Tuesday February 14, 2023 | LANGFORD, BC [Last updated at 11:15 am February 15, 2023]
Political insights by Mary P Brooke | Island Social Trends
Cooperation in troubled times is important. Canadians recognize the importance of delivering aid to war torn Ukraine and most people likely don’t dispute how compassionate that is.
A local group based in Langford has been fundraising and organizing for almost a year, to take supplies to people and communities impacted by the war in Ukraine. Fundraising from businesses and the Langford development community was the start of the fundraising approach. Now local suppliers of various things (including artificial limbs) are being tapped to support the cause.
Beckett and Parmar:
The group headed up by former Sooke School District (SD62) Vice-Chair Bob Beckett (who served for one term on the SD62 school board 2018-2022 after being a long-time fire chief in Langford), has wooed in a continuing working relationship with SD62. On the second of two trips taken by the Langford group (the first in June 2022 and now in February 2023), this most recent one included SD62 School Board Chair Ravi Parmar.
The SD62 board gave Parmar permission to be the face of SD62, said Amanda Dowhy, Vice-Chair, recently; Dowhy is a first-time elected official, being elected as one of the westshore (Belmont) zone trustees on the SD62 board in October 2022.
However, technically speaking, Parmar was not officially representing SD62 on the trip to Ukraine with any authority to activate any shared projects (a motion to that effect was passed at the December 13, 2022 board meeting). But he said in recent local TV and radio news coverage (as well as in other online-published news media) that he and the Beckett team delivered $10,000 worth of “school supplies” as provided by Vancouver Island based company Monk Office.
SD62’s communications rep says this week that “there was no donation received by the Sooke School District from Monk Office”.
SD62 and Ukrainian schools:
Last year, the Langford-based fundraising group aligned itself with the international GlobalMedic humanitarian aid organization. Upon the group’s return from their first trip back in June 2022, SD62 announced plans to share curriculum with school districts in Ukraine and to create a pen pal program.
During last year’s trip, four Ukrainian municipalities and their school districts signed sister city agreements with Langford and SD62 respectively, according to a statement from the City of Langford.
Board defeated a direct student exchange:
At the December 13, 2022 SD62 board meeting, the long-time SD62 board chair was defeated in his attempt to have SD62 support a student exchange with one or more schools in Ukraine.
In a long discussion at that public board meeting, Parmar drew a parallel between Ukrainian students coming here during the war in their country, to students from the west shore (SD62 has schools in Langford, Colwood and Sooke) heading to Ukraine on exchange — even though he articulated that schools were without adequate lighting or bomb shelters.
Four trustees voted against (that’s a majority vote on a board of seven). It was trustees who are women (and mothers) who were the most forthcoming and articulate about not supporting the idea of student exchange.
The matter of global student exchange was further sent to the SD62 Education Policy committee.
In Ukraine earlier this month, Parmar also delivered letters from a Grade 5 class at Willway Elementary School in Langford (so far the only SD62 school pushing for this), where some teachers are very proactive for helping to build SD62’s working relationship with the Ukraine school district that was hand-picked by Beckett and also former Langford Mayor Stew Young when they traveled to an undisclosed location in Ukraine in June 2022.
Running for MLA:
Parmar is ramping up to running as the candidate for MLA in Langford-Juan de Fuca. A by-election will be called after outgoing MLA John Horgan resigns sometime in March. A by-election must be called within six months.
Parmar’s media exposure through SD62 and now the Ukraine mission is high-profile to help support his upcoming MLA campaign. He knew he would be running for MLA back when he ran again for school trustee in the October 2022 election. It was Horgan who planted Parmar onto the SD62 board in 2014 in the first place, and Parmar has held relatively senior government civil service jobs in the meantime. This is a long-game political strategy.
During a by-election period for the Langford-Juan de Fuca provincial riding this year, likely it’s the current SD62 Vice-Chair Amanda Dowhy who will head up the one-trustee-short SD62 board of education.
A by-election in SD62 will likely follow. School boards in BC may operate up to six months without a trustee, unless it’s in an election year then that year can be sustained with less than a full board, but that wouldn’t be the case until 2025-2026.
In TV, radio and other print news media coverage this week about his trip to Ukraine of recent days, Parmar seemed genuinely shocked at the ravages of war that he saw. Why would that be a surprise? Obviously it was an eyeopener as to the realities of war and that it would not be a balanced student exchange between a Canadian urban school and a school in a Ukraine war zone.
Without diminishing the obvious good of delivering supplies and equipment to those who need it in Ukraine, readers are guided here to think about the motivations of the trip and the confluence of dragging the SD62 board into further commitments in a war zone (if only indirectly).
Island Social Trends did a poll on Twitter in December as to the appropriateness of this whole scenario of organizing for SD62 students to visit in Ukraine. ‘Bad idea’ and ‘not during the war’ were the sort of comments that came back in social media, and most poll participants agreed it was not a safe thing to do at this time.
“Community-based volunteer groups are the backbone of humanitarian responses,” Beckett said in a statement this week.
While certainly most everyone in Canada is hoping to help Ukrainians who have been impacted during the invasion by Russia (including welcoming refugees to Langford), that goodwill is being entwined with local business and politics. Perhaps that’s the way things always roll, but it’s not unimportant to articulate it.
Independent media has the opportunity to do that, compared to mainstream media that tends to need to carry the message as presented.
SD62 board has not approved student exchange with Ukraine (Jan 13, 2023)
SD62 sends Ukraine project idea to committee (Dec 14, 2022)
Langford mayor heading to Ukraine with GlobalMedic team (June 8, 2022)
Langford achieves $50,000 fundraising goal for Ukraine (May 6, 2022)
Support for Ukraine in Langford (April 5, 2022)
SD62 Committees ready for 2020 (Dec 20, 2019)
===== ABOUT ISLAND SOCIAL TRENDS:
Island Social Trends is a long-standing publication in the west shore of South Vancouver Island (fourth in a series that began with MapleLine Magazine 2008-2010, Sooke Voice News 2011-2013, and West Shore Voice News 2014-2020, which then emerged as Island Social Trends in mid-2020).
Island Social Trends editor is Mary P Brooke, B.Sc., Cert PR. She is a long-time journalist, delivering news through a socioeconomic lens.
IslandSocialTrends.ca covers news of the Greater Victoria area and south Vancouver Island, with insights on BC and national issues.
Ms Brooke has consistently covered progressive politics on Vancouver Island including a focus on food security for the South Vancouver Island region. She has presented detailed coverage of the SD62 School Board and its committees since 2014.
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