Far-right groups targeting oft-ignored Ontario school board trustee position on the ballot

With the municipal election less than two weeks away, one section of the ballotS is often ignored by voters, and advocates say some far-right groups are taking advantage. Tina Yazdani reports.

By Tina Yazdani

With the municipal election less than two weeks away, one section of the ballot is often ignored by voters, and some far-right groups are taking advantage.

Data suggests most voters don’t know who they are voting for when they cast a ballot for their school board trustee, and anti-hate networks are sharing how dangerous this could be.

“At the end of the day, sometimes it’s a toss-up. That’s my honest answer/ I’m not going to lie to you,” said one resident said. “I don’t know any trustees in this area,” added another.

President of the Ontario Public School Board’s Association, Cathy Abraham, tells CityNews that school board trustees are often the forgotten politician.

“I would argue that the decisions that trustees are making have an impact on all of us,” said Abraham.

Despite education always ranking as a high priority for members of the community, trustees don’t generate a significant level of interest. In the GTA, one in five voters left the trustee portion of the ballot empty in past municipal elections, but it is a position that wields more power than some might realize.

Currently, there are 177 candidates running for 39 school board trustee positions across four boards in the City of Toronto. Three of those positions will be acclamied as they running unopposed, for Conseil scolaire catholique MonAvenir Ward 3 — Toronto Ouest, Conseil scolaire Viamonde Ward 2 — Est, and Conseil scolaire Viamonde Ward 4 — Ouest.

Trustees make the final decisions regarding every policy and procedure of a school board, as well as the major responsibility of balancing multi-million and sometimes billion-dollar budgets.

“We control a lot of money in this province. Education is the second largest budget line in the entire province,” explained Abraham. “So a school board like Toronto with a somewhere around $3 billion budget, you want to make sure the person you’re electing to be on your school board is making good decisions.”

Canada’s Anti-Hate network is speaking out on the topic as they say far-right organizations have begun to push so-called “anti-woke” candidates with anti-2SLGBTQ+ ideologies to run for trustee in order to influence the policies in Ontario school boards.

“Unfortunately, there is a grassroots effort going on here, and that’s really troubling,” said Hazel Woodrow, an education facilitator at the Canadian Anti-Hate Network.

“I think it’s troubling for people to think about these are real people in my community.”

And voters can sometimes find it tough to spot troubling candidates.

“Think really critically about what you’re seeing them put in their platforms,” urged Woodrow. “If they’re being really sneaky about it and hiding their actual beliefs behind euphemisms and social media cleaning, then you’re going to want to put them on the spot and ask them about policies you actually care about.”

The anti-hate network has organized a list of questions to ask candidates to ensure they are representing views that align with your values.

You can find more information on the network’s website.

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