promote transparency and to be of service to the public are not sufficient to constitute a campaign platform.

Winnipeg School Division candidate Lisa Naylor says she’ll be accessible, accountable, and transparent — all admirable, but they should be givens, not the focus of a candidacy.

Usually, candidates proclaim that they believe in a quality education and fiscal responsibility. I’ve said before that it would be news if they believe in a crummy education and in being fiscally irresponsible.

What matters, and what people deserve to know, is how they define those terms, and how they would achieve them. Does fiscal responsibility mean having fewer teachers on the payroll, in order to hold down taxes? Buying less chalk?

Transparency is all well and good, but how would a candidate achieve it? If elected, what will that candidate say to the Manitoba School Boards Association, whose workshops for newly-elected trustees immediately try to indoctrinate them into MSBA’s dogma that school boards are not individually-elected politicians but corporate boards of directors, meant to reach decisions by consensus, after which only the board chair will speak publicly about the majority decision?

What will that candidate do about the legislation that allows trustees to go behind closed doors for labour and personnel matters, what will that trustee do about all the other stuff that boards do behind closed doors that they shouldn’t?

Maybe those candidates could have a word or two with Mike Babinsky in Winnipeg School Division, and find out the price of opening your mouth about secret stuff that should be public?

I remember when Derek Dabee got elected in Seven Oaks, and he told me that he’d be emulating Babinsky’s making things public, albeit in a less confrontational way, and in four years the only thing I’ve heard from Dabee is his urging me to do a feature on the expansion of school cricket.

Check our archives, and find out how many times that trustees who do not chair their boards or who are not their board’s finance chair have had their name in the paper over the past four years, of their own volition?

And as for serving the public...I’ve written at previous elections about candidates who say they’re promising to listen to residents and to represent their views at the school board.

So, let’s take two examples of members of the public, both of whom you have promised to represent at the board, and both of whom you have promised to serve.

Not that I know anyone like this, but let’s say that one person is a left-wing pro-union atheist in a strongly feminist household, who believes in science and evolution and in being gay-positive.

And let’s say there’s another resident and member of the public whom you also represent, who’s right wing and religiously conservative, who believes public schools should still have mandatory religious exercises, and maybe has a Father Knows Best view of families, maybe wants creationism to replace evolution in the curriculum, and who would toss Bill 18 and anti-homophobia education into the garbage can (did I mention this person also opposes recycling?).

So, you’ve promised to serve them both. How are you going to do it?

Cliches are all well and good, but they need the substance of your taking positions on specific education issues. Voters need to know who you are, what your values are, and what positions you take on specific issues.

And don’t get me started on candidates who declare that they have integrity — that’s a given, and don’t give me that nonsense that by saying you offer integrity, that you’re not implicitly, or even explicitly, saying that the incumbents and other candidates do not have integrity. Disingenuous doesn’t describe such a shameful tactic.

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About Nick Martin

Nick Martin is the old bearded guy at the back of the newsroom, the most experienced reporter at the Winnipeg Free Press, having started his career in Ontario in 1971.

He’s been covering education for the Free Press since the spring of 1997, after decades primarily covering municipal politics, including a four-year stint at the Ontario legislature for the London Free Press.

Nick moved to Manitoba in 1988 with his Winnipeg-born wife, who is a professor at the University of Manitoba. They have two kids, both of whom graduated from Grant Park High School: son Chris and daughter Gillian.

Nick has won a national journalism award from the Canadian Association of University Teachers, two Manitoba Human Rights Journalism awards, and the Ontario Reporters Association investigative award.

Nick is a long-distance runner, having finished and survived 18 marathons and 15 half-marathons and 30-kilometre races, and having (barely) survived 10 years as an outdoor and indoor soccer coach.

Nick became a soccer referee in 2007, delighting in his 60s in outrunning 16-year-olds and keeping his distance from obstreperous coaches and parents.

Nick and his wife have discovered a mutual love for kayaking at their Whiteshell cottage, and are both regulars at the Reh-Fit Centre. They hold season tickets to both the Manitoba Theatre Centre and the Warehouse, and as empty nesters, have rediscovered the joys of an active winter vacation.

A native of Jarrow-on-Tyne, England, Nick is a member of the Toon Army as a Newcastle United supporter, and a proud citizen of Leafs Nation.

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