Democracy is thriving in the North Okanagan.
There wasn’t just one, but two examples last week of residents casting off the cynicism that frequently pervades our political structure.
In the first case was a meeting where 50 people opposed the prospect of Ashton Creek Elementary School shutting down. They openly challenged the assumption that students would be better served by busing them — in some cases 45 kilometres one-way — to classes in Enderby.
The North Okanagan-Shuswap School District claims the current four-grade split classrooms restrict learning development among students, but parents insist that such personalized one-on-one instruction actually reinforces learning and encourages a caring atmosphere among older and younger kids.
Residents aren’t oblivious to funding restraints or decreasing enrolment, but they’re convinced their children’s needs supersede those factors.
But perhaps the most critical piece to come out of the meeting is residents learned they aren’t alone.
As the district’s vice-chairperson, Chris Coers is intimately aware of the need to rationalize resources. But she has acknowledged that the most important hat she wears is as Enderby area trustee.
“People will tell me what they want me to vote for,” she said.
“I’m elected to represent the residents of the Enderby area.”
Based on that, Coers will do everything possible to ensure her constituents are heard and that the district consider options other than simple closure.
Standing beside Coers will be Jackie Pearase, Regional District of North Okanagan director for Ashton Creek.
“I have to be behind my community,” said Pearase.
Coers and Pearase reinstill faith in the entire concept of public service.
The other example of democracy in action was hundreds of local students walking out of classes to rally.
No matter how you personally feel about the actions of teachers or the government, we should celebrate the fact that young people were passionate enough about something to take a stand. If we ever want them to vote, let alone run for public office, as adults, we need to encourage civic awareness now.
Obviously, students may not fully understand the dispute’s complexities, particularly financial, and one could argue they have been swayed by personal relationships they have with teachers. But, how many adults, including teachers and MLAs, can honestly say they comprehend the issues fully, and when did it become a bad thing to care about someone? Students often spend more time in school with teachers than they do at home, so a close bond is natural.
One could also make the argument that because they are there every day, students are extremely familiar with the state of the education system.
Media headlines in the last few days have focused on robocalls allegedly misleading voters, an MP sleeping on the job and private information being leaked about a federal cabinet minister.
It’s this kind of stuff that undermines trust in our democratic institutions and fuels apathy. But beyond those headlines, there are people who are active and standing up for what they believe in.
The public and politicians at all levels could learn a lot from Ashton Creek and the students in our schools.
—Richard Rolke is the senior reporter for The Morning Star