Mysterious slate of right-wing school board candidates on Vernon, Kelowna ballots | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Mysterious slate of right-wing school board candidates on Vernon, Kelowna ballots

From left, Jewlie Milligan and Sylvia Herchen are both running as School District trustees in Vernon.
Image Credit: ParentsVoiceB.C.

A socially conservative organization whose president has spoken out against abortion is running a swath of candidates in Kelowna and Vernon to run as school trustees.

ParentsVoice B.C. has three candidates for School District 22 in Vernon and four candidates for School District 23 in the Central Okanagan. It's not a political party, but a registered elector organization to promote specific candidates. It has no elected leader, caucus or platform.

However, what the organization or the candidates stand for is much harder to know because they aren't saying.

While the organization is running on a platform of more transparency, none of the candidates spoke to would share their opinions on current issues.

Sylvia Herchen is running for a seat in the Vernon school district but largely refused to answer any of our questions.

Herchen said she's running because she wants openness and more input for parents and more accountability.

However, Herchen wouldn't give an opinion on SOGI 123 – the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity guidelines put out by the province.

"We are not discussing that," she said.

She also refused to answer questions about transgender bathrooms simply saying "no comment."

"I'm not commenting on sex education... sex education is overrated as a topic," she said.

Herchen wouldn't give an opinion about whether sex education should be taught at school.

Herchen, who is a registered physiotherapist, organized one of the first protests against COVID lockdowns in Vernon in April 2020 but denied being an anti-vaxxer saying she had been vaccinated.

She wouldn't comment on whether she still took part in weekly COVID protests.

Also running in Vernon, Jewlie Milligan said she stood for openness and transparency and parents having a voice in what their children are taught.

However, after saying she stood for openness and transparency, she refused an interview.

"I can't give you any more information," she said.

Her online bio says she believes in focusing on the best interests of the child, "with her roots being firmly grounded in Christian principles."

School District 22 candidate Nellie Villegas is also being endorsed by ParentsVoice B.C.

Villegas told she was running to represent parents.

"I'm about helping parents have more of a voice in what education their children are getting," Villegas said.

A former teacher herself, Villegas also wouldn't give an opinion on SOGI 123.

"That's personal that has nothing to do with my service to the people," she said.

ParentsVoice B.C.'s ideology isn't clear from the few and vague policies on its website, but its president Marc Vella has shared his anti-abortion sentiments publicly.

The organization is also endorsed by the Christian political advocacy organization the Association for Reformed Political Action, a group that has fought against transgender rights.

ParentsVoice B.C.'s message is far more subtle with its website stating "Let's take back out schools" and "Schools should focus on preparing students for a productive adulthood, not the trends of the day."

However, on Sept. 14, website wrote a story about how some members of ParentsVoice B.C. hold extreme right-wing political views.

The site says Maple Ridge - Pitt Meadows candidate Brian Dominick is a key anti-vax activist who has made speeches saying Covid was part of a globalist plot.

The website says ParentsVoice B.C. is telling its candidates to make sure their social media "will not embarrass you or the team."

While ParentsVoice B.C. isn't running any candidates in Kamloops-Thompson School District 73, candidate Jennifer Rowse has publicly criticized the SOGI 123 policy comparing it to "grooming" children. Rowse then told Castanet that some books should be banned because they are pornographic.

Running as ParentsVoice B.C. endorsed school trustee candidates in Kelowna are Chris Fieber, Tovey Demman, and Teresa Docksteader. Laurie Bowen is running in West Kelowna.

None of the candidate's bios give any real indication as to what their ideologies are, but Docksteader has posted anti-vaccination sentiments online.

The ParentsVoice B.C. president is far more outspoken in his beliefs.

In 2020 he wrote an article in The B.C. Catholic complaining that the federal Conservative Party wouldn't reopen the abortion debate.

"In the last five years of being a grassroots volunteer in different civic initiatives, I’ve realized there’s a simple reason why our society keeps moving further and further from our worldview: we Christians are missing in action," he wrote.

In the article, Vella identifies himself as the president of the Christian Civic Affairs Committees of Canada and living in Abbotsford. He also states that he spent five years on the Conservative Party of Canada national policy committee.

ParentsVoice B.C. is also running candidates in five school districts in the Lower Mainland and in one in Nechako Lakes school district near Prince George.

For a complete list of candidates for Vernon School District 22 go here, and for Central Okanagan School District 23 go here.

None of the Kelowna candidates were immediately available for comment.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Ben Bulmer or call (250) 309-5230 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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