Letter to the editor 3, Nov. 23, 2017

LBPSB secrecy and freedom of the press

Dear Editor,

At the November 20 Lester B. Pearson School Board (LBPSB) Executive Committee meeting, the subject of the board's repeated attempts to stifle school board democracy was raised.

It has now reached the level of trying to bar the media from covering a Labour Relations Board hearing involving an employee who was challenging her dismissal for participating in filing an ethics complaint against then board chair Suanne Stein Day.

Stein Day was found guilty by the ethics commissioner of violating not only the board's Code of Ethics three times, but also Article 177.1 of the Quebec Education Act. The latter is instructive.

The breach of the Code of Ethics involved matters regarding board employees, including principals and vice principals, whose main responsibilities are to take care of our children / grandchildren throughout the school year.

The key words in the aforementioned Education Act article are: "...commissioners must act with honesty and loyalty and in the interest... of the 'population served by the school board.'" This means all taxpayers - the entire community.

This case regarding the dismissed employee is central to the many months of turmoil experienced by the scandal-plagued LBPSB. It is imperative the community needs to be informed as to what really happened.

Let us also recall when the ethics commissioner rendered his decision, he made it clear that details of the case were to be kept confidential. Fair enough.

However, Pearson commissioners went above and beyond that directive. Consider the written statements attached to the November 28, 2016, LBPSB Council minutes ( www.lbpsb.qc.ca).

The first is by then chair Stein Day admitting that she was the guilty commissioner who breached the Code of Ethics. The second was by the rest of the commissioners who were "...unanimous in our support of the Chair, the need to move forward together as a team...and we consider this matter resolved and closed."

This did not go over too well with the employees of the board, as evidenced by the widely-reported newspaper and television stories.

A few months ago, I first attended dismissed employee Carol Mastantuono's case at the Labour court but it was postponed to November 13, 2017.

At the very opening of the hearing, the Pearson board's three lawyers complained about my presence as well as that of a journalist. After several hours, the case was postponed till June 2018 without one word of testimony being heard.

On November 14, 2017, at a LBPSB council meeting, Acting Chair Noel Burke was appointed Pearson board chair, replacing Stein Day who had resigned eight days before.

He pledged "to follow procedure with a firm commitment to transparency and accountability," and then told the press who were present: "Good, open, honest, transparent governance is the name of the game for us.”

Apparently, he was not aware of what happened the day before. This is very disturbing as it is standard business procedure for anyone who assumes the top job of any organization to ask two fundamental questions:

"How much money, if any, do we owe?" and “Are we involved in any legal matter, which may affect our reputation?"

In our democratic society, the taxpaying community deserves to know the truth about its public institutions.

In keeping with the aforementioned pledge of the new chairman, Pearson commissioners should pass a resolution and instruct their lawyers to withdraw any objections to members of the public and media being present at this particular hearing of the Quebec Labour Relations Board.

The next full LBPSB Council meeting is scheduled for Nov. 27, 2017.

Chris Eustace