One of the things that frustrated me the most during my run for school board trustee in the recent municipal election was the almost-complete lack of attention given to the trustee elections. Everyone was so focused on the positions for mayor and city council that they just kind of forgot about the trustee candidates.
Trustee elections have been given scant coverage in the past, with most people voting for incumbents or candidates who could afford to generate name recognition by paying for multiple mail outs of full-page glossy brochures. In most prior elections, about 15% of people who have cast a ballot did not vote for any trustee candidate at all.
I had hopes that this election would be different. Since taking office at the end of June, the Ontario provincial government has made several controversial moves that have targeted the education system. These include reverting to a 20-year-old sex ed curriculum that does not address topics like consent and online safety, taking away $100 million that had been earmarked for school repair and renewal projects, canceling a revised curriculum that would have boosted Indigenous content, and pushing for a blanket ban on cellphones in classrooms in spite of evidence that these tools can boost learning, especially in schools that do not have easy access to technology.
I hoped that with education taking such a hit, media and community organizations would be concerned enough to give trustee candidates a forum where they could talk about their platforms. Now more than ever before, we need strong voices in the school boards to speak up for our students and their families, and to rage against the machine of political ruthlessness. Voters needed the opportunity to make an informed decision about who they were sending to the school boards.
And yet the media was almost completely silent about the trustee elections. Coverage about who was running where and who stood for what did not include trustee candidates. In the ward I was running in, neither of the two all-candidate debates included those running for trustee. The only forum we were given was a meet-and-greet space at a city council candidate debate – and that only happened because I contacted the organizers and requested it.
This is not to say that people didn’t care. Many did, judging by the number of emails I received from voters wanting to know my position on certain issues. But in the end, we got to Election Day with thousands of people not even knowing what a trustee does. When all was said and done, about one-fifth of people who voted in my ward did not cast a vote for a trustee.
This is not intended to be a rant about the fact that I did not win the election. I would be writing pretty much the same thing if I had. Regardless of the outcome, I believe that the media has a responsibility to give more airtime to the trustee elections, and I believe that the organizers of all-candidate debates have a responsibility to include the trustee candidates. Knowledge is power, and by ignoring this important element of the municipal elections, we are taking away the power of voters to make an informed choice at the polls.