On Monday evening, in the auditorium of Central Commerce Collegiate, I was part of an all-candidates meeting among candidates for Trustee for the Toronto District School Board in the Trinity-Spadina ward.
Due to controversy surrounding one Trustee candidate's alleged support for terrorism, the local downtown NDP establishment, which is fully behind that candidate, Ausma Malik, stacked the meeting as best it could with its supporters.
School Trustee debates are never big attention-getters anyway, and the sparse attendance at the meeting, which attracted no more than 35 people, is an indication of the extent of the downtown collapse of the NDP. Trinity-Spadina is the same area that was held by Olivia Chow as a federal MP before she resigned to attempt to capture Toronto's mayoralty. Chow's disastrous performance in the mayoral race, in which even in her old ward she is only polling at about 25% (compared with 20% city-wide), has dragged her whole party down with her.
So the NDP is in panic mode and Malik's connection to Chow, along with her connections to high-profile local Council candidates Mike Layton and Joe Cressy, all of whom publicly endorsed each other and are running as a ticket, is something they feel the fierce need to defend.
One would normally expect an all-candidates meeting to be an opportunity for candidates to outline their positions, but also differentiate themselves from their opponents and if need be, discuss facts and matters of public interest about why their opponents might not be best suited for a position of authority.
In the case of Ms. Malik, those reasons are plentiful. Aside from delivering a vicious anti-Israel speech at a pro-Hezbollah rally, and aside from having been an organizer for a fundraiser for the families of the Toronto 18 terrorists, there are other compelling reasons to question her suitability for public office.
But when I tried to outline some very pertinent facts to the assembled audience, I was interrupted and prevented from doing so by the meeting's moderator, the ward's interim Trustee Briony Glassco.
Briony is a lovely person, but she bizarrely decided to enforce a rule I've never seen in any other election debate, explaining 'we're only having people say nice things about each other.' One can only speculate at her reasoning, but clearly she and I have different views regarding the public's right to make an informed decision about choosing their elected representatives.
If a candidate for public office who makes ostentatious pronouncements about honoring "transparency and accountability" was implicated as a major player in a case of crooked election-rigging, I think the public should know about that. Evidently, Ms. Galssco disagrees.
Toronto's Public School Board has been plagued by scandals, mismanagement, waste, and worse, and enforcing silence about matters of major public interest only enables the perpetuation of serious problems of which the TDSB has seen far too many.
In the case of Ausma Malik, The University of Toronto's newspaper, The Varsity, published reports of how, when she was a union official there and was in charge of investigating a crooked student union election, Malik had colluded with the people she was investigating to produce a result they wanted.
The breach of trust was so blatant that the University's Provost stepped in and withheld funds to that student union.
You might think that a candidate for public office, who has repeatedly called for more transparency and accountability, would want to explain something like that. But Ms Malik has only characterized drawing attention to that as "mean-spirited attacks" designed to keep people (i.e. her) from public service.
Well, I guess I'm just a big meanie if I think the public deserves to know that someone implicated in election-rigging, to say nothing of her other deplorable activities, might not be the best person to have a say over an annual $3 Billion taxpayer budget and have a major influence over how education is delivered in Toronto's public schools.
Fortunately, Sue-Ann Levy of The Toronto Sun was at the meeting and the facts will get out in the media through her. Jonathan Goldsbie of the NDP-supporting NOW Magazine was there too and I'm expecting to be portrayed as an ogre by him in his report. But I'd be very surprised if he goes into much, if any honest detail about Ms Malik's controversies.
But what remains of all this, and what I reiterated to the audience at the end, is that there is a need to scrutinize the candidates, and to find out what they really stand for. The voters may disagree with me, they may not vote for me, but at least I'm upfront about who I am and where I stand, including detailed policy proposals, so voters have an opportunity to make their assessment of me based on fact. It's when candidates obfuscate and mislead about what they stand for that harms democracy, and when that happens, it only helps make the system more corrupt.
One thing that certainly did emerge at that meeting is that I am the only candidate in the Trinity-Spadina TDSB Trustee contest for whom the term "transparency and accountability" is more than a meaningless platitude.
As an addendum, despite the stacked crowd's opposition to me, on my way out to have a beer with one of my opponents in the race, one woman, who I'd never seen before, called to me to let me know my message had got out. She told me she supports Mike Layton, but no longer wants his sign on her yard, since Ausma Malik's name is also plastered on Layton's signage.
That was encouraging, but considering much of the media is focusing on other aspects of the municipal election, it's uncertain whether Trinity-Spadina's public school trustee race will get the attention it needs to serve the public interest.