A TCDSB [Toronto Catholic District School Board] motion to lower the voting age in municipal elections to 16 was narrowly defeated by one vote at last nights board meeting! It would've required the board to advocate lowering the voting age so that students would be empowered with a democratic vote in electing Catholic school board trustees. [LINK]
If passed, the motion would've represented a progressive, proactive appeal that the school board would need to make to the provincial government on behalf of the students. The province itself would ultimately of course, have to be the party responsible for deciding whether to change the voting age or not. As Trustee Jo-Ann Davis explained, the thrust, which is not without international precedent, was to create "active citizenship", rather than "revolution". It still could've been a bold move for the staid Toronto Catholic board. However, at first brush, it was not to be!
Indeed, Trustee Ann Andrachuk was first out of the gate. She quickly tossed a bucket of cold water on what she'd seemingly already decided was a dim prospect. She adamantly dismissed the motion out of hand by claiming that it simply "would not be".
Trustee Angela Kennedy was quick on the uptake. Her amendment, as accepted by Trustee Davis, was to make the motion apply to all municipal election positions in the province of Ontario, not just that of the school board trustees'. As Trustee Maria Rizzo further explained, the motion would now take the form of a more legally viable position for the provincial government to consider.
Student presenters from the board's secondary schools were granted a very tight one minute each to present their case. It was a ridiculous format that one would think more suitable for a firing squad than a lively, consultative, inclusive and democratic debate. Regretfully, this all too often seems to be the case at the board these days, with other key players from within the Catholic community also usually being similarly dispensed with in such short thrift. [LINK][LINK][LINK]
Despite the unfortunate constraints, the students still managed to handle themselves very well in good measure. They keenly emphasized their strong desire to become more actively involved in the democratic process within the Catholic school system.
One of them, Dave, explained to me afterwards that the student Council of Presidents, representing the TCDSB's secondary schools, had met and unanimously approved Trustee Davis' motion last week. Most of the schools presently have elected student councils. The students also get to vote separately at school for their own 2 student board trustees. Many students from the early secondary grades are actively involved. All in all, there would seem to be many good, hopeful signs of a healthy future for the TCDSB student democratic movement, given the chance!
A surprisingly robust discussion followed at the board meeting on the legal implications of a change to the voting age. It was pointed out that minors are increasingly being empowered by government to assume other adult responsibilities, for example with the driving age, and the laws on consent. An enquiry about the board's Gr. 10 Civics program suggested that the students could also be adequately prepared to now vote municipally at age 16.
We heard Trustees Barbara Poplawski [No] and Maria Rizzo [Yes] teleconference in their votes. As far as I could tell Trustee Sal Piccininni was absent and otherwise missing in action. The final tally? As per the overhead jumbo screen and the aforementioned calls, I counted a 6 to 5 loss. Ironically, the vote would've passed had those of Student Trustees Allison Gacad and Karina Dubrovskaya also been included in the final count. As the rules now stand, they were not!
The students seemed to take the decision on the chin, quite undaunted. Trustee Davis reassured them that this would not be the last that we would hear of the issue. My own thoughts?
Perhaps this is another of my seemingly increasing, frequent, senior moments as a retired, TCDSB teacher-activist. Admittedly, I am often concerned about the seeming dumbing down of our schools by the powers that be that I have witnessed over the course of my teaching career. Most recently, I didn't don't find the board's decision to lower the minimum mid term grade to 35% very reassuring, as my regular readers will know. [LINK]
One would hate to see our election process become anymore of a clown show than it all ready often seems with just the adults voting. Nonetheless, it was very encouraging to see the students so politically active and charged in last night's debate. Maybe there is hope yet?
I was very excited by the possibilities. This site advocates grass root, democratic renewal within our various institutions and indeed within society at large [Manifesto]. Although the motion on the table failed, it is still a very worthwhile challenge to pursue if it can help our schools better educate and involve the next generation of voters in the democratic process.
Enough of succumbing to or merely accepting the deep pessimism and despair of our moribund system! We can all do better than that. This is possibly a great starting point for rekindling the renewal process! It certainly requires further consideration!
After all is said and done, that was pretty darn close last night! One wishes the students and more progressive voices at the TCDSB much luck in further advocating their most worthwhile cause during the years ahead!
For related updates see my Teacher Free Speech November News + Views, a regular monthly feature on this site @ Here!