Published in Lower Island News (Victoria), January 2007
It is not pleasant to question the actions of fellow New Democrats in a public forum like this newspaper. But sometimes it is essential, particularly when NDP members hold positions of trust and public responsibility.
We must question the decision of a majority of School District No. 61 (Greater Victoria) trustees to sell Fairburn Elementary in Gordon Head to a private real-estate developer. It should be remembered that a majority of trustees, including the chairperson, belong to the New Democratic Party.
By some strange logic, a sufficient number of NDP members voted with Liberals to sell-off 7.2 acres of public land and attached buildings to a private developer for $4.3 million.
Contrary to basic democratic principles of transparency, disclosure, and public participation, the Board majority announced this sell-off as a fait accompli without any public consultation.
The Fairburn Elementary sell-off followed similar questionable land deals. Several years ago, Blanshard Elementary was closed and leased for 99 years to privately-owned University Canada West, for $4.5-million. The university has recently put the lease on this public property for sale, for $6.5 million. Why did the School Board agree to a contract that was so favourable to the private party and so detrimental to the public interest?
I am a member of the New Democrat Party because I hold a set of principles, including a belief in public ownership and participatory democracy. Selling assets such as School Board property to private real-estate developers, without consultation, conflicts with these principles.
School District No. 61 definitely has financial woes, due to inadequate funding from the provincial government. But Greater Victoria voters elect school trustees to protect their interests from cost-cutting and privatizing governments. Voters place New Democrats in positions of public trust. It is my belief that this trust has been undermined by the sale of Fairburn Elementary and the de facto sale of Blanshard Elementary. Public trust in the New Democratic Party has also been compromised.
Fairburn and Blanshard – like Burnside, Uplands, Hampton, and Richmond – are highly valued as crucial greenspaces in these build-out neighbourhoods. Their sale to private interests for residential subdivisions hurts these communities. Moreover, their sale reveals a lack of vision of future requirements for public lands and public schools.
Where will Greater Victoria be in the year 2080, when I’m 102 years old and my daughter is 75? Where will her grandchildren go to public school and what greenspaces will they enjoy, in a much denser and heavily populated region? The costs of assembling lands for public purposes will be exponentially higher in 2080 than the $9-million the School District received for these properties.
If we don’t look ahead to the future, who will?
New Democrats in Greater Victoria need to begin asking some hard questions. I ascribe to a ‘Big Tent’ philosophy as the only means of effectively challenging the power of private interests and their political arms – the BC Liberal party and the federal Liberal and Conservative parties.
But how do we respond when the privatization ideology creeps into our ‘Big Tent’?
Nobody owns their elected positions. They are put there by voters. And likewise, they can be removed.