The editorial suggested that elected school board trustees should be allowed to speak their minds; some trustees viewed the minister’s letter as an attempt to restrict their ability to speak publicly.
That generated a call to The Telegram from Education Minister Dale Kirby, asking how we could write an editorial about those concerns without having his letter in hand.
We offered to revisit the editorial, but by that time Minister Kirby was no longer on the line. Before hanging up, he said he would send a copy of the letter to us.
It didn’t arrive by deadline.
We did, however, ask for and receive a copy of the letter from the board.
In it, Minister Kirby says, “The Trustee Code of Ethics is very clear on ensuring that all trustees adhere to the highest standards, consider all available facts and research, speak with one voice and where required, maintain confidentiality” adding, “the roles of trustees in relation to the bylaws on communications, ethics and policy seem to be clearly outlined, and I feel that it is crucial that trustees act in accordance with these responsibilities.
“I am hopeful that guidelines related to trustees expressing opinions in public forums can be addressed with the board at your earliest convenience.”
A gentle prodding, perhaps, but a clear shot across the bow.
With all due respect to the minister, the question is not whether he or anyone other than the trustees would find the letter more than chiding.
Trustees may be elected by public vote, but that doesn’t mean their positions are in any way secure from political interference.
A warning from the minister, veiled or otherwise, is no idle threat.
If you look at the province’s Schools Act, you can see that the minister and the cabinet have broad powers over trustees, right down to whether they keep their seats.
Section 73 of the act says, “(1) Where the minister is satisfied that the affairs of a board are managed in an irregular, improper or improvident manner, the minister may by order in writing direct the board or a trustee of the board to take action that the minister considers necessary or advisable in the circumstances. (2) Where satisfied that the affairs of a board are managed in an irregular, improper or improvident manner, the Lieutenant-Governor in Council may dismiss one or more of the trustees of the board.”
There is no definition in the legislation as to what constitutes irregular, improper or improvident behaviour — apparently, that’s entirely at the discretion of the minister and cabinet.
You can see why any signal of displeasure from the minister, however couched, would be taken very seriously indeed.