By Robert Frank
New rules imposed on school board by the previous Parti québécois government mean that during the coming school year Lester B. Pearson School Board (LBPSB) will be stuck paying the entire tab for its upcoming elections, Nov. 2.
“During the last election in 2007, we spent about $250,000,” LBPSB director-general Robert Mills told The Suburban.
He explained that school boards hitherto set aside money each year for elections, which are usually held every four years. The Péquistes put paid to that practice when they decreed that the province’s school boards could no longer carry a surplus from one year to the next.
“We were being a good corporate citizen and put away money each year as a nestegg,” Mills said in an interview. “After four years, we would have enough to cover the cost of the election.”
“It was good fiscal planning to run the school board election,” he continued, “Now, each school board is stuck paying the full cost of its election in a single fiscal year.”
“We are required to pay for these elections out of the operating costs of the schools,” Mills added.
“We always try to ensure that the money given to the public school board goes to meet the needs of the students whom we serve,” he reassured. “Yes, we have to cover the cost of conducting the election, but our goal is to make sure that it is minimized so that we don’t take away services from our students.”
“We try to run an election economically, following the rules that Elections Quebec gives us,” Mills continued. “We don’t get to decide the number of wards and boundaries of school districts. Similarly, we will recommend how many polling stations Elections Quebec should authorize and where to put them and await approval.”
LBPSB territory runs all the way from Verdun to the Ontario border.
“Two-thirds of our population is on the island,” Mills said. “The off-island one-third is a large rural space. You can’t expect the population to travel 50 km to go vote, so you have to provide appropriate places to maximize voter participation.”
According to an official at neighbouring Sir Wilfred Laurier School Board, which spans Laval and the Laurentians, school boards throughout the province intend to sign a letter asking Quebec to pick up the tab for the November election.
“I would be very happy if this letter being signed by all school boards gets some positive response from the Education Ministry to help defray some of these costs that will be coming at us whenever there are school board elections,” Mills concluded.
The last time voters went to the polls to decide who will run LBPSB was in 2007.
Normally, school board elections are held every four years. However, in 2011, Liberal Education Minister Michelle Courchesne got the Quebec government to pass a law that postponed school board elections.
Courchesne temporarily suspended democracy because Quebec school board elections have suffered from voter apathy. Five out of six eligible English voters and 13 out of 14 French voters didn’t bother to cast a ballot in 2007.
Former Parti québécois Education Minister Marie Malavoy ordered elections to go ahead, Nov. 2, but she didn’t allocate any money to compensate Quebec school boards who must pay election officials, print ballots and cover other obligatory costs.