Archive for the ‘School Trustee Elections’ Category


One of North America’s favourite ice cream chains, Ben & Jerry’s, has intervened in the current cycle of school trustee elections in Canada. The Canadian branch of the Unilever-owned ice cream company, best known for serving up frosty treats with quirky names for children and families, launched a September 2022 campaign to warn Canadians about the dangers of “far-right” school board slates of candidates.

“The Far-Right is Stacking our School Boards,” Ben and Jerrys’ proclaimed on its website. “Many people do not realize what school boards can do, and many people don’t realize that there is a far-right campaign to take over these governing groups.” The campaign was national in scope because it referred specifically to upcoming school board elections in British Columbia (October 15), Ontario (October 25), Manitoba (October 26) and two of the territories.

The multinational corporation applied a broad definition of “far-right” and, in effect, labeled a whole swath of Canadian candidates campaigning for school reform and pledging to “take back the schools.” That label applies to any candidate raising concerns or simply asking questions about board spending priorities, “critical race theory,” the age-appropriateness of sex education, professional teaching standards, or safety in schools.


Organizing and running “slates” of candidates and announcing “endorsements” of candidates is not really new; nor is attempting to torpedo the campaigns of school trustee candidates who challenge the status quo or the prevailing order of social norms. Everyone who has run for school board office or campaigned for a candidate knows about the pre-election endorsements of favoured candidates by teacher federations, local labour councils, or education worker unions. It was also commonly used to marginalize incumbents with an independent streak or promising new candidates committed to systemic or curricular reform.

Public dissatisfaction with governments, even lower-order school boards, is running high in the wake of two-and-one half years of pandemic disruptions.  Significant student learning losses, mental health stresses, scarcity of resource supports, and unresponsive school systems combined with growing ideological polarization have produced social panic, instability, and a fair share of ‘crackpots.’ School trustee Twitter feeds in Ontario districts like Waterloo Region District School Board (WRDSB) are full of anger and rage.  All of a sudden, local school boards are no longer just boring political backwaters, sanctuaries for retired educators, or low-risk testing grounds for aspiring politicos.

School boards were ripe for structural reform because, over time, they have become larger, more centralized and distant from local citizens.  That process of bureaucratic change and unaddressed public alienation was documented in my 2020 book, The State of the System: A Reality Check on Canada’s Schools (2020).  Pent-up desire for change was gradually building, but it took a pandemic to bring it out into the open in the public square.

What’s really changed is that movements to challenge the status quo, mostly — but not exclusively — leaning to the right, are getting organized and mounting credible campaigns with clearly-articulated policy positions.  Most school trustee incumbents, nominally autonomous but often captive of school administration, were terrified since “acclamation” was normally the route to re-election. Confronting slates of candidates, running under the banner of ABC Vancouver and Parents’ Voice BC, or the Ontario “Blueprint for Canada” platform or endorsed by the “Vote Against Woke” Coalition made it all-to-real and sparked the usual education backlash, closing ranks against outsiders.


School board wars have arrived in Canada but will not likely mirror what has happened since 2020 in school systems across the United States. Progressive values hold much bigger sway here, especially on social and moral questions, and social equity provision is embedded in human rights legislation – and that explains the fierce backlash. 

Social conservatives have learned, for the most part, to sublimate their inner-most thoughts and tend to conceal their views, for fear of being exposed.  Being “outed” for holding such sentiments can bring consequences.  That’s why many trustee candidates endorsed by the Ontario “Vote Against Woke” Coalition either ran for cover or asked that their names be removed from the list.

The Canadian mainstream media, with a few exceptions, is openly hostile to school trustee candidates daring (or foolish) enough to voice “anti-woke” sentiments with respect to matters of gender identities and rights.  Many education news reporters have also proven to be cool to those questioning the rise of “critical race theory” or advocating diversity and respect for, and acceptance of, one another, regardless of skin colour, race, or creed.


The Ben and Jerry’s Canada intervention sought to capitalize on prevailing political and social sentiments. But, as Toronto Sun columnist Jamil Juvani pointed out, it could also be evidence of “the bubble that corporations create for themselves.”  That happens when corporate entities engage in political activism instead of encouraging balanced, informed, fair-minded conversations over critical issues, including the present policy positioning and future direction of school boards.

Community organizations, education unions, and even public-spirited corporations are, and should be, free to engage in school board elections within some limits.  It is never acceptable to express racist, misogynist or anti-trans views.  Having said that, those who seek to identify enemies of the “far-right” or “woke-left”, label opponents, or silence half the population are not helpful and do damage to public discourse and responsive, representative local government.

We should ensure that the mainstream Canadian media and participating organizations, whatever their stripe, fairly represent causes, interests and organizations spanning the political spectrum.  When school boards and news outlets are open to all views, it should be applauded as a vital component of a healthy, energetic and functioning local democratic culture.  If the 2022 school trustee elections are any indication, we are a long way from that set of circumstances.

Why are school board elections now a zone of conflict in the “culture war”?  What are the underlying sources and causes of the growing dissent with the prevailing order?  Will the fierce ideological battles seen in U.S. states and school systems materialize here?  How many elected school boards are already ensnared in intractable battles and mired in factionalism? Do institutions that foreclose on meaningful parent engagement and peaceful dissent lose their democratic legitimacy?

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