Rare honesty

It is not very often that a politician will admit to poor choices, let alone characterize a choice as “stupid.”

Upper Grand District School Board trustee Kathryn Cooper deserves credit for at least being honest as she recounted her missteps with the French immersion boundary review at Edward Johnson Public School in Guelph. She was attempting to point out some positives for parents in the event students had to transfer to her home school in Brisbane.

But the accolades have to stop there, in what reads like a comedy of errors that should have been nipped in the bud by several political veterans.

Cooper came up with the idea of selling Erin to Guelph-Eramosa residents who were potentially facing a transfer of their children in French immersion from Guelph to Brisbane. We suggest “potentially” because the school board had not yet firmed up its proposal that would see Guelph-Eramosa students head to Brisbane due to overcrowding at the Guelph school.

That was the first egregious mistake: pre-supposing the move was a fait accompli before the board formally adopted its report or, at the very least, presented that draft report to citizens for their comments.

The second and third errors were seeking out and getting funding from the Town of Erin council to promote the upside of the pending boundary change.

In essence, one political body, the school board, was in the throes of making a choice that would see students travel farther, in the opposite direction, from the Rockwood area.

The second political body, Erin council, arguably in the position of benefiting from more potential commercial activity, jumped the gun by promoting that idea while a political choice was still very much up in the air. If the shoe had been on the other foot and Brisbane students were heading to Rockwood, we can only imagine the howl and cry for luring residents there. It doesn’t make for good neighbours.

The fourth error, which is actually quite surprising, was having a town official promote an out-of-town graphics firm to design the promotional kits. It seems to us a dangerous strategy for staff to recommend a single source, albeit a viable choice, when other local choices exist. Promoting local business first is surely a primary element of any economic development activity in any municipality.

The fifth error, shouldered in part by school board chairman Bob Borden, was pecuniary interest. It is our understanding one of Cooper’s children attends the French immersion program at Brisbane and Cooper notified the board of that at the outset of the boundary review.

Still, it makes it difficult to appear completely unbiased, certainly to parents of children in Rockwood who are also served by Cooper as their trustee. Surely fellow board members could have aided the relatively new trustee with some friendly advice that sometimes it’s better to step aside under such hard-to-be-neutral circumstances.

But this melee is nothing new. We have long held the belief there is too much intermingling of affairs between different political bodies. This certainly is a prime example and adds to our over arching concern stretching from local government, through provincial politics, right on up to the federal government. Everyone seems to want a piece of the action.

Since much of the economic development activities we have seen over the years are typically fuzzy, the effort in Erin was not a complete surprise. As councillor John Brennan suggested in the accompanying article to this saga (page 12), “for $600 we might as well give it a shot.”

That is not good enough, particularly when the concept was sketchy to begin with.

If the criteria for funding are that vague, money will continue to flow out the door with little in the way of concrete results – and results is what economic development is about, isn’t it?

Despite this debacle, we hope students get along well in their new school when the time comes, and that parents get to know Erin and its good qualities.