Feature

A Passion for Politics

Vivian McCaffrey

With a provincial election scheduled for October 2007, ETFO members across Ontario will soon be planning how to support their chosen political party or how to campaign on issues. Is political involvement  important  for teachers? Here are four ETFO members who think it’s critical.

For some ETFO members, political awareness, if not activism, is an integral part of teaching. Nancy Kilgour believes that “teachers are responsible for doing whatever we can to ensure our students have every opportunity to succeed. “… Seeing children who are hungry, tired, or neglected because of their socioeconomic circumstances is a powerful motivator to get involved politically.”

Velma Morgan argues that being politically aware is the best defence against regressive policies that affect teachers and society as a whole. “If we are aware or involved when we feel strongly about an issue, then government will know that we are not apathetic and will take our concerns into consideration,” she says.

The Days of Action campaign during the early years of the Harris government was a galvanizing experience for Paul Dewar. “It opened our eyes to other issues and cultivated consciousness within the teaching profession about having a positive impact, not just at home, but around the world.” He cites the plight of African children suffering from HIV/AIDS as an example.

From his vantage point as a new MP, Dewar also sees the opportunity for more women to become involved in politics. “Teaching is a good training ground for politics. If we’re going to make a difference in improving the representation of women in politics, it makes sense that the change will come in part from professions like teaching that are predominately female.”

Political involvemenenhances classroom work

Kari Lowry understands the opportunity she has to motivate her students about their potential as future citizens: “When I taught grade 8 history I wanted my students to realize that it was regular citizens who made Canada what it is today.” Velma Morgan also feels passionately about the need to make students aware: “By educating the next generation about the democratic process and the importance of being civically engaged, voter turnout and participation in the overall political process will increase.”

“My political involvement has helped clarify for me those things that are really worth fighting for,” Nancy Kilgour says. It also helps her understand how decisions are made: “Even programs such as Reading Recovery, which have been so successful for many children, can become political footballs and maintaining them may require political lobbying.”

Paul Dewar says, “My interest in international issues animated the classroom. I brought in international speakers and had students participate in Project Love and exchange correspondence with students in other countries so that they would better understand each other.” He believes that political involvement for teachers “is as important as learning new teaching methods. It means you are learning and participating in issues. You can’t separate politics from being a teacher.”

Paul Dewar,  former vice-president of the Ottawa-Carleton Teacher Local, became the NDP MP for Ottawa Centre in January 2006. Dewar learned about politics literally at his mother’s knee. He was just nine years old when he supported his mother Marion’s successful bid to become an Ottawa city councillor. In the first of many campaigns he worked in the campaign office and distributed leaflets. Marion Dewar was elected to City Council five times. She also ran provincially and federally. The first election campaign Paul worked on that didn’t involve his mother was managed by his brother. “I saw the dedication the candidate brought to social justice. It was very inspiring.”

Nancy Kilgour , president of the Near North Teacher Local, is also president of the Nipissing Provincial Liberal Association. She became a trustee with the Nipissing board in 1988 because she wanted to have a say in her children’s education.

“I felt that it was important to balance the voices of retirees and business people with those of parents and young women.” After one term, Kilgour returned to university to acquire teacher qualifications. In 2002, convinced that working on the ground was the only way to effect real change, she worked on the campaign of the Liberal who ran in the by-election to replace the retiring Mike Harris. Her candidate lost by four votes. In 2003 Kilgour was the canvass cochair on MPP Monique Smith’s successful campaign.

Kari Lowry  (Upper Grand) is a primary teacher, president of the Guelph Provincial Liberal Association, and a member of the ETFO Political Action Committee. Lowry owes her political activism to the policies of the Mike Harris government. In fall of 1997, as a first-year teacher, she was thrust into the two-week teacher protest against Bill 160. The subsequent years of funding cuts and declining teacher morale led her to join the campaign of Liberal candidate Liz Sandals, then an Upper Grand trustee. When the Liberals won, Lowry, as a member of the riding association, participated in roundtable discussions with cabinet ministers, including then Education Minister Gerard Kennedy. “I felt incredibly empowered when I had the opportunity to share my concerns directly with the minister.

Velma Morgan (Elementary Teachers of Toronto) is now a senior policy advisor to the minister of Children and Youth Services. She got hooked on politics when her grade 9 science teacher suggested that she volunteer to work in a provincial candidate’s campaign. That involvement led to her election as class president and treasurer of the student council and numerous municipal, provincial, and federal campaigns across Ontario. As a new teacher, Morgan served on a number of ETT committees and ETFO’s Anti-Racist Education Committee. In 2003 her local released her to support her involvement in the successful campaign of Mary Anne Chambers.

From the Classroom to the Council Chamber

Fourteen ETFO members ran for office in the November municipal elections; seven were successful.

Joe Cimino (Rainbow) is a resource teacher and teacher in charge. Soon after he started teaching in 1993 he became a local federation negotiator and executive member. He views running for elected office as the natural pro- gression of his many years of working with a variety of community-based organizations. Joe was elected councillor representing Ward 1 in the City of Greater Sudbury.

Cynthia Lemon (Bluewater)  began teaching in 1983 and recently accepted a position as a vice-principal. She served as local federation president from 1997 to 2003. Starting in 2000 she served on the ETFO provincial executive for five years, including two years as vice- president. She was elected councillor for the Municipality of Meaford.

Lee Mason (Algoma), a grade 5/6 teacher, has taught since 1997. He was an ETFO steward and a local federation executive member. As a new councillor for Echo Bay Township, he is eager to make a contribution to his hometown’s eco- nomic development and sustainability.

Warren Maycock (Upper Grand) a Primary teacher, has been politically active since he was a teenager. He has been involved in campaigns at all levels of government. Between 2000 and 2006 he served two terms as municipal council- lor. In November he was elected deputy mayor for the Town of Orangeville.

Russ Thompson (Rainbow) is a grade 8 teacher with 10 years’ experience who has also been a school steward. Growing up in a politically active household, studying political science at university, and a desire to make a difference in his community all contributed to his interest in seeking public office. First elected in 1994, he has been re-elected three times and represents Ward 7 in the City of Greater Sudbury.

Sharon Tibbs (Rainy River) retired in December after 21 years as a library assistant and speech and language assistant. She was re-elected as councillor for the Town of Fort Frances, a position she held from 1981 to 2003. Sharon views her position as councillor as the natural extension of her long history of community involvement.

Pam Wolf (Waterloo Region), a grade 8 teacher, with 30 years in the classroom, has been a steward, chair of her local’s Status of Women Committee, and the local’s representative on the Waterloo District Labour Council. In 1999 ETFO released her to work for a provincial candidate. In 2000 she was part of the ETFO delegation in the World March of Women. Both experiences motivated her to run as an NDP candidate in the 2000 federal and the 2003 pro- vincial elections. In November she was elected as councillor for the City of Cambridge.

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