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As a result of both change and resistance to change, these two boards often have more partisan elections, with more issues at stake than simple good management.


For decades some kind of shifting left and right  formulations have been struggling for majorities on the boards to either speed up or slow down the pace of progressive change.


Partisan politics on the Vancouver VSB and city council dates back at least to 1937 when the Non Partisan Association was formed to thwart the new CCF (forerunner of the NDP) from dominating Vancouver politics. The NPA hoped to unite Tories and Liberals under one umbrella to keep the CCF away from municipal power. In order to unite various left factions, the Committee (later Coalition) of Progressive Electors was formed in 1968. In 2005, a more centrist faction under Larry Campbell, the famous coroner, broke away and formed a center left party called Vision Vancouver. In 2014 a break away from COPE was founded known as One City. This left 3 parties from center-left to further left, plus the Green Party, progressive on environmental issues for sure but centrist, even conservative on some other issues. The Greens are a growing force in BC and Vancouver. The Vancouver and District Labour council somehow whipped the factions into shape by negotiating an arrangement where each faction would be limited to 3-4 candidates and the mayoralty candidate would be independent. The VSB followed the pattern

VSB and TDSB: Two Critical School Board Elections

For better or worse, there are two major school boards in English Canada that often act as trend setters for progressive educational change in the country. Both had elections this October, within days of each other. There are other very large boards in both BC, Ontario and other provinces, but the Vancouver and Toronto Boards have had a historic role at certain critical points, as exemplars of change that allow other boards to emulate and safely follow as public opinion changes. LGBTQ issues are only the most recent example. These two boards often get the first waves of new immigrant groups which later shift to suburban boards. Social class issues are often in more stark relief in Van and TO. Both the problems and solutions, filter up to the respective provincial governments, years after they are serious issues at VSB and TDSB.

So what were the results of the October 2018 board VSB election? Well it seems to revolve around what you think of the Green Party. Is it a progressive force, centrist, or reactionary? Both the Vancouver and District Labour Council and Vancouver BCTF endorsed the Green slate along with some V V, COPE and OC above. If you take the positive view of the Greens and only consider the NPA to be the reactionaries you can see a 6/9 progressive majority. Time will tell.


Patti Bacchus who writes for Georgia Straight (a Vancouver version of NOW Magazine in Toronto) Is a former VSB trustee, former chair of the board and usually topped the poll in Vancouver’s out-of-date ‘at large’ voting system. Bacchus is less enamoured of the Green trustees based on her experience. They seem to have a tendency to rubber stamp senior admin recommendations, split their votes right and left, and the result is that, in the past they have been an unreliable ally to the other progressives. A more astute position might be that the board has 3 right wingers, 3 progressives and 3 floating in the middle somewhere, centrists I suppose.


If you look at the BC provincial level, Greens have 3 MLAs with the balance of power, Ontario now has one Green MPP and PEI has a growing movement, Greens are naturally very progressive on environmental issues, however the Greens are internally divided by class, since some are former social democrats or socialists and many others are former Conservatives and Liberals. As a result, some are quite pro union, while others are pro business especially small biz. If you want to give the Greens dyspepsia, send them a steady stream of class based issues, card check union certification, minimum wages, anti-strike legislation, ...that kind of thing. They may evolve over time. Right now, they are very uncomfortable with class issues. Check the link below for Patti Bacchus post election piece for the Straight.


Lets shift our focus now to the TDSB. Although the major endorser is the Toronto and District Labour Council, the teachers’ unions have a major input into the LC’s trustee list, as do existing progressive trustees, often, but not exclusively NDP. On the surface it would seem that the LC progressive slate elected 8/22 trustees however it is seldom that simple. Endorsed candidate Parthi Kandavel of Ward 20 is actually the significant other of Ward 22 trustee Anu Siskandarajah. They see things in a similar, but not eye to eye fashion. There are a few trustees on the board like Shelley Laskin in Ward 8 who support many progressive positions but represents a ward that is, in part, very affluent and she needs to be sure she is not offside with her constituents. Kandavel above, interestingly, was able to ward off a powerful conservative candidate, Christina Blizzard, a former Toronto Sun columnist with a former education beat. The LC endorsement could have easily made the difference. In addition there were a number of close calls where the LC candidate came a close second in wards progressives should win like Ward 7 where an NDP city councillor won easily. In some Wards the LC did not endorse anyone including 4-5 where progressives usually or often win.


One thing that really stands out, finally, is the electability of visible and cultural minorities on the TDSB. Both the elected and the LC endorsed subset are just incredibly multicultural and multiracial. Even a quick scan of the names would give a clue but even there, some of the trustees with Anglo sounding names (Smith, Moise) are in fact. Afro-Canadian.


