Photo: Tom Zytaruk W.E. Kinvig Elementary principal Jas Atwal, along with fundraising co-ordinators Janet Loewen and Kate Chacko, stand beside the school’s meagre playground for older pupils – a lone swing set.

Surrey school playground campaign cries foul over voting

But contest organizer says no rules have been broken

It’s not always about winning or losing, but how you play the game.

Still, losing can be pretty darn frustrating.

A Newton inner-city elementary school, W.E. Kinvig Elementary, is the sole Surrey school competing with nine other finalists across the province for much-needed cash for a desperately needed playground, offered through a British Columbia Automobile Association (BCAA) contest.

“It is very important to the kids – they only have four swings,” said Janet Loewen, fundraising co-ordinator for the Surrey project.

Kinvig is among the 10 finalists chosen from hundreds of schools across the province to compete in the BCAA Play Here Initiative, which aims to divvy up $300,000 between the three schools that get the most votes online.

READ ALSO: Surrey school needs votes to win up to $100K for a new playground

The Newton school was sitting pretty in second place but has dropped to sixth. How could that be? Other competitors’ votes jumped by as many as 10,000 in a single weekend, Kinvig’s project organizers noted on a Facebook page.

A message to the competitors from BCAA Play Here indicates “that communities may be using incentives to share and spread the word as well as using websites such as getonlinevotes.com to increase the number of votes. This is not in violation of the official Rules and Regulations however, please be reminded that only votes from B.C. residents 19 years and older are valid.”

Organizers of Kinvig’s campaign stated in a June 9 post on their dedicated Facebook page that “this is a frustrating and disappointing way to see this contest go.

“We will finish this contest with dignity and know that each and every vote we get is in support of W.E. Kinvig from OUR community,” the post reads.

Loewen said some competitors “post their campaign and then it’s basically if you vote for me, I’ll vote for you sort of thing. It’s not great. I mean, unfortunately from what I can tell that’s an international site and it’s supposed to be just B.C. residents voting. But, you know, I mean, BCAA says they are playing within the rules.

“For me, and for our campaign, we chose not to,” Loewen said. “BCAA was the one who let us know about it, and we just decided it wasn’t within the spirit of the community campaign.

“We’re just going to keep encouraging our community to vote for us and hope that we can get lots of votes,” Loewen said. “Whether we win or lose, the BCAA Play Here campaign definitely brought some awareness, community awareness, to the project and we’ve had people offer to make donations, so that’s been positive for us in that way.”

Voting began on May 22nd and closes midnight Sunday, June 18. You can vote until then at bcaaplayhere.com.

“It’s coming up quick,” Loewen noted.

Shawn Pettipas, BCAA’s senior manager of community impact, said using websites like getonlinevotes.com is “not a lot different than posting it on your own Facebook page and having everyone you know share it to encourage people to vote. It’s another way of spreading the message — no money is changing hands, nobody is bribing anybody. It’s just another method to get the word out. We looked long and hard at this, and we read, and we really looked at how these websites work, and at the end of the day it’s just another platform to us.”

Pettipas said BCAA uses “world-class” contest management systems that enables it to monitor every single vote that comes in and validate that it should be counted. “We’re watching everything that’s happening,” he said. Pettipas then told the Now-Leader, after the print edition was published, that of a total 355,000 votes cast so far only 126 came from the getonlinevotes.com website.

“We know it’s statistically insignificant,” he said Thursday afternoon.

Meantime, W.E. Kinvig’s Principal Jas Atwal said the school’s surrounding community “doesn’t have the ability to fundraise like other communities” and it could take “years and years” to raise enough cash to build the playground. ‘We’re trying to provide opportunities for the kids as best we can,” he said.

Kate Chacko is also involved in Kinvig’s campaign. It’s a “needy” school, she said. “A lot of the kids are refugees.”

Said Pettipas, “The thing that’s become evident to us is the need province-wide is so great.”

tom.zytaruk@surreynowleader.com