School board trustee acclamations down across Ontario

  • October 22, 2010
OCSTA logoTORONTO - Close to 40 per cent of the 230 seats for Catholic school trustee across Ontario have been filled by acclamation.

But the Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association says this represents a drop in acclamations — down from 45 per cent in 2006 to 37 per cent this year — and is a potential silver lining to what’s happened at the Toronto Catholic District School Board.

Nancy Kirby, the association’s president, told The Catholic Register that the drop in acclamations is encouraging and may have been sparked by the events at the Toronto Catholic board.

“The fact that we have less acclamations shows that people are starting to get more involved,” she said. “Maybe that’s the good that came out of Toronto. People are taking an  interest in having good leadership in the boards.”

The Toronto Catholic District School Board has been under supervision for the past two years and has been dealing with the fall-out of a trustee expense scandal and conflict-of-interest cases which led to the removal of two of its trustees, and the potential removal of a third still before the courts as of The Register’s press time.

Kirby said it’s important to have new candidates alongside seasoned veterans.

On voter interest, Kirby recalled the sentiments of a Toronto newspaper columnist who suggested that trustee elections should be held at a different time of year than the mayoral races, which appear to be overshadowing the trustee races.

As for a breakdown of the acclamation statistics, the rate of acclamation for incumbents was 32 per cent. There are 176 incumbents across the province seeking re-election. Seventy-three current trustees were re-elected by acclamation and 12 new candidates were acclaimed, bringing the total number of acclaimed seats to 85 or 37 per cent.

This year, 459 candidates registered to run for trustee positions.

The phenomenon of acclamations and incumbency, as well as voter apathy, is not particular to school boards only, said Nelson Wiseman, a political science professor at the University of Toronto. He said fewer candidates may have something to do with the lower profile of municipal elections, especially those for trustee.

“It’s a smaller universe,” he said, adding that voter participation at the municipal level is lower than at the federal or provincial level.

“People’s priorities are just elsewhere,” Wiseman suggested. “If I were a parent, my primary concern is what’s going on in the classroom and the quality of education.”

Amy Gerdevich, who heads the Ontario Association of Parents in Catholic Education, ran for trustee in the last election in Thunder Bay, Ont., but found the experience as a first-time candidate “overwhelming.” Parents may be intimidated with having to navigate the bureaucracy and the business of campaigning, she said.

Still, she encourages new candidates to come forward, and plans to run for trustee in the future.

“New people coming in are always asking questions like ‘Why are we doing it this way?’ or ‘When are we going to look at it again?’ ” she said.

In London, Ont., 30-year trustee Paul C. Whitehead says a new candidate’s campaign is challenging because the incumbent already has a profile in the community. With less media profile and attention, getting your name and message known to the public can be difficult, especially in a smaller city or town, he said.

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