No matter your position on catholic school boards, ⅓ of Toronto students attend catholic schools. Here the LC endorsed 8 candidates and elected 4 of them, Maria Rizzo, Frank D’Amico, Norm Pasquale and Nancy Crawford. This gives them a solid core to build on.

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Advice for the new TDSB and VSB trustees.


Wouldn’t it be great if there was an issue where Labour Council endorsed trustees could take the initiative but also seek support amongst the rest of the board who may also come from a very racialized background and others who may represent working class wards that need educational uplift? Wouldn’t it be great if such a reform was largely within their control, costs next to nothing, and achieved the greatest possible educational benefit that is within the control of the school system? Fortunately, there is such an issue. The streaming system within the public school system constitutes the greatest single hurdle to both working class and racialized kids within the education system. In Toronto they are often the same kids. There is a library full of reports on the racialization of poverty within Toronto and other major cities. The TDSBs own research based on Every Student Surveys over the decades will demonstrate that those students who have been unsuccessful to date, are overwhelmingly poor or working class and to a huge extent racialized kids. There is no other reform that board trustees could possibly undertake that has what the biz people call ROI return on investment the way destreaming can.


What is Streaming Anyway?


Americans call it tracking making an analogy to railroad tracks where some may be on the main track where others are sidetracked onto dead ended tracks. Other English speaking countries usually call it streaming, where schools have obvious, long term streams based on different destinations, applied and academic streams in grade 9-10, university, college or workplace streams in grades 11-12.


Streaming however, goes way beyond the ‘official” streams of high school. It includes all forms of Special Ed, LD, Behavioural, Gifted… all of which need to be as small as humanly possible. It includes other programs like IB and French Immersion.


It reaches down deeply into elementary school, where it most often manifests as Special Ed and French Immersion although some Alternative schools bear greater scrutiny.


Students should not be advantaged or disadvantaged by streaming into lower level programs unless their intellectual disabilities are severe. There are always those who believe this means chaos. Let’s look at that. I had lunch with a good friend from BCTF this past summer. He reminded me “BC had this fight about streaming back in the 1960s. Streaming lost. There are no streams in our high schools except the odd math program here and there taught at a lower level.” There is no “Applied English” there is just “Grade 9,10,11,12 English. Same for history, geography, science, modern languages, and most math programs in most high schools. Chaos? BC results are better than Ontario by almost every measure.


So the famous question arises, what is to be done?


  1. Wind down official streaming at the secondary level. First everybody gets the academic 9-10 program, as applied is phased out. Later continue the project to 11 then eventually 12, continue the phase out over 3-4 year period.

  2. End IB with the existing students, allow them to graduate.

  3. Phase down Gifted programs in both panels. It needs to become very difficult to    enter the program. Having a high IQ is a requirement but not a sole requirement. You need to look at every students history to date to see if it is possible to keep them in the regular program. Being smart but well adjusted and hard working should lead to exclusion not to inclusion. The efforts of the system should be on how many students can be excluded not how many can be included. Many parents believe “giftedness” is a status symbol or that being in a gifted program increases their child’s chances to enter a prestigious university. It does no such thing. Academic success in a regular program is a much better to way to achieve this goal. The system will tell you that this problem has been examined and reformed. Not nearly enough.

  4. The system needs to take a clear eyed view that elementary special education for many kids is not a trampoline to bounce them back into the regular program. For many it is a demoralizing label which leads to daily humiliation. It acts as a ball and chain, causing the student to fall further and further behind, develop a hatred for school, and avoid school altogether until they can legally leave. Once again, how many kids can we keep out of the program, not how many can we accommodate. Provincial money can not be allowed to drive this debate.

  5. The same logic applies to ESL. How many kids can we keep out of the program and as a fallback position, how fast can we get them into regular programs. Longer periods of ESL or Special Ed than absolutely necessary do not do kids any favours. Department empire building is the very worst aspect of this issue. Within a board those in charge of Special Ed or ESL or French Immersion measure success by how many kids they can get into the program. This happens in schools as well and it is toxic to racial minority, language minority and poor kids. The fewer kids enter and the faster they exit these programs the better. You may encounter senior officials who will point out how much more money the board receives to identified needs for Spec Ed or ESL to the point that they “make a profit” on these kids to support other programs. Don't listen, this is like making a profit on cigarettes. Sure you make a ‘profit’ but you do more harm than good.

