Politics is relative at London school board

  • March 30, 2023

Politics at the best of times can make anyone’s blood boil, from the mundane local ordinances enforced by your local council right up to the big decisions that affect every-day life, which are of extreme importance to most, especially peoples’ pocketbooks. And there is no “right” side, everyone has their own opinion. Hence, politics, we are told, is one of those thing to never be brought up in polite company (alongside religion of course).

Still, it is everywhere, whether we want to discuss it or not. We have a nation embroiled in a Chinese influence scandal at the federal level dominating headlines now and who knows for how many weeks longer — even reaching into the provincial and municipal scenes. In Ontario, the provincial Tories have taken their share of grief over opening up Greenbelt lands for development to, apparently, half the guests at Premier Doug Ford’s daughter’s wedding, or so opponents lead us to believe. And here in (your municipality), can we mention City Hall? Well, it’s City Hall, ’nuff said.

What has to be the most ridiculous thing to have come up recently, however, is coming out of a Catholic school board in London, Ont., a too small to be called big city, yet perhaps too big a burg to be called a small city. 

A quick scan of the situation. There are eight trustees on the London Catholic District School Board, but the board is unable to achieve a quorum of two as seven of these trustees have to recuse themselves from voting on the day-to-day operations, like setting a budget, because they stand in conflict. Each has family members working within the school board and — due to the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act that ensures public officials don’t take advantage of their roles for personal gain — that prevents them from making the tough decisions as any vote could be seen as a conflict of interest. 

It’s gotten to the point where the board has taken the matter to the courts seeking a special dispensation to allow trustees to vote on these decisions despite their votes possibly benefitting members of their family.

A London judge said he wasn’t prepared to totally lift the conflict of interest rules that have gridlocked trustees, but has asked the board to make a list of financial or pecuniary decisions that need to be made over a two-month period and he will review them to see where exemptions may be applied. 

Perhaps what should be reviewed is how we got to this point in the first place. Is there not one of the seven trustees who, when they threw their hat into the (apparent circus) ring, could not foresee that there might be a problem should they be elected? No one among their team that couldn’t see an issue arising?

And let’s forget the candidates. Is there no one at Elections Ontario who couldn’t see this coming? School trustee elections are the crazy aunt in the attic of our political system and it is pretty well only people with some conflict who run in them. How is there nothing in place to make sure such a conflict can be avoided? Because let’s face facts, before any of these people chose to run, they had to know a family member was in the board’s employ. 

Perhaps most mind-boggling in all of this is the lack of political savvy shown by trustees. This is particularly strange as you can guarantee one or more of these trustees has ulterior motives for their political future. School trustee is quite often just a stepping stone to the next level of government: a run at municipal council, Queen’s Park or Parliament Hill.

And perhaps the jaundiced eye need not stop there, and should be turned on us in the media. We pay so little attention to school boards until something this ridiculous crops up that we must bear some responsibility for ignoring an important piece of the political puzzle staring us right in the face.

It certainly is a surprise this sort of situation hasn’t cropped up more regularly in our school boards. There is plenty of blame to go around now that it is upon us.

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