Through an unlikely chain of events, including the sudden death of two of their own, the Toronto District School Board could face four by-elections in six months — at a total cost of more than $ 1 million.
If trustees decide Monday to hold a by-election rather than appoint someone to replace colleague Michael Ford, who is seeking his late uncle Rob Ford’s seat on city council, Canada’s largest school board will face the unprecedented cost of four by-elections in a row.
“These are the costs of democracy, although the circumstances are very sad,” said TDSB chair Robin Pilkey, noting that two of the votes were triggered by the recent deaths of trustees Sheila Ward and Howard Kaplan.
“We will of course ask the province if they’re willing to contribute, but we can’t plan on that,” said Pilkey. But if the board “piggybacks” its by-election with the July 25 vote the city will hold for the late mayor’s north Etobicoke ward, “it would be a lot cheaper for us,” Pilkey noted.
Despite the cost, which several trustees oppose, Pilkey said she believes it’s important to let voters elect the people who will represent them on the school board for more than two years before the next election.
“If there were just a few months left, I’d be 100 per cent in favor of appointing a replacement, but with more than two years before the next election, it doesn’t seem fair not to give voters that choice.
“Democracy costs money.”
In January, the TDSB held a by-election to replace then-chair and trustee Shaun Chen, who vacated his school board ward of Scarborough-Rouge River last fall to become Liberal MP for the new federal riding of Scarborough North. That by-election, held Jan. 25, cost the TDSB about $ 250,000, and Neethan Shan won by a landslide.
When veteran trustee Sheila Ward died unexpectedly in February, trustees voted to hold a by-election June 20 in her densely populated downtown ward, at a cost of about $ 400,000.
Now the board faces a possible fourth by-election to replace Michael Ford, 22, who was elected to the board less than two years ago. The youngest politician to represent Ford Nation, Michael Ford has proved a likeable rookie on the 22-member board, sitting on several committees and serving as vice-chair of finance. He has been a frequent visitor to schools in his ward.
While Michael Ford has distanced himself from some of his uncle’s views — the younger Ford has said he doesn’t care much for football and he supports gay rights — his newly launched campaign website uses trademark Rob Ford turns of phrase, citing his top promise to voters as “customer service.”
In 2012, the board held two by-elections at a combined cost of $ 500,000 to replace departing trustees Soo Wong and Michael Coteau, who both sought — and won — seats at Queen’s Park.
With files from Kristin Rushowy