Yesterday morning, the federation executive met with Minister Kirby to discuss our concerns.
In response to a diplomatic question about funding cuts to the NLFSC and the possibility of a reconsideration, the minister referenced a conversation that I had with Pete Soucey (VOCM BACKTALK) the day prior, regarding the mess in Services and Works related to tenders, project management, road conditions and ferries. The conversation was not related to the Federation of School Councils in any way, shape or form. It was a personal opinion reflecting my frustration with the tendering process related to Virginia Park Elementary.
He made it very clear that my advocacy work and critique of the government is impacting support for funding the NLFSC around the cabinet table.
As an outspoken advocate for quality education and good government, such a threat could only be interpreted one way, shut up. My principles – my charter rights to free expression and assemblies were directly challenged when the Minister explained that the budget process is not based on merit but how politicians feel about the organization in question, or in this case the individual leading the organization.
Think for a second, this is the same Minister who has risen in the house in the Spring Session to read names of those who gave their lives for our freedoms nearly 100 years ago. Does he value democracy?
It is very obvious that this government has absolutely no tolerance for criticism, and that this organization will suffer if I remain at the helm or do not get with the program. It was a ridiculous and dishonourable link to make. I told the minister as much and opted to leave the meeting.
Which leads to where I go from here. Do I resign and tell the media why? Do we just wave the white flag and accept the government’s draconian measures? I am perplexed.
This volunteer role has become very stressful. I have tried to discharge my responsibilities and follow the objectives set out in our constitution: particularly to advocate for parent/community involvement as a significant component of school development planning, supported by adequate financial supports; and to provide assistance to any Member Association representing the best educational interests of the school.
The by-laws clearly state that we are to be non-partisan, non-sectarian and non racial. We have not been partisan, but the minister told the remaining members of the executive today that he felt the Federation was the Opposition. We have consistently praised government for positive measures and equally been critical of them for policy measures that negative impact measures through administrations of different stripes.
I have never heard of a minister suggesting that funding for the organization would not be based on need, the role we play or the merit of providing, both proactively and reactively, supports for School Councils in the discharge of their duties as stated in the Education Act. We were told those things are not the key determinant but whether we march in step to the tune played by government.
My wife is an unemployed elementary teacher who stands a decent chance of earning a full-time job with Full-Day Kindergarten, yet our membership has formed a pretty clear consensus that it should be deferred. I have only put voice and action to concerns of the membership, above my own personal best interest. That is the honorable thing to do. We serve to represent the best interest of our organization as defined by our constitution.
Yesterday was a dark moment for organizations like ours. Our right to question, to criticize, to advocate for and against policies in the best interests of our members organizations was challenged.
To add insult to injury, the Minister tweeted that he had a productive meeting with the Executive Committee despite the divisive nature of the meeting and no progress on the issues of contention related to the budget.
I was instructed to be critical of the Minister and his broken commitments, and I did so. It would appear that I have been a little too successful. If given the choice between being a true advocate for education as the role demands or being a restrained president, than I have to go with my heart and my conscious.
To my detractors in the Liberal Party, I wanted this resolved quietly. Immediately after leaving the meeting with Kirby, I called the Premier's Office and expressed my disbelief feeling the Premier would not condone such outlandish and anti-democratic behavior.
I would like the Premier to confirm that the review process under this zero base budgeting practice is indeed partisan and not merit based and if he thinks intimidation is acceptable and honorable behaviour for a minister of his government?
I feel compelled to speak out on behalf of the many other nameless groups and organizations that have been intimidated into silence. I will not be bullied or cower in the face of the arrogant intoxication of the corruption of absolute power.
Neither should you!