Stepping up

OSSTF/FEESO members put their names forward

Illustration of woman politician speaking at podium in front of a crowd of people

Editor’s note: In the Fall 2018 issue of Education Forum, Katrina Sale (District 16, York Region) wrote about her experience as a candidate in the June 2018 provincial election. This article profiles a number of additional OSSTF/FEESO members from around the province who ran in last year’s provincial or municipal elections.

There are a lot of interesting things going on with the current political situation in the United States right now. To say it has been a couple of years of whirlwind, increasingly unbelievable, maddening, frustrating politics would be to put it mildly. As Americans grapple with politicians embracing alternative facts in alternative realities, Ontarians are wondering just how much the Ontario government under Doug Ford might draw from Trumpism.

Following politics, with its increasing negativity, can be exhausting. As lies, obfuscation and unilateral decisions become more prominent, the old sentiments—“Why should I vote or engage with campaigns when nothing I say will matter, nothing will change. All politicians lie. No one is ever telling the truth,”—are amplified.

As an antidote, a very different message emerged from a number of ridings across the province where some hope and inspiration can be found. In all corners of Ontario, current and former OSSTF/FEESO members and leaders entered elections as provincial, municipal and trustee candidates. Common to their histories as education workers is an appreciation for the value of supporting youth, enhancing public education, and understanding diversity and equity. Their efforts are inspiring.

There is no better example than Michele McCleave-Kennedy, an education worker and a former Bargaining Unit and District Vice President. She is currently President of the Sault Ste. Marie and District Labour Council as well as an Ontario Federation of Labour Vice-President. Michele ran her first two elections ever in 2018, first as a provincial candidate for the New Democrat Party (NDP), and then as a municipal candidate in Sault Ste. Marie.

“I had no intention of running. When I came down [to Toronto] to participate in a Lobby Day, Communications and Political Action Committee (CPAC) colleagues were encouraging me, ‘you should run! You should run!’” While she doubted herself at first, Michele eventually realized the power her voice has. “If it wasn’t for the training from OSSTF/FEESO I wouldn’t have run,” she contends. Developing and delivering the Violence in the Workplace Workshop “helped me to learn to speak in front of people and gave me confidence to run.”

CPAC brings OSSTF/FEESO members from across the province together to focus on, among other things, broad political action and communication with both members and the public.

Michele describes the underlying motivation for her work as a desire to create positive change. “Things need to change. I’m stepping up. You can’t expect someone else to do it if you’re not willing to do it…Nothing’s going to change if you don’t change it…. Maybe I won’t ever get elected, but you know what, something’s gonna change…it doesn’t happen fast.” As a permanently injured education worker, she is dedicated to preventing injury to any worker anywhere.

In Thunder Bay, Sue Doughty-Smith, a former member of the OSSTF/FEESO Provincial Executive, won her race for School Trustee with the Lakehead District School Board. Her main campaign message was about protecting public education and leveraging her relationships and knowledge of “how the system really works” when she is making decisions.

Former teacher and OSSTF/FEESO member Desmond O’Connor won a seat on Cochrane Town Council. A Cree from Fort Albany First Nation and an Indigenous Student Advisor, Desmond is a prominent name invested in the furthering of opportunities for youth in his community.

In Central Ontario, a highly respected long-time OSSTF/FEESO member Diane Ballantyne ran as the NDP candidate for Wellington—Halton Hills. Although she was unsuccessful, she leveraged her provincial campaign right into the municipal election, where she won a seat as a County Councillor for Wellington. Diane, who also sits on the board of the Ontario College of Teachers, focused on the priorities of affordable housing, livable communities for young families, the development of well-paying industry jobs and long-term planning for accessibility to services.

Another winning municipal candidate now sitting on Lakeshore Council is the 25-year-old Kelsey Santarossa, whose message and success is particularly inspiring for young women. Kelsey learned to use her age to her benefit and credited her success to the most basic of political strategies: door knocking. “It was all about knocking on doors,” says Kelsey. “I was going every night after the day job, all day on weekends. Just to make sure our feet were really on the ground.”

Another young woman, Katrina Sale, who shared her election experiences in a story ‘Deciding to run’ in the Fall 2018 issue of Education Forum, is yet another example of a young member becoming politically active in her community and giving back to OSSTF/FEESO members through her encouraging account of her decision to become more deeply involved. In her story, she traces the beginning of her provincial candidacy for the NDP back to a regional meeting held by CPAC in the run-up to the election.

Sitting as a member of the Official Opposition at Queen’s Park is a symbol of diversity, Jill Andrew. A former OSSTF/FEESO member, Jill is now the NDP MPP for the riding of Toronto—St. Paul’s. Speaking in November at the 2018 CPAC Conference panel on women’s experiences in politics, Andrew described her political origins and noted that anger can be a powerful impetus for getting involved. Andrew said you are ready to get into politics if “you have an issue keeping you up at night.” She had a few—body image, LGBTQ issues, discrimination and protecting racialized minorities.

The idea of being a candidate may be too hefty an ask for many, even those crazy enough to imagine being a politician. But it’s a path that many have followed, and seasoned candidates like Teacher Bargaining Unit President Glen Hodgson, who has run in six federal elections for the Green Party, are ready and available to lend insight. Along with the myriad of opportunities for political action provided locally by Bargaining Units and more widely on a provincial level by OSSTF/FEESO, it is time more members stood up and presented themselves as the qualified passionate professionals they are—ready to run, govern and make a difference.

It certainly will not be easy, but as Glen says, “We could either sit on the sidelines or actually do something…we are all examples for children and other people. When you are involved, recognize that you are teaching other people that these issues are priorities…. Once you get involved in political action you start to feel more empowered.”

Both Glen and Michele have a similar message to anyone on the precipice of electoral politics. “Know that you can do it. Roll with it. Expect the unexpected,” Michelle offered. Glen advice: “Go for it. Find your thing. It doesn’t have to be in a certain area. What is it that gets you going? Find your passion then go for it, get out there, get involved. There will always be detractors but you’ll find allies too. Have faith that what you do matters. You can make a difference.”

About Rose LePage
Rose LePage is an Early Childhood Educator in District 4, Near North.

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