Standing nearby Kelly Greene, as she spoke at her NDP acclamation ceremony at Lord Byng elementary Sunday, was MLA Rob Fleming, her party’s critic to the Ministry of Education.
This was no coincidence, Greene acknowledged, considering how and why her political activism began.
“Particularly dear to my heart is public education,” Greene, 37, a mother of three, told supporters.
“I feel like I have a lot of knowledge to offer because of the in-depth work I’ve been doing,” Greene told the News Monday.
Last spring, Greene helped form the grassroots activist group Richmond Schools Stand United, when the Richmond School District short-listed 16 schools for closure in a bid to whittle down a decision to three to five sites come fall, as a result of a demand by the Ministry of Education to close underutilized, seismically unsafe schools.
By summer, the group, and particularly Greene, became increasingly active, attending numerous public school board meetings, garnering a 3,600-signature petition against the closures process and increasing both their presence on social media and their coverage by media outlets.
Considering how politicized public education funding has become under the 16-year, BC Liberal reign, Greene and two other RSSU members, Emi Dyck and Kim Nowitsky, were asked by the News last summer if they had political leanings. None said they did.
But in December, after attending seminars on public education, Greene said she decided to take a shot at defeating long-running Steveston-Richmond MLA John Yap.
Greene noted her political resolve was strengthened earlier when Yap “never even acknowledged my presentation” in Victoria at a standing committee, when Greene spoke to seismic remediation funding for schools in Richmond.
In the Steveston-Richmond riding, there are 13 schools that have a high risk of collapsing in a strong earthquake.
Greene’s crusade is against a provincial government (or, more specifically, the Ministry of Education) that has not only repeatedly delayed seismic upgrades, but underfunded students for more than a decade, as a recent Supreme Court of Canada ruling is a testament to — when judges ruled that, in 2002, then Education Minister Christy Clark illegally stripped away teachers’ rights to bargain class size and composition.
Since Clark’s unconstitutional legislation, there have been three strikes by teachers, class sizes have gone up and more special needs students are in each classroom.
“This is evidence of a government that has contempt for public education,” said Greene.
In Richmond, Greene notes that during the four-year term of the present government not one of the 24 Richmond schools in need of seismic repairs has seen funding (three are in business case development stage).
But with an exodus of children occurring in West Richmond, save for the Steveston Village area, Greene is hoping to tap into people’s general regard for public education.
“Good public education is the foundation for a society’s future success. Even if you don’t have children, you benefit from a society that has well-educated citizens. A government that cuts education today, is one that is stealing from tomorrow, and a government that doesn’t understand that is failing its citizens.”
The NDP has yet to table a platform to address seismic upgrades, if elected on May 9.