In his closing address to the sparse, attentive crowd at the Tidemark Theatre, candidate Craig Gillis turned directly into the illuminating spotlight surrounding the stage, his suit and tie creased impeccably, gesturing toward moderator Mary Ruth Snyder, as he leaned forward into his microphone.
“This is different than I thought it would be,” Gillis said as the audience agreed in nervous, scattered laughter.
As the final debate in the race toward the election on Oct. 15, the seven candidates sat in plain view on centre stage Wednesday evening, fielding questions and flaunting the experiences they may have, or may not have had in one of their last chances to woo undecided voters.
Topics ranged from the balancing of the school district budget, the possibility of reconciliation with First Nations, to the subject of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) taught within the walls of schools.
Candidate Dave Harper, a retired educator with over three decades in the local school system, was critical of the incumbent regime that he is attempting to replace.
“There are many issues, not the least of which is the sizable structural deficit that the incumbent trustees are leaving for the new board to deal with next spring,” Harper said while sweating under the lights during his opening remarks, pointing to the nearly $700,000 missing from the budget and emphasizing a need to work together as a community.
Incumbent Daryl Hagen emphasized that while monetary issues are important, as trustees they have to play the hand they were dealt.
“There is a $78 million dollar budget, with 92 per cent going to wages and salary,” Hagen, who worked in the provincial penal system for 30 years “Those things are put forth at a government table.”
On the topic of reconciliation, Harper was even more adamant, illustrating the idea that while the history of the mistreatment of Indigenous people in Canada has become a prominent topic in recent years, it’s also one that he feels the local people in the community may seem uninterested.
“We make a severe error in not saying the word TRUTH, and reconciliation,” Harper said “In my experience in this community, where I pump gas, that there are a lot of people in this community, from the age of 6 to 60 to 86, who do not understand the truth of what happened to Indigenous people in this country. I don’t want reconciliation to be something in our schools that we just talk about.”
Incumbent trustee Kat Eddy agrees, stating the need to ensure equity for all learners.
“There is no reason our Indigenous students should not be excelling the way our non-Indigenous children are,” Eddy said.
Things really heated up, however, when the topic of SOGI-123 was brought up. Introduced in 2019, SOGI-123 teaches school age children on the topics of sexual orientation, gender identity, the concept of Gay/Straight Alliances and other topics related to sexual education.
However, all are not in agreement with the material. Candidate Alaina Kelly stated that, if elected, she will always “vote with her conscience,” and that conscience is not one that will allow her to accept what she labelled “child pornography.”
“We have a minister of education, who’s now assumed the role of child care,” Kelly said, to a chorus of cheers in the crowd of between 30-50 people. “So, we now have a ministry of education assuming the role of child care. I suspect we will soon see SOGI material and sexual concepts introduced by the age of 0. SOGI material, especially the ones introduced to children in grade 4 are graphic, regardless of what B.C. teachers association, its supporters and stakeholders might say.”
Candidate Kim Yaciuk agreed only half way, stating that while she is a parent first, as a member of the board, she needs to put the needs of the many first.
“As a trustee, I would have to put my feelings aside, as it is approved as a resource,” said Yaciuk, who has lived on both Canadian coasts as well as the Ottawa area before coming back to Campbell River. “There are a lot of people out there, who might need that resource because they don’t know how to help, or make a child feel that they might be confused, or not understand another’s family. It’s there to help those who are vulnerable.”
When the focus shifted to the hiring of more educational assistants, Kelly was even more adamant, suggesting that the province “stop requesting them to sit in classrooms while teachers read extremely explicit sexual materials,” again referring to SOGI.
During the ‘Ask a Candidate’ segment, where candidates asked one another questions, the gloves came off, with Harper and Kelly getting right into it. Harper asked Kelly quite bluntly regarding a social media post where Kelly expressed concern over pages of the book ‘It’s perfectly normal’, a sexuality book which is a resource in many B.C. schools.
“There is a post where you expressed shock,” Harper asked Kelly. “As a trustee, would you be in favour of banning such a book?”
When Kelly said yes, Harper pointed to Chamberlain vs. Surrey school board, a case involving three books featuring same-sex partnered families as learning resources for kindergarten, one that led all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada in 2002.
“It cost $1.2 million,” said Harper. “What you’re saying is if you’re elected trustee, you’d be willing to go that far down the line?”
When asked about the definition of an inclusive classroom by incumbent Joyce McCann, Kelly answered the question, although not entirely.
“It would look like adults speaking to children with respect and honor, knowing that their bodies are precious and their minds are precious.” Kelly said, after doubling down on the idea that despite her beliefs, she is not homophobic, racist or a hater.
Catch the full debate here: