Upcoming trustee election offers chance to restore credibility to Catholic education

  • October 7, 2010
TORONTO - The head of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA) is concerned about the upcoming trustee elections in the Toronto Catholic board because he says misconduct at one board can affect the credibility and reputation of all Ontario trustees.

“From a provincial perspective, Toronto Catholic board is like the flagship of the fleet,” said OECTA president James Ryan. “It’s the largest Catholic board in Canada and having good governance in the Toronto board is prominent in the minds, not just of every Catholic teacher in Toronto, but across Ontario.”  

The Toronto board has been operating under provincial supervision due to spending scandals and a refusal to meet its legal obligation to balance its budget. Two former board chairs, Oliver Carroll and Angela Kennedy, were expelled from the board after a judge found them guilty of voting on board business despite having a conflict of interest.

Some of Ontario’s leading Catholic education groups believe the Oct. 25 vote is an important opportunity for Catholic trustees in particular, and Catholic education in general, to restore credibility.  

In mid-September, Toronto Archbishop Thomas Collins announced that, “because of the extraordinary importance” of these elections he would permit trustee candidates to deliver campaign literature on church property. While not mentioning any of the seven incumbent trustees standing for re-election, Collins urged Catholic voters to become engaged in the campaign and select trustees who demonstrate exemplary personal integrity.

Issues of integrity and competence resulted in the province stepping in to assume control of the Toronto board in 2009.

Ryan said other Catholic and public school trustees “probably felt the repercussions in terms of their image” after negative media coverage of the Toronto Catholic board.

“As with any profession or any workforce, when something like that happens, it does affect the credibility and reputation of the entire group everywhere,” he said.

But Ryan noted a silver lining in what’s happened in Toronto. Perhaps due to a greater awareness of the important role of trustees, the number of trustee candidates across the province seems to have increased.

“A lot of that has to do with what happened in Toronto,” Ryan said. “They recognize the importance of governance in Toronto.”

There are 59 trustee candidates running in Toronto’s 12 wards compared to 38 in the 2006 election, an increase of 55 per cent.

Nancy Kirby, president of the Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association, is buoyed by the numbers.

“I think this election in particular has caused Catholic ratepayers, with the help of the Archbishop, to take a look at what they can do to help bring Toronto back to the stature it had in the past,” she said.

John Borst, a former Catholic trustee and director of education in Dryden, Ont., said the Toronto situation highlights a worrisome trend towards provincial centralization and a loss of autonomy for trustees. The Toronto board’s decision against a balanced budget in 2008, which led to the provincial takeover, contributed to a “loss of responsibility and independence” of trustees, he said.

Borst fears that the position of trustee may become redundant and eliminated in the future, partly because trustees across the province have been unfairly painted with a  Toronto brush.

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