Upset in west Edmonton public school trustee race

A public school board upset occurred in west Edmonton Monday night as psychologist Shelagh Dunn defeated incumbent school trustee Orville Chubb.

With 41 of 41 polls reporting in Ward C, Dunn won with 45.7 per cent of the vote, 6,883 votes to 2,741. Chubb had 18.2  per cent of ballots cast in his favour.

“I think people connected with a positive campaign. I talked a lot about inclusion and human rights and about connecting to communities,” Dunn said.

Meanwhile, long-serving Edmonton Catholic trustee Marilyn Bergstra was defeated by challenger Lisa Turchansky. With all polls reporting, Turchansky led the two-woman race with 56 per cent of the vote, 4,886 votes to 3,839.

“We are cautiously optimistic. We’re very excited,” Turchansky said, adding her campaign team worked hard.

Bergstra spent 10 years on the board before her defeat.

“Wish Lisa Turchansky & new board the very best. Particularly as they move forward in meeting the unique needs of each child,” Bergstra tweeted after the results came in.

School board newcomer and former CBC broadcaster Trisha Estabrooks had a nearly 4,000-vote lead in Edmonton public school board’s Ward D.

“I feel great,” Estabrooks said. She credited her win to starting her campaign early, and having six-months of doorstep conversations about public education.

Four newcomers vied for the seat in downtown and east Edmonton’s Ward D vacated by retiring trustee and former NDP leader Ray Martin. In the running were Estabrooks, non-profit sector manager Tamie Perryment, teacher Kevin O’Connor and former provincial government staffer and PhD student Jeff Behrens.

Public school board incumbents Cheryl Johner, Ken Gibson, Michael Janz, Bridget Stirling, Nathan Ip, and Sherry Adams all held onto their wards.

Janz said the election was a referendum on the work the public school board has done to support gay-straight alliances and a culture of inclusion.

“Voters overwhelmingly chose to re-elect those who celebrate inclusive, welcoming and diverse communities. I think Edmonton once again chose to reject the politics of fear-mongering and division and celebrate a welcoming school system for everyone,” Janz said.

Ward A attracted a glut of candidates, with six challengers taking on two-term incumbent Cheryl Johner in north Edmonton. Among them were Edmonton’s poet laureate, Ahmed “Knowmadic” Ali, immigration settlement worker Joseph Luri, and retired pastor George Lam. Lam appeared at two city mayoral forums to speak as “the agent” for Henry Mak, an elusive mayoral candidate. Johner was first elected in 2010, and was acclaimed in 2013.

Edmonton public trustees spent their term strategizing how to get government approval to build new schools — especially high schools. They lobbied government to direct education dollars to public schools, not private schools, and contemplated which new construction and modernization projects were most badly needed.

Their four-year stint ended on a more fractious note, with trustees split over whether to debate before or after the election a motion bolstering support for LGBTQ students and banning any school referrals to “conversion therapy.”

Stirling brought forward that motion. Her opponent Tyler Duce campaigned on a “family first” platform that opposed schools keeping secrets from parents. Stirling had nearly two-thirds of the vote at press time, with 31 of 34 stations reporting.

The race became polarized in several wards, where social conservatives challenged progressive incumbents, and socially liberal contenders took on more traditional incumbents. 

Edmonton Catholic school board

Change was inevitable on the Edmonton Catholic school board, where four of the seven incumbents did not seek re-election. New trustees were guaranteed for wards 71, 72, and 73 in north Edmonton, and Ward 75 in the city centre.

Consultancy owner Terry Harris won in Ward 71, retired educator Sandra Palazzo took Ward 72, social worker Carla Smiley secured Ward 73, and retired teacher Alene Mutala was elected in Ward 75.

Ward 75 was a tight three-way race between three newcomers, Mutala, writer and editor Glen Argan, and urban planner Michael Brown.

Board chair Laura Thibert held on to her seat in southeast Edmonton’s Ward 77. Debbie Engel will serve her seventh term on the board, after representing Ward 74 in west Edmonton for 19 years.

In its last term, the board clashed in public often, sparring over the government’s new requirements for policies to protect LGBTQ students, and critiquing one another for removing their motions from board meeting agendas.

The board also racked up legal fees to help resolve internal conflicts, which included attempts to pay off one trustee’s legal expenses in secret.

Many candidates campaigned on improving the board’s collegiality and cultivating a more respectful relationship with senior school district administrators.

A progressive voice on the board, Ward 76 incumbent Bergstra has earned both praise and criticism for her advocacy for LGBTQ rights, comprehensive sex education, and student vaccination. She was seeking a fourth term after being first elected to the board in 2007.

Unofficial results

Edmonton Public school Board — winners

Ward A — Cheryl Johner (incumbent)

Ward B — Michelle Draper (acclaimed)

Ward C — Shelagh Dunn

Ward D — Trisha Estabrooks

Ward E — Ken Gibson (incumbent)

Ward F — Michael Janz (incumbent)

Ward G — Bridget Stirling (incumbent)

Ward H — Nathan Ip (incumbent)

Ward I — Sherry Adams (incumbent)

Edmonton Catholic school board — winners

Ward 71 — Terry Harris

Ward 72 — Sandra Palazzo

Ward 73 — Carla Smiley

Ward 74 — Debbie Engel (incumbent)

Ward 75 — Alene Mutala

Ward 76 — Lisa Turchansky

Ward 77 — Laura Thibert (incumbent)

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Source: EDMONTON