Are Catholic school boards Catholic? ACSTA should challenge election in Ward 75

By Glen Argan

I have asked the Alberta Catholic School Trustees’ Association to apply to have the results of the Oct. 16 election in Edmonton’s Ward 75 overthrown and a byelection held.

The reason: Candidate Michael Brown, who ran a close third in the election, is not Catholic. Section 256(3.1) of the Alberta School Act effectively bars – in areas where there is both a public and a separate school board – non-Catholics from running for a position on a Catholic school board and Catholics from running to become a public school trustee.

Brown was quite open in the campaign stating that he is currently not a Catholic, but is in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults and hopes to be accepted into the Catholic Church at Easter.

However, that fact only came to the awareness of myself and my supporters midway through the campaign, well after the deadline for any candidate to withdraw from the race.

As well, those who sign the nomination papers of a candidate for a Catholic board must be Catholics. Although we have not asked the signatories of Brown’s nomination papers whether they are Catholic, we do know that 25 of the 35 signatories live in the same housing complex.

As a candidate in the Ward 75 election, I could launch a legal challenge to the election myself. However, that would make the issue one of whether I was denied a fair chance at winning a seat on the school board. Indeed, while the election was made unfair by Brown’s participation, that is not the key issue.

The key issue is the integrity of Catholic school boards in Alberta. If non-Catholics are allowed to run for election to a Catholic board and potentially to emerge victorious, the right of Catholics to run our own schools is seriously undermined. Any person could be elected to a Catholic school board, and indeed any person could vote in the election for a Catholic trustee.

Also damaging is the potential for mischievous candidates to stand for election and skew the results simply by being on the ballot. Further, any group that wanted to destroy Catholic school rights in Alberta could do so by running slates of non-Catholic candidates in various jurisdictions.

I do not accuse Brown of being mischievous or vexatious; he simply should not have been allowed to run. It seems clear that none of relevant authorities did anything to validate his Catholic standing.

The Alberta bishops throughout their September letter on the trustee election reiterated the importance of the Catholic standing and commitment of the members of Catholic school boards. 

However, the ACSTA has the primary responsibility to protect the integrity of Catholic education in this province. If the ACSTA is serious about fulfilling that role, it would call on the courts to overthrow the election in Edmonton’s Ward 75 as well as any other Catholic jurisdiction in the province where a non-Catholic sought election.

Further, it would take action – or insist that municipalities take action – to prevent non-Catholics from being allowed to stand as candidates in future elections for Catholic school boards.

I made my request for the ACSTA to take action in an Oct. 2o email to association president Adriana LaGrange of Red Deer. I have not yet heard back from her, but given the short intervening period, that is not unusual. Catholics across Alberta should be awaiting the ACSTA’s reply. Are our school boards going to remain Catholic or not?

(For more details, see story in The Edmonton Journal of Oct. 24.)

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