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'Partisanship is playing a role': political scientist on CBE election

Lori Williams said people are willing to vote for affiliated candidates

Campaign signs for Patricia Bolger and Lisa Davis on neighbouring lawns in Glamorgan.

Jennifer Friesen / Calgary Freelance

Campaign signs for Patricia Bolger and Lisa Davis on neighbouring lawns in Glamorgan.

Municipal politics, including the Calgary Board of Education race for trusteeship, are seeing big changes this election season, according to a Mount Royal University political scientist.

Lori Williams, a political scientist for MRU, said this year’s CBE election has been different than others for a number of reasons—including the existence of a slate in school board politics.

“Historically we haven’t seen slates, parties or even ideologies be very effective. A number of candidates have tried historically, but they haven’t been very successful,” she said.

But, this election, there has been a change of tune from Calgarians.

“What we’re seeing instead is a background sort of willingness to vote for candidates who affiliate one way or another,” she said. “It’s looking like partisanship is playing a role more than it usually does. I guess we’ll see what happens.”

In the CBE race Wards 6 and 7 has a Students Count slate member, Lisa Davis, who has ties to the former PC party of Alberta, running against Calgary District Labour Council endorsed candidate, Patricia Bolger.

According to Bolger there is no way around it, Students Count is political.

“By organizing a slate of aligned candidates you’re bringing politics into public education where there hasn’t been any,” she said.

Bolger noted similarities she’s seen between Students Count and political parties.

“It has a leader, it has a very negative rhetoric, it has a common website and matching colours—so what’s the difference between the slate and a political party?” she said.

But, according to Davis, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

“The idea of our team is that it’s completely non-partisan, and those who are trying to paint this that way are off base,” she said.

Davis said her “team” rose out their observations of a “secrete slate” on the existing board “voting against every accountability and transparency motion for the last four years.”

“We felt that given we agree on five things, and we’ve agreed to work together on these things that we think are really critical to the success of students. Beyond that, we’ll vote individually,” she said

Williams said despite this, she believes there’s an “ideological leaning” in Students Count.

Bolger said this year voters have to choose between “impartial and non-partisan” candidates or “one group with one voice and one agenda.”

Davis said Students Count has no problem admitting their agenda and said it’s years of research and education advocacy that has lead them to this point.

“The reality is that the research and analysis that has been done—especially around the failing math program and administrative spending—has either been done by CAPSC or Kids Come First,” said Davis, referring to two organizations she’s chaired or started.

This name recognition could serve Davis well, said Williams.

“The fact that there isn’t an incumbent in that ward means that she has a chance of getting in—but she’s also been an education advocate for years. She does have experience and I think she looks pretty credible,” she said.

Bolger disagrees.

“Of course improvements have to be made, no doubt about it, but the continual undermining of the board—I don’t consider that advocacy,” she said.

Bolger also won’t be releasing her donor list until after the campaign and said if unions decide to back her, that’s their choice.

“They’re endorsing me, not the other way around,” she said. “If they think I’m the best candidate for the position of school trustee I appreciate that.”

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