  6. At some point the board must decide which it values more, equity or French Immersion because they cut in opposite directions and everybody knows it? The long term solution is a phase out of French Immersion and a phase in of Extended French for everybody.

The Vertical Mosaic

John Porter released the Vertical Mosaic in 1965. It was one of the first great exposes on the racialization of poverty, a vertical structure of race, class and power. We do have, in Canada, a beautiful cultural and racial mosaic of many tiles, however the tiles representing black, brown, Indigenous are skewed towards the bottom and the white tiles predominate at the top. There have been numerous reports about the racialization of poverty and the issue cannot be solved only in schools. As the OECD (a western biz oriented think tank, a long way from radical) reported to the Americans who were mystified at their low PISA ranking -”To a very large extent you don’t educate so that you can reduce poverty; you reduce poverty so that you can educate”. Keep in mind, the point is not only to share middle and upper class life with a better cross-section by race and culture but to eliminate grinding poverty for all families and children, including poor white children.


Still the issue remains, what can Vancouver and Toronto, (and Montreal, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Halifax…..) do with the school system to provide both more equity and also more excellence to Canadian education while on a very strict budget?


The answer  lies in destreaming all aspects of the system. It is not easy and it will not happen overnight but every single step along the way provides more equity. You will constantly run into parents who want to give ‘their special child’ an enriched experience. They believe they deserve more than what is offered to the masses. You need to remember this is a public education system, open and equal to all. It is not about special experiences for a few, it is about uplift for all.


American educator Larry Cuban once put it in a nutshell. “It is very difficult to make children equal within a society otherwise dedicated to making them unequal.


America has 20% child poverty, Canada 10% Finland 5%. If we can cut it in half once, we can cut it in half again.


Trustees, over to you.

Trying to restrict this piece to education is the point here but the overlap of fundamental charter rights is unavoidable. Ford, at any time can pull out the  NWC bazooka to override any enumerated human rights. Many of the aggrieved over sex ed, cap and trade, future Tesla type issues might just find their normal court remedies have been severely circumscribed. Ford basically is saying, “talk to me in 4 years”. He has announced he “won't be shy about using the NWC again”.


The sex ed curriculum:


We all know the background by now, to placate a very small group of socially conservative Evangelicals, Ford, both for leadership and general election purposes, caved into their demands. What would seem to progressives to be a blunder has two highly strategic political goals. The first is the ever present threat, that mainly white Evangelicals will break off and revive the Christian Heritage Party if the Tories don’t keep them sweet. Understand, even a 5-6% social conservative party, built on the anti-abortion base, could wreck Tory chances in a general election. Secondly, the Tories have found a huge group of mainly traditional south Asian and Chinese voters who agree with the Tories on these issues. Safe seats like Scarborough Agincourt {known locally as Asian Court) with Liberal MPP Soo Wong were blown away due to Sex Ed and Marijuana policies of provincial and federal Liberals. Many Chinese voters have a deep and instinctive fear of drugs dating back to the opium wars in China, over 100 years ago. Conservative immigrants look at the 2015 sex ed curriculum as far too much too soon.


The Liberals did what Sir Humphrey Appleby the civil servant in the British sitcom Yes Minister, always warned the minister of by  saying “that would be a very courageous decision Mr Minister” which the minister interpreted as a foolhardy, vote losing proposition and reconsidered. This bravery, which we support, may have dealt the Liberal Party a crippling blow in the June election.


Expectation: After the provincial government sex ed consultations, Tories will huddle and eventually produce recommendations half way between 1990s version and 2015 version of the HPE sex ed curriculum They’ll probably raise the grade level for the introduction of some topics. The very most controversial topics (gender identity, gender fluidity)  may still be dropped or pushed to high school level. Equity for Tories is not a motivator.


Recommendation: Progressives need to organize across the province to swamp the consultation hearings with well reasoned professional argumentation, while continuing the court cases. Do not be surprised if Ford uses the Notwithstanding clause on every single legal case where he is allowed from here on. Ford has to demonstrate to the social conservatives that they must stick with him while also showing some conservative centrists that he can be flexible if, in his opinion, they don’t ask for too much. Progressives must get what they can while making Ford spend political capital that he may need later. The public issue has become to some extent,  a “LGBTQ rights” issue. The Tories may look at the voter demographics and see just 3-5% LGBTQ voters. They should look at the 74% (CROP polling) of voters who support same sex marriage as a barometer of how this could go sideways for them. Witnessing the student strikes already means this issues may be an ongoing toothache for Ford.


