Books remain closed on school trustee campaign finances
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 17/10/2022 (223 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
As school board candidates enter the final stretch of their campaigns, voters are all but clueless about who is financially backing the contestants who want to make decisions about K-12 education in their communities — and they may never find out.
Unlike contenders running for municipal, provincial and federal office, trustee hopefuls do not have to abide by any laws when it comes to financing campaigns.
“Typically, it’s really a non-issue,” said Cameron Hauseman, an assistant professor at the University of Manitoba who researches school board governance.
“Because there’s really rarely been any money involved in these races, beyond some donations from friends and family or if someone’s really connected, maybe a local business or something of that nature.”
Hauseman noted a handful of nearly-identical website templates and high-quality promotional videos in the pool of Winnipeg School Division nominees has sparked curiosity about whether there is more campaign money involved this year and behind-the-scenes co-ordination.
Throughout the campaign period, People for Public Education — a grassroots group that formed to continue promoting conversations about K-12 governance and funding after Bill 64 was scrapped — has been calling on contestants to voluntarily share donor details.
“The conduct of the campaign, including monies spent on campaigning, is at the discretion of the individual,” states an excerpt from the City of Winnipeg’s 2022 guide for residents seeking a school board seat.
Trustee nominees in Winnipeg, Seven Oaks, Louis Riel, Pembina Trails, St. James-Assiniboia and River East Transcona are not required to file an audited financial statement, unlike their colleagues running for higher levels of public office.
Mayoral and city councillor contestants must appoint an official agent to receive donations and authorize expenses for their respective races. Participants in these campaigns cannot accept contributions from someone who lives outside Manitoba or an anonymous donor.
Among other rules, they are required to keep a record of all money, goods and services they receive, as well as a list of every donor who contributes $250 or more and the individual’s personal address.
Trustee nominees are not required to file an audited financial statement, unlike their colleagues running for higher levels of public office.
Registrants have to release the names of notable contributors in post-election audits. In contrast, prospective trustees are responsible for their own fundraising and donors cannot receive tax credits.
In the absence of regulations for trustee nominees, the Free Press sought answers from all 35 candidates seeking a spot on the WSD board that is responsible for overseeing the education of approximately 30,000 students learning across nearly 80 different K-12 buildings.
Seventy-five per cent of all nominees replied to a request about their campaign finances and endorsements.
Seven individuals — Linda Schatkowsy, Parm Dhillon, Joshua Fidelak, Mark Tisdale, Marina Shusterman, Erin Glover and Jesse Gair — declared they are fully self-funded.
Hannah Mihychuk Marshall, Jamie Dumont, Liz Jackimec and Betty Edel each said they have only received $250 contributions from individuals who are friends, family members or neighbours.
Chris Broughton, Dante Aviso and Kevin Freedman indicated none of their donations have exceeded that sum.
“Without proper disclosures, there is no accountability or transparency on this front.”–Kevin Freedman
“Without proper disclosures, there is no accountability or transparency on this front,” said Freedman, a nominee who served on the WSD board in 2014-18, in an email.
“That said, the added burden of accounting within the confines of election law would be difficult for even the most engaged candidate. Needing an official agent and all the other work is beyond what the typical trustee campaign is capable of.”
Aviso said he organized one event, featuring music and a fashion show, to raise money for his campaign. As far as he is concerned, the current campaign financing situation is working well for trustee hopefuls like himself.
Lois Brothers and Marilyn Simon said their respective campaigns have been funded by individual Manitobans; the former added she has received donations upwards of $250, but did not specify from whom.
Chris Wilson said he has “basic support,” with nothing accepted from an organization. Similarly, Noor Ali said no organizations have contributed to her campaign but she accepted funds from friends.
Colin Cherpako, Luanne Karn, Kathy Heppner and Arlene Reid shared they have each been gifted at least $250 from one or more local labour organizations.
Rebecca Chambers said she received a sum at or above that threshold from: the Winnipeg Labour Council; friends who are a couple; and a philanthropist she was connected with through a former educator colleague of hers.
“… the added burden of accounting within the confines of election law would be difficult for even the most engaged candidate. Needing an official agent and all the other work is beyond what the typical trustee campaign is capable of.”–Cameron Hauseman
The province was technically the sole donor who exceeded $250 in Tamara Kuly’s campaign: she put her personal education tax rebate towards the race.
Neither Omar Rahimi, Laurie Kozak, Tristan Malcolm, Serena Gatti, Perla Javate, Gagandeep Chahal, Ann Evangelista, Dana Brown nor Jamie Bonner provided donor details before deadline.
Patrick Allard and Angela Anderson Johnson declined to provide comment on their finances.
A People for Public Education spokeswoman called it “concerning” school board election finances are unregulated, because anyone can donate any amount of money and candidates are able to accept cash donations without any receipts.
Shannon Moore, a founding member who is an assistant professor of curriculum, teaching and learning at U of M, said voters should know how campaigns are supported and if that support carries any expectations.
“The lack of regulation is worrisome because someone could use their financial privilege to inflict their will on the public. We exist in a democratic society, and when one side has an unfair advantage, it is plainly un-democratic,” she said, in a prepared statement on behalf of the group.
“Interest in school trustee elections has been renewed after the backlash against Bill 64. Trustees are meant to represent the voice of the community, but it is important to question how effectively this can occur when they are beholden to powerful donors.”
Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.
Updated on Tuesday, October 18, 2022 10:10 AM CDT: Updates contribution information from Rebecca Chambers.