By Robert Frank
With the Nov. 2 polling date for Quebec’s upcoming round of school board elections three months away, voters already have much bigger roster of credible candidates to choose from than the last time that they went to the ballot box.
Only 16.7 per cent of eligible voters cast a ballot in English school board elections in 2007. Participation was far worse on the French side: only 7.2 per cent of them bothered to exercise their democratic franchise.
To reverse the trend, Elections Quebec made a point of getting the word out early this year make voters aware of the upcoming school board elections and to encourage citizens to run for office.
It opened the registration process candidates in January. During the subsequent six months, it has already publicly authorized 83 candidates. Others have declared to The Suburban their intention to toss their hat into the ring and more are waiting in the wings to do so.
The interest in taking the plunge into political life contrasts favourably with the last election, when two-thirds of Lester B. Pearson School Board (LBPSB) commissioners were acclaimed to office, due to a lack of candidates.
That’s unlikely to recur.
There is already a three-way race at LBPSB for the powerful position of chair. Incumbent Suanne Stein Day will face off against current vice-chair Angela Nolet and education watchdog Chris Eustace.
The number of LBPSB school commissioners has been slashed to 12, making it impossible for all 21 incumbent commissioners to return to office.
The abundance of candidates will give voters a range of divergent views to choose from about how to move the education agenda forward.
The biggest challenge for English voters is making sure that they are on the voters list. By law, Quebec citizens default to the voters list of their local French school board, unless they explicitly request in writing to be placed on the English list.
Voters who reside in LBPSB territory can get a copy of the form by visiting www.lbpsb.qc.ca
This month a number of candidates expressed concern that the LBPSB voters roll won’t be available to them in time to ensure that they are nominated by residents with a right to vote in the upcoming LBPSB balloting.
All candidates who want their names to appear on the ballot in November have to be nominated during a brief, five-day period from Sept. 23 to 5 p.m., Sept. 28. Even if they are already authorized, they must re-register, and some were worried that they might collect the signatures of nominators who had unwittingly defaulted back to the local French school board.
Elections Quebec spokeswoman Stéphanie Isabelle told The Suburban that their fears were unfounded.
“[The law] doesn’t say that you have to be on the list of electors [of an English school board] to be an elector,” she explained. “Candidates [simply] have to ask sor the supporting signatures of people domiciled in the territory of the school board, even if the person is not on the list of the English school board.”
All that you have to provide, Isabelle said, are “supporting signatures of electors of the school board.”
She added that that the law defines school board electors as Canadian citizens over 18 “who are domiciled in the territory of the school board and has been domiciled in Quebec for at least six months.”
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