Nova Scotia MLAs unhappy after education advisory council meetings held behind closed doors
Opposition MLAs are pointing to closed-door meetings of the newly formed Provincial Advisory Council on Education (PACE) as a sign of less transparency in a post-school board education system.
The first meeting of PACE, held on Nov. 4 and 5, brought the differences between the new council and the now-defunct school boards to the forefront.
“We know that in public policy, when there is an availability to the scrutiny of opposition parties, of the media and the public, the performance of the public officials is improved,” explained Gary Burrill, NDP MLA for Halifax Chebucto.
“At a minimum, those meetings should be open, and people should be able to know what’s going on there,” Burrill added.
Education and Early Childhood Development Minister Zach Churchill argued against opening up the meetings, saying that those partaking in PACE meetings are able to do so in a private and safe setting.
Churchill also points out that the new council was never designed to perform the same function that school boards did previously.
“I think it’s important we recognize this is not a new school board; this is not a super school board,” Churchill said. “These are not folks that are acting in a public capacity, they are private citizens who are volunteering their time to digest evidence, feedback and give advice.”
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“We want them to be able to do that in a way that’s objective and only responsive to the evidence that they’re looking at,” he continued. “This is very much in line with all the other advisory groups that we do have in government.”
“It’s very different from a school board model,” he said.
Gin Yee has the unique experience of having served as a school board representative and currently serving as the chair of PACE.
He says the two entities weren’t created to serve the same purpose and therefore shouldn’t be held to the same procedures.
“With school boards, they had governing authority,” Yee explained. “We had a half-billion-dollar budget to approve, we had governing decisions and we were elected to four-year terms.”
“It’s a different structure with this advisory council,” he said. “We were strictly advisory to the minister, and we don’t make any governing decisions.”
PACE’s agenda will be posted to its website ahead of meetings, and its minutes will be reported online after they’ve concluded.
Still, those in opposition say the public will ultimately be less informed on decisions that affect their children than they were when school boards were in operation.
“It’s not good enough,” said PC leader Tim Houston. “It just begs the question: if you’re willing to do that, why don’t you just have the meeting open?”
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