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Charitable educational program offered by Chevron has been endorsed by NPAs LaPointe, but Robertson, school board criticize corporation’s attempt to influence education.

DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

A charitable educational program offered by Chevron has been embraced by schools around the world – but not in Vancouver, where it has become the focus of an increasingly rancorous civic election campaign.

In a statement released Monday, Vision Vancouver incumbents accused Non-Partisan Association mayoral candidate Kirk LaPointe of encouraging corporate influence in classrooms by expressing his support for the Chevron Canada Ltd. project, which the Vancouver School Board rejected earlier this year.

"Last week, Kirk LaPointe and the NPA put out a disturbing vision for our public schools that included a promise to accept Chevron's offer to fund and influence classroom programs in our schools. That's the wrong direction for education," said board chair Patti Bacchus.

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She accused Chevron of "trying to get in the classroom" through the program, which in seven countries has contributed more than $100-million to help acquire materials for engineering, math and science projects.

"The fact that Kirk LaPointe and the NPA want to open up our classrooms to corporate funding from Chevron shows what is at risk in this election," said Mayor Gregor Robertson, who is campaigning on a green platform that includes opposition to increased oil-tanker traffic in Vancouver harbour.

But Mr. LaPointe said his critics are "misleading the public" over both the Chevron project and his position on corporate sponsorship in general.

"I respect the sanctity of education and understand that our children need to be free of branding and that they need to have education that's focused on learning in the class and not on any kind of corporate distraction. We would never permit that," he said. "The program [Ms. Bacchus] mentioned actually had none of those provisions. If it were an ideological gesture on behalf of a company of course it should be opposed."

He said Ms. Bacchus rejected the program on ideological grounds without really understanding it, or even allowing it to come before the Vancouver School Board for an open debate.

"As a result, students have science tools in other jurisdictions and in Vancouver they have to find other sources of funding. And that's really bad management," Mr. LaPointe said.

Under the program, Chevron donates $1 whenever consumers purchase more than 30 litres of fuel at participating stations during the month of November. The company has committed to contributing up to $565,000 in five B.C. school districts this year.

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Vancouver rejected the program outright, but schools in Surrey, Burnaby, Coquitlam, North Vancouver and West Vancouver are participating. In Canada, the program is only offered in B.C.

Adrien Byrne, a Chevron Canada spokesman, said the program, which was launched in the U.S. in 2010 and has since spread to other countries, has only been refused by one school district.

"In the history of the program no one has ever rejected it before. No school district has ever rejected it before Vancouver," he said. "That's a global first."

Mr. Byrne said Chevron stays at arm's length from schools by offering its financial support through MyClassNeeds, a Canadian charity.

"There is absolutely no attempt by Chevron to influence the curriculum or learning plans of teachers. We approach it with each district as a partnership model and let districts communicate to the teachers that the program exists," he said.

Mr. Byrne said he is aware the program has become an issue in the election campaign. "We welcome robust debate. We anticipate staying out of the fray, though," he said.

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