The snitch line:


Tories were a bit blindsided by the strong stand taken by the teacher unions, particularly ETFO, as the Sex Ed issue is primarily a K-8 issue. To please the Tanya Granic Allen, Evangelical crowd, they stumbled onto a snitch line as a solution but they forget that they are not the teachers employers and the best the snitch line could do is to forward info to the college of teachers and the school boards, the teachers real employers who, for the most part support the 2015 curriculum. Nobody likes a snitch anywhere. This one may have already backfired on them.


Expectation: This issue will soon fade into irrelevance.


Recommendation: Temping as it is, to flood the line with fake calls, the media will blame teachers and turn a PR win into a loss. Grin and bear it.  


EQAO testing and math scores:


It looks now as if all of the work by the review committee ordered by Kathleen Wynne and the recommendation to eliminate grade 3 testing will probably be lost by the change of government. Why are math scores down if in fact there is any actual decline? Anyone with a vague notion of education data on a world scale knows that it is poor kids overwhelmingly, and almost exclusively who do badly in school generally speaking. The Tories cannot be blamed for the present state of math since poverty in Ontario, increased markedly under the Liberal regime 2003-2018. This is a shameful legacy for the Liberals. The Tories, however, have basically announced that they intend to increase poverty by stopping the minimum wage increase at $14/h, slowing scheduled increases in welfare payments and ending the Liberal experiment in guaranteed annual income prematurely.


This deliberate policy of increased immiseration will directly lower student scores . For those who want to pump up scores to compete with Asian countries, almost the only nations ahead of Canada on PISA OECD math for 15 year olds, the items below offer the prescription.


1) Itinerant math specialists from grade one on.

2) more curriculum time

3) balance traditional and discovery math,

4) Memorization of multiplication tables.


This will pump up scores to please governments but  not do much to help with the far more critical ‘problem solving’ aspect of mathematics. Two non Asian nations have higher math scores on PISA testing than Canada, Estonia and Switzerland. Only Japan and Korea in Asia (real nations not artificial city states) have higher scores.



Ford is highly unlikely to abolish the EQAO although this should remain the teachers’ federations position. They should also push for a policy of testing only on a 3-4 year cycle. This may be possible as a cost saving measure. This at least, makes it awkward for a government seeking ‘efficiencies’.



Turn every complaint about scores around by 1) explaining that poverty is the cause, 2) pushing above cost free mitigation, 3) pointing to outstanding PISA and TIMMS results and undermining the credibility of EQAO which is out of step with international scores. Canada has the world’s highest % of post secondary graduates. It isn’t even close.


School repairs


The backlog of school repairs across Ontario is $15 billion. This is a staggering sum of money. One might think that the school boards have been negligent in allowing these repairs to get out of hand. The problem, however dates back to another Conservative government, the Mike Harris/Eves government of 1996-2003. We have never fully recovered from that government establishing such a ridiculously parsimonious funding formula for K-8 education that crumbling schools are the natural result. We must acknowledge the McGuinty-Wynne Liberal government had 14 years to fix it! School funding generates teachers as a direct result of the number students. A given number of students generates a given number of teachers with some adjustments for demographics, special education and so on. The support staff are not tied to the number of students but have been cut so severely over both Tory and Liberal regimes, that they simply cannot be cut further. The last school where I worked is much larger than when I left in 2003 and functions with about half the support staff.


Over 70% of a school board budget is teacher salaries. Another 10-15% is support staff. There must be some level of management. The lights and the heat must come on, There is a need for paper, computers, and other supplies leaving little to nothing for maintenance under the current formula. That can can always be kicked down the road or “Deferred” hence $15 Billion with a B. This is actually creates an unbelievable opportunity to stimulate the economy by putting thousands of tradespeople to work at good wages which circulates throughout the community.


Sadly, a government that is going to make magic by slaying a multibillion dollar (they say $15B, deficit, offering a tax cut to the already affluent, “without cutting a single job”, will also end hallway medicine, will need to perform this David Copperfield escape without taking on new spending.


This will all be done through ‘efficiencies’. Mike Harris and John Snobelen believed slashing teacher prep time in half was an efficiency. Kathleen Wynne even slashed the banking of teacher sick days. This is what governments mean when they say ‘efficiencies’.  


Expectations: Almost nothing will be done to put even a dent in the repairs backlog until some kid, or kids are killed due to lack of maintenance. I’m not being be alarmist here. It took a Walkerton water tragedy to get Harris to move on any community safety.


Recommendation: The ‘Fix our Schools’ people will need to continue to focus the media on the issue by going directly after weak Tory MPPs in vulnerable seats, by name, on a slow but methodical, four year, relentless campaign which is all we got. A snitch line for repairs may be in order.

