The price of democracy

[attach]5086[/attach]The Toronto District School Board will get no help from the province should they decide to hold byelections to replace outgoing trustees Michael Coteau and Soo Wong, who won seats in October’s provincial election.

Faced with major budgetary woes, trustees say they simply can’t afford to hold byelections — which would cost roughly $350,000 a pop — when they have the legal ability just to appoint new board members.

The school board is currently trying to manage a budget shortfall of $71 million and with that, is facing some tough decisions regarding cuts to services and programs.

In an email to the Town Crier, a spokesperson confirmed the ministry will not be allocating funds to the board for such purposes.

“Byelection costs will be reimbursed by the government only when a school board is legally obligated to run a byelection or has to pay for election recounts and compliance audits,” it read.

Eglinton-Lawrence trustee Howard Goodman says the board has spoken with city elections staff, who indicated they might be able to lower the total cost because the two elections would be held simultaneously. Even still, Goodman isn’t convinced an election is the way to go.

“Given our financial conditions I have trouble supporting spending a half million dollars or more when we don’t have to,” he said.

As an alternative, Goodman has put forth a motion recommending a committee of community stakeholders in each ward make the appointments.

Goodman says the board has chosen to appoint a trustee in the past, but they have also resorted to elections. In 2002, a byelection was held in Etobicoke–North when Stan Basra stepped down as trustee following personal legal troubles.

Toronto-based advocacy group Campaign for Public Education says the board should be following the same route.

“This person has to be responsible to a constituency, and democratic government would suggest an election,” said Stephen Seaborn, a member of Campaign for Public Education. “So one way or another, that would certainly be our preference.”

Parkdale–High Park trustee Irene Atkinson, said she too would prefer to hold elections, but acknowledges the hefty price tag.

“I think philosophically, it’s far better to have an election, a democratic process,” she said. “But then I’m looking at the money.”
Calls to board chair Chris Bolton were not returned.

The matter will be debated at a Nov. 9 planning and priorities committee meeting and put to a final vote at the Nov. 16 board meeting.