Re. “Such a thing as a free trip?” (front page, The Tri-City News, Dec. 8).
While I agree with UBC ethics specialist Michael McDonald that School District 43’s trustees’ junkets to China are not “free,” I disagree that “Conflict of interest isn’t always apparent to the person who is in the position.”
According to B.C.’s Community Charter (Section 105), the restriction on accepting gifts is very clear: “A [municipal] council member must not, directly or indirectly, accept a fee, gift or personal benefit that is connected with the member’s performance of the duties of office.”
If our elected council members are not allowed to accept gifts, why are local school trustees considered exempt?
The Community Charter also states the following in Section 106: “A person who contravenes this section is disqualified from holding office unless the contravention was done inadvertently or because of an error in judgement made in good faith.”
Is an $8,000 travel gift to China an “error in judgement made in good faith”?
The only poor excuse I can see for our school trustees is that almost everyone else higher up the elected representative food chain is doing it. A recent report in The Globe and Mail indicates that our members of Parliament and distinguished senators are busy travelling with frequent paid trips to China, so, as we can see, our local trustees have joined their club.
But there’s still another caveat. SD43 and the trustees are beholden to the Confucius Institute (which pays the travel bills on behalf of the government of China). Without the Confucius Institute, SD43 would not have nearly as many students from China studying in our local schools. Without the Confucius Institute, the Chinese share of SD43’s budget here in Canada, would be less than the whopping figure of 10%, or $34 million, more than any school district in the province.
No wonder our trustees are the highest paid in all of the province. Without the Confucius Institute, our trustees’ pay might likely be more comparable to those of Vancouver or Surrey school trustees.
In 2014, SD43’s Confucius Institute was ranked by China as number one in the world. We must be doing something right, in China’s eyes. A dubious honour, indeed.
Joerge Dyrkton, Anmore