Funding Formula:

In fourteen years, 2003-2018, the hapless spineless Ontario Liberals did little more than tinker around the edges of the notorious Harris funding formula. This was not bad cop good cop, this was bad cop useless cop. Something has to give, at the present the obvious one is that walls and ceilings will soon start falling in on the kids if proper maintenance is not done. Deferred maintenance is a fool’s economy. Everyone knows maintenance deferred becomes more expensive and minor problems become major problems. The funding formula needs a serious rethink but it will be hard to escape the fact that shifting money around simply won’t do it. The total provincial budget for education K-12, need to be increased by $3-4 Billion to offer even the same level of education that has been offered in the past.


Expectation: It is highly unlikely that the Ford regime will produce a budget anywhere near what is necessary to meet the needs of the students in Ontario.


Recommendation:  In this area, pressure can only be maintained by pushing the very worst aspects of Ontario education which seems to be the maintenance and repair budget, highlighted by the Fix our Schools people, in their campaign. We should key in on schools in ridings held by Tories, especially Tories with low victory margins like those listed below. Leafleting a school neighbourhood focused on 1-2 schools and blaming the local MPP for the situation is highly recommended as is courting friendly sympathetic, trustees and media outlets.


Negotiations with teachers and support staff


This could be the major educational rumble of Ford’s four year term. The teachers’ contracts are in place until 2019 and procedural wrangles and negotiations could drag them into early 2020. At some point, however,  the rubber hits the road. A government determined to slay a large deficit while giving tax cuts to corporations and the wealthy will be looking at negotiations with both teachers and nurses with a green eyeshade, a sharp pencil and a calculator.


Health and education are about 70% (including post secondary) of provincial spending and remuneration of their staff is 80% of health and education. Ford ‘says’ he is not firing anyone, teachers are tied to enrollment and have a very organized parent and board constituency behind them. The sensitivity to high number of happy nurses is critical if he hopes to put a dent in hallway medicine. This has all the drama of Europe in 1913 as they hurtled towards Armageddon. Neither teachers, nor increasingly nurses, are inclined to roll over to a bully and an authoritarian. Hopefully this does not degenerate into a York University labour fiasco but who knows, strikes, back to work orders, work-to-rule responses, court orders, notwithstanding clauses of s33 anyone?


School closings:


One of the single best ways for a political party to lose a seat is to close a school or hospital. Their opponents will make them wear it in the next election and promise to reopen. Nevertheless, a cost conscious government can't seem to keep its hands off the schools even though closing schools tears the guts out of communities. The smart solution is the full service community hub model  that uses any empty space for libraries, childcare, school board offices, municipal offices, public dental clinics, seniors centers and so on. Not closing a school can be equally lucrative for a school board. Seven years rent is usually equal to the sale price and they retain the asset.


Expectation: Ford will want to close some schools but the dirty part of politics, of which he is a master, is to try to make sure that the schools are not in swing ridings. Closing schools in super safe or unwinnable ridings has little political cost.


Recommendation: Keep up the good fight to save schools, use the community hub model as the bet defence, make Ford pay a stiff political price for school closings. If he gets his fingers burned a few times, he will become more reluctant to close schools, especially as we approach 2022.



Education activists, parents, teachers education workers, students, Liberals, NDPers, independents and radicals need to get to work preparing for the attacks and using them to undermine the Tories and reduce their chances to win in 2022. Ford already has fallen to a 17% approval rating measured by Abacus polling.The most likely thing that will reign them in is falling poll numbers and fear of losing in 2022. Major ‘Days of Action’ demonstrations, strikes, whether on the bricks or work-to-rule, court cases, are all tools that may be needed but going after vulnerable Tory seats in triage fashion is the most effective strategy.


Leafleting the ridings of the vulnerable Tories and blaming them personally for funding, repairs, labour relations, math scores, and so on is what scares the bejesus out of politicians who pass that fear up to caucus, cabinet and the premier.  The Toronto activists involved in the Campaign for Public Education know how this is done. The front of the leaflet blames the local MPP personally for the state of education and includes their picture. Caption “Joe Bloggs is our MPP here in Upper Rubber Boot riding and he is destroying our local schools” The inside panels is based on details data, graphics common to all leaflets. The back panel includes contact info and how to get involved. These are distributed by volunteers, postal walks or distribution companies. Some keyboard warriors will suggest their must be a social media way to accomplish the same thing. Social media can help but is no substitute. The most vulnerable Tory seats are listed below. The Tories won these seats by the thinnest margins and they are highly vulnerable next election.

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