Editor’s note: The author, a family doctor in Ottawa, is a candidate in the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board elections, Zone 9.
Vote like civil society depends on it.
Right now, across Ontario, municipal election campaigns are wrapping up. There is more than the election of mayors, city councillors and school board trustees at stake. We are at a crossroads: Choose to vote for those who will stand up for social justice – the far-right use “woke” for those of us who stand up for equity, diversity, inclusion – or choose to allow the candidates who are running on platforms of racism, bigotry, misogyny, and anti-science disinformation to run our cities and school boards.
Municipal elections draw fewer people to vote than provincial elections, and we know how poorly we did with voter turnout in the last Ontario election, a record low turnout at 43.53 per cent. Those who bother attending debates hear mayoral and city councillor candidates speak about their platforms. People have no idea, however, what a school board trustee does, let alone why it matters to go out and vote for a trustee.
Much of what goes on in schools is determined at a provincial level (class sizes, funding equations, curriculum). School board trustees make decisions about policies and procedures; they balance budgets and they are the check-and-balance to ensure that schools meet provincial requirements, that administrators are held accountable for the programs that they deliver. Trustees are called upon for “accommodation reviews” to determine school boundaries, decide which specialized programs should be offered at which schools. Trustees also address systemic inequalities within schools and across the board, from discrimination against students with disabilities to racism, transphobia and sexist school policies.
Why does it matter who you elect for school board trustee? I recently met with a student who transferred out of Hillcrest High School in Ottawa last year because students were chanting antisemitic slogans. Nothing was done. We’ve seen reports of Islamophobic, anti-Black, anti-Indigenous and anti-trans hate and violence outside and inside schools. We’ve seen reports of children with physical and developmental disabilities who have been neglected, physically restrained and abused by educators. I’ve met with non-binary and neuro-diverse students who have told me about the discrimination they face in school. I’ve met with parents of children with learning disabilities who are falling through the cracks. I’ve met with families who cannot afford private psych ed testing to determine whether their child is eligible for a gifted program, or to identify other complex exceptionalities and establish an Individual Education Plan (IEP).
There are candidates running on platforms of hate across Ontario.
Far-right candidates put their names forward for Ontario school board trustee positions because nobody bothers to consider what those candidates stand for. Whether you are 18 years old, or an older adult with/without offspring or grandchildren, it should matter to you who is elected as school board trustee. Education shapes the next generation of leaders, community members.
There are candidates running on platforms of hate across Ontario. In the Waterloo region, a white, heterosexual male is campaigning on a platform of “children’s mental health,” but says that he’s “against identity politics.” In Ottawa, a trustee was accused of anti-Black racism, and although she was sanctioned for “severely damaging trust with the community,” she was allowed to remain in her position of power and to run again in this election. There are at least two other overtly anti-trans, anti-woke candidates running for trustee in Ottawa in this election.
2SLGBTQ+ candidates, Black, Jewish and other racialized candidates, and female candidates are targets of harassment across the province in municipal elections. As a physician who has advocated for public health policies throughout the pandemic, who has begged school boards to take better care of students and educators, I was yelled at by an angry anti-masker at a recent parent council event. The “freedom” rhetoric of the Ottawa convoy persists.
Jill Promoli, a previous Ontario Liberal candidate who is running for Toronto District School Board says, “I refrain from comment about my opponents, but while I’ve been involved in a lot of campaigns through the years, I’ve never been so disgusted as I am by some of the rhetoric in this school trustee race.” I concur, although I’ve never been through an election before. I have a file folder for all the transphobic, xenophobic, racist, aggressively anti-vaxx, disrespectful and discouraging correspondence I have received during this campaign.
During the occupation of Ottawa, I wrote a letter co-signed by 2,000 health-care professionals across Canada to say that we would not tolerate hate in our streets. This municipal election overlaps with the Public Order Emergency Commission. Our friends, colleagues and patients who were harassed by incessant honking and aggressive people in the convoy, who saw the Confederate flags and swastikas and trucks draped with f-ck Trudeau, who were targeted with death threats by anti-democratic, anti-science zealots, have had a traumatizing preview of what our city turns into when civility is overtaken by hate.
This election, we must assert that we will NOT tolerate hate or discrimination in our mayoral offices, city councils or school boards. Do your civic duty: Get out to vote on Oct. 24 for leaders who care about you and about social justice.