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Burnaby trustees expect to get along despite end to decade-long BCA monopoly on school board

A decade of single-party rule came to an end for the Burnaby school board on Saturday, but that doesn’t mean public meetings will suddenly become contentious affairs, according to incumbent trustees.
Christine Cunningham
Burnaby Green Party trustee Christine Cunningham campaigns with her grandchildren, Oliver and India Shearing, and her friend Abby Ge.

A decade of single-party rule came to an end for the Burnaby school board on Saturday, but that doesn’t mean public meetings will suddenly become contentious affairs, according to incumbent trustees.

Since 2008, the Burnaby Citizens Association has entirely dominated the school board.

For a decade, the chair has barely paused when declaring motions “moved-opposed-carried.”

That monopoly was broken Saturday, however, with the election of Green candidate Christine Cunningham.

With 22,024 votes, the retired lawyer was elected to the seven-member board with the sixth most votes, 1,109 ahead of BCA rookie Jen Mezei.

But Gary Wong, who was elected to his fourth term Saturday (23,724 votes) doesn’t think having a Green on board will change things all that much.

“I think that we’re all pulling for the same thing and that’s what’s best for our students,” he told the NOW. “And, even when there was opposition, my understanding is that there wasn’t a contentious relationship. So, yes, I’m prepared to work with anyone.”

Larry Hayes, who got the second most votes (23,780) Saturday and will now serve his sixth term, remembers a time when BCA trustees had to work alongside trustees from other parties (There was one from 2002 to 2005 and two from 2005 to 2008).

“What I’ve seen from my 16 years is that everybody wants to see what’s the best for the students,” he said. “Other than a few different ways of getting there, I’ve certainly seen that everybody has worked together.”

And, just because the board has been made up of all BCA members for the past 10 years, doesn’t mean there hasn’t been disagreement, noted Hayes.

“We’ve had our differences,” he said.

Cunningham, who worked as a children’s property rights lawyer in the Office of the Public Guardian and Trustee of British Columbia until two years ago, says she intends to bring “a new voice, a different voice” to school board but isn’t interested in playing partisan politics.

“I’m not interested in being destructive and critical,” she said. “I’m interested in being constructive and working well with people and helping our kids.”

Even as the board’s lone non-BCA member, she says she’s also not worried about the BCA block keeping her in the dark about important information and decisions – yet.

“I’ll be concerned if causes arise, but I’m not someone who goes looking for problems,” she said. “I go into situations believing that people will deal in good faith and that they’ll have a collaborative spirit.”

Cunningham said Hayes called her Sunday to welcome her to the board, and fellow rookie Peter Cech, who beat her by 320 votes Saturday, wrote an email to the same effect.

As for why she was elected, Cunningham credits her party.

“I think it was not me individually as much, maybe, as the Greens,” she said. “I think the Greens have a recognized message, which is care for the environment and social justice, and a lot of people are moving towards the Greens, I think, because it’s a pretty common-sense point of view.”

Rookie trustee Ryan Stewart topped the polls Saturday with 23,879. The other newly elected BCA trustee was Bill Brassington with 23,278 votes.

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