Regina Public Schools board trustee by-election

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A gavel sits on a wooden podium. Joe Gratz via Flickr

University students encouraged to go out and vote 

School board trustee may be a position that sounds small, but as many of us know, size matters not. In Regina, there are six school board trustees for the public school system, and a board for the Catholic school system. The committee of trustees are elected officials who, together, decide on overall academic goals, policy, and funding distribution for the school division. On October 25, a by-election for the subdivision’s two public school trustees will have been resolved.  

In the current byelection, we are fortunate to have a diversity of candidates with numerous qualifications. When asked about what the biggest problem in Regina Public Schools is, the candidates for this election had a variety of responses.  

One candidate, Mavis Olesen, a mother and grandmother with a Ph.D. in Education, said that public schools are “a public system where all children and families are welcome. Thus, respectful accommodations must be a focus of a Public Board.”  

Candidate Nasir Sohail, who has an M.Ed., stated that his first priority is to “build an education system that equips Regina Public Schools with 21st century skills.”  

Greta Lange, previous member of the School Community Council, stated “There are great programs, but they do not exist in sufficient quantity to cover the needs that have been identified.”  

Matthew Thompson, a father in the area, identified that “mental health supports were lacking before the pandemic and that shortcoming has just been accelerated since. Teachers and student stress has increased dramatically.”  

Tracy McMurchy, a local mom and previous Director of Education Funding for the Ministry of Education, identified her two areas of focus as “ensuring students feel safe at school, while supporting learning and mental health.” 

Since school is where most of us spend eight hours a day until we are 18, this is clearly an influential position for whoever wins the race. However, the highest voter turnout in any municipal election in the recorded history of Regina was 57 per cent, and the turnout sometimes drops below 30 per cent. Voting may be made harder for students due to the qualifications for voting, which require a residence in Regina for at least three consecutive months, and in Saskatchewan for at least six months.

As many students are aware, summer jobs can be hard to come by, and based on the residence requirements and the date of the election, one would have had to be living in Regina over the summer; a difficult option for many students. This highlights how voting is often made difficult for people with a transient lifestyle, like students.  

Yet, voting in municipal elections can be extremely influential. For example, as recent history and current events show us, there are particular radical groups that will target small-scale elections as part of a larger co-ordinated strategy. According to CBC, one instance is in the current school board elections in Ontario, where dozens of candidates funded by conservative lobby groups are running on an “anti-woke” platform.

By “anti-woke,” these candidates explicitly mean bigotry towards the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, and despite running for public school board positions in several subdivisions, they openly push for an explicitly Christian agenda. The largest funder of these campaigns is the Campaign for Life Coalition, a Christian lobbying organization which lobbied against the conversion therapy ban in 2020, tried to remove comprehensive sex education in Ontario schools, and deemed Pierre Poilievre not radical enough for them during the Conservative Party leader election. Dozens of similar candidates also ran in trustee elections in British Columbia last week.  

The purpose of talking about the Ontario elections is not that there is evidence of similar candidates running in the current byelection, but because there may be at some point in the near future, and an engaged and informed electorate is the best inoculant against this. In the words of candidate Mavis Olesen, “university students are the future leaders, movers and shakers in our province, city, and nation. I have great respect for who they are already, and I would hope they value voting and see it as a way they can be supported in their futures.” 

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