There’s a new school council at Vanier Catholic Secondary, voted in by the highest voter turnout in the school’s history during elections on Monday night.
Diane Tait is the only returning councillor, having served on the previous Vanier school council and the Catholic Education Association of Yukon. Tait’s husband and daughter are both teachers at the school.
The new members are Shannon Cooper, Edith Edler and Michael Lauer. Maureen Long also joints the new council as the only sitting member with children who attend the school.
Two hundred and ninety electors showed up to cast ballots, up from 134 in the 2012 election. In all, 596 voters cast ballots in six school elections across the territory.
Vanier was the only Catholic school to have an election this year. Parents, school area residents and church parishioners are all allowed to vote for Catholic school elections, but there is some concern over how much influence the church may have had on Monday’s vote.
Tjitska van der Eide raised questions about a letter handed out by the church which warned its faithful, in bold print, to “discern carefully those candidates who are in full agreement” with the church’s mission statement and values.
Van der Eide’s husband, John Berg, was running in the election. He was the only candidate to speak openly about urging the Education Department to conclude its negotiations with Whitehorse Bishop Gary Gordon and clarify the bishop’s powers and roles within the schools.
Van der Eide said the latest letter from the church is a veiled attempt to influence who the parishioners vote for.
“We believe that it’s not meant to sway people one way or the other? I would not believe that,” she said.
Prior to the previous Vanier school council election, the bishop named certain candidates in the church newsletter, highlighting their status as parishioners and suggesting they would appreciate the votes of their fellows.
Four of the five candidates the bishop named won their seats, but many called the apparent endorsement problematic.
This time around, van der Eide said the church has been more careful, but the intention remains the same.
“It all looks very politically correct, but I think if you read between the lines it’s all there,” she said.
According to Leah White, another outspoken critic of the bishop who ran in the election herself, the church told its parishioners who to vote for.
“They didn’t put it in a newsletter this time,” White said. “This time they’re being more cloak-and-dagger about it.”
White said a number of people called the church prior to the election and, without identifying themselves, asked the church for guidance. Two numbers were included on the church’s letter, and those people – Dawn Kobewka and John Robbins – both read from a list of five candidates.
The News also placed anonymous calls to the church and asked who to vote for. A woman who answered at Maryhouse in Whitehorse gave three names: Diane Tait, Edith Elder, and Shannon Cooper before pausing.
“Hold on, let me get the list,” she said, before continuing to name Kam Cos and Michael Lauer.
On a separate call, John Robbins gave the same list of names.
In an interview with the News on Monday, Robbins said the church’s letter was not meant to influence voters, but only to encourage them to get out and vote.
“What we’re trying to encourage is that … parishioners make up their own minds. We want them to participate in the election,” Robbins said.
Last year saw some deep divisions among the councillors at Vanier in the wake of a controversy over the school’s sexual orientation policy, which called homosexuality an intrinsic moral evil and forbade students from forming gay-straight alliances.
In the wake of a public outcry, the Education Department ordered the offending policy removed, and a department-wide policy implemented. The school now has a gay-straight alliance.
Deputy minister Valerie Royle promised the role of the bishop in setting policy would be defined by the start of the 2014/15 school year. That hasn’t happened, the department says, because of delays on the bishop’s part.
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