How in the world do people make up their minds about whom to vote for in school board elections?
Peel Board Chair Janet McDougald considers before she answers. There’s a pause, then there’s a sigh. I know what’s coming. She knows what’s coming. It’s the lecture — the same one she delivered in her inaugural address after the last election when she tore a strip off The News for its absence of coverage of trustee races.
“I believe the media does have a responsibility,” she says, “The Mississauga News, Cable 10, The Booster. Somehow they should be profiling all of the candidates.”
Absolutely. In my formative days working for The Mississauga Times for a decade and then The News, it would be unthinkable that there would not be information printed about every candidate. As they announced their intentions months before election day, in fact, stories would appear in the paper about the qualifications, experience and policies of the candidates.
You also knew that each person who took the step of offering themselves for office would be standing up on a platform two or three times during the campaign to explain who they are and to answer questions from the public at all-candidates’ meetings.
Now we are a bigger, supposedly more sophisticated, City and the level of scrutiny of candidates is not a tenth of what it once was. We seem to be rowing backwards in the democratic process.
There are so many candidates that the newspapers do little but provide thumbnail sketches, if indeed they do that. The TV debates on Rogers Community Television, which used informed panellists and were often the highlight of the campaigns are gone now too, replaced with prosaic three-minute monologues that are a test of the will of the viewer to stay tuned or stay awake. And those candidate blips are usually for mayoralty and council candidates, not school trustees.
There are also far too many phantom candidates, who register to run but can’t even make an effort to do the minimum required — tell the local press who they are, what their platform is and/or put up a website that outlines their campaign.
The people who should be organizing all-candidates meetings, just for school board candidates, are the community school councils. They are the parents who already have a stake in the process, are knowledgeable about the grassroots educational issues and share a common interest in ensuring the most capable hands are on the tiller. Problem is, they’re all too pooped from their existing volunteer efforts.
You can only feel sorry for public school electors in wards, like 9-10 and 6, who must choose between people who are largely unknown to the public with only minimal information. The best advice is still to pick up the phone and call your local candidate.
By the way, The News has asked board candidates for 300 words on how they would improve education in Mississauga. The intent is to publish them or put them on this web site. This, if it actually happens, now passes for election coverage.
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McDougald, Vice-Chair Ruth Thompson and senior board officials met with new Education Minister Kathleen Wynne a week ago today in an informal get-to-know-each-other session. The Minister listened intently to the pitch about Peel’s many achievements in the classroom, heard the usual complaints about transportation funding and seemed surprised to learn that the board receives $800 per pupil less than the provincial average for funding across Ontario.
Like the last two ministers, the former Toronto trustee promised Peel would be the first to receive an operational review of busing. “She didn’t promise any major overhauls of the funding formula but she did indicate there would be room for tinkering,” said McDougald. The time for tinkering is over. The funding formula needs a major rewrite.