Monday, October 10, 2011

Ontario's next education minister is...

... a question that surely has been circulating through people's minds since the results came in on Oct. 6 showing Leona Dombrowsky had been defeated in her Belleville-area riding.
I was somewhat shocked, to say the truth. Not being as connected as people in the region, I wasn't anticipating that her seat was under threat. Coverage from the night shows it might have come as a surprise to her as well, though fingers also pointed at the HST and the ongoing debate over wind energy developments. While no one's thumping their chest on the first, at least one group is on the second.
Regardless of all that, the question now becomes who will Ontario's next education minister be?
Looking at who was re-elected, an easy choice is Dombrowsky's predecessor, Kathleen Wynne. Wynne, despite the shuffle / lateral move / demotion to Transport a few years ago, has been Dalton McGuinty's longest-serving education minister and was in that ministry when she defeated then OPC leader John Tory in 2007.
Wynne may not have been shepherding the implementation of full-day kindergarten (and let's face it, the premier was the public face of that program), but she shepherded Bil 177 and the first few tests of the province's school-closure guidelines. She was the minister when the current and soon-to-expire collective agreements were negotiated.
If McGuinty chooses to leave Wynne at Transport or move her into another portfolio whose minister was shown the door Oct. 6, who's left that's a known quantity on the Liberal bench that has the chops to handle the education portfolio?
Looking at former parliamentary assistants to the ministry is one way to go.
The most recent was Ottawa Centre MPP Yasir Naqvi, who was in the PA slot until the writ was dropped. His social-media outreach is incredible and he appears to be very well liked by his constituents. He's a lawyer by trade though and the preference of late has been to either put reformers in the slot or people with political experience in school boards.
Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale's Ted McMeekin was an education PA earlier in the McGuinty government, and he's been in cabinet since 2007. If memory serves he was PA when former minister Gerard Kennedy pushed through the first omnibus bill in the government's first term of office. He may have also had the role during Sandra Pupatello's brief tenure in the ministry.
Guelph MPP Liz Sandals was the longest-serving PA for education since 2003. In addition to that honour, she chaired a number of strategic legislative projects around safe schools and the initial shepherding of FDK legislation. Sandals is a past public board trustee and past-president of the Ontario Public School Boards' Association.
Looking around the rest of the caucus, some others' names have popped up. In my work riding (Brant) reelected MPP Dave Levac is a former teacher and I did see a mention or two of his name and education within social-media feeds. That position would surprise me for Levac, who isn't (publicly anyway) egging for a cabinet position of any kind.
I don't know enough about the background of the rest of the field elected or reelected Oct. 6 to confidently predict whether any would be in contention as strong candidates for education minister.
The next minister will have to work to complete implementation of FDK, negotiate a new round of collective agreements for every school employee group and take boards through what will no doubt be interesting times of trying to muddle through times when the education budget will be under severe pressure to match the enrolments that will for the most part continue to drop throughout this next term of government.
For my vote (and a coffee, whatever it's worth to you as a reader), I say Sandals gets the nod, with my backup choice being Wynne. For all the complications of cabinet-making, the minister will likely be a woman and this may be a post that helps the government if it's not given to a Toronto-area MPP.
Place your friendly wagers in the comments section. I promise I won't email you to collect on any coffee.


Unknown said...

I'm surprised if Leona didn't have a sense that her seat was under threat. My father who was Leona's first campaign manager when she defeated a long standing PC MPP predicted to me that she would be defeated. It's not that Leona did a bad job as a the Minister of Education or her other ministerial positions but it was her disconnect with her constituents. People from rural riding's want to know that their reps are listening to their issues. I think the biggest issue in the rural riding was wind power. The liberal government in Ontario has failed the rural people. The rural folk do not feel like a partner in the wind power so they are fighting back. Who will be the next Minister of Education?
I think the next Minister of Education needs to look at how school boards are closing schools. In my riding they have just voted to close a historical secondary school Peterborough Collegiate Vocational School was voted to close two weeks before the provincial election. The local Peterborough Trustees voted to keep it open but because Mike Harris yeas ago amalgamated Board trustees from the Lakeshore (Bowmanville, Grafton, Cobourg....) get to make a decision that affects a community that they don't even belong to. How can that be? I feel who ever is selected as the next Minister of Education really needs to have a serious look at issues like this. Issues that continue to haunt us post Mike Harris. Come on Liberals, the people gave some of you a chance to serve another term. Make those people proud and connect with people who vote. Just don't sit in Toronto. Get out there and really listen to some of these really fundamentally challenging issues day to day people face. Save our schools!!! Save our Educational institutions.

Education Reporter said...


Always great to recognize someone. :) Thanks for the comment.

My heart sank when I learned of the PCVS decision, particularly as I personally know a number of recent graduates. I would respectfully disagree on a few things however, leaning on the many posts here painting the lessons learned across the province on these decisions.

This government took almost three years to completely re-examine how boards were to close schools (to the point many boards stalled on these decisions for five years and are now playing catchup). If followed, it makes the process far more public and transparent than it ever was under previous governments. Asking it to do so again would be a waste of time, particularly when school-aged enrolments outside the GTA continue to decline, buildings continue to get older and more expensive to run and the pot of money available for all these things is going to face an increasing amount of pressure to shrink. Boards have been getting a lot of temporary funding to keep buildings open that they don't have the students to adequately maintain and for the boards that still get that adjustment funding, its days are numbered.

If we put aside the built heritage of a school like PCVS (which like many of its counterparts of a similar era is very significant), do our best to separate passion and reason and speak frankly, what are we trying to save? Programs? They can be moved. People? The great teachers can still be great wherever they teach. So then what we're saving is a building? That too can have merit, but where does the line get drawn between what's spent on the building vs. what's spent on what happens inside the building? Particularly when the total pot of funding is finite and the costs of both are increasing?

So then, where could the focus be now that an extremely unpopular decision has been made? Saving the building? If the board followed the process a petition won't reverse the decision and neither would a judicial review. Even if the process was flawed and that's confirmed by a ministerial-level review, it still won't change the decision. It's highly, highly unlikely the minister would reverse a decision made by a local board of trustees— it's one of the few trustees still have to make and this government's shown no interest in reversing any school board's decision. It's had its chances too since PCVS is far from the first school with similar heritage, program and community to be put forth for closure where the local community has been strongly opposed and fought the good fight— in one memorable case until well after the doors had closed (see NDSS in Niagara).

Or the efforts could be put towards saving the program and the community within the school. Lobbying to ensure continued full funding for the specialized programs that are such a huge part of the community and culture at PCVS. Doing the same to ensure the best options for students who make the transition to new schools who want to stay together can stay together. Ensuring the school options for those who'll start high school after closure is a logical one that doesn't further divide the city. Spend too much time fighting for the building and those things that make it the special place it is could get lost when they don't have to— they can continue to exist at some other address.

This was a seriously difficult comment to write since I know the person I'm responding to, respect the family and would never want to offend them.

That's the challenge on school closures for many at the end of the day, isn't it? Does one separate emotion enough to truly take a rational position — and is that even possible? This was a valiant attempt on my part to do so.


RetDir said...

Back to the notion of who the next Minister of Ed may be, I would not put my money on Kathleen, simply because I think she needs a significant portfolio other than education to prove her leadership potential post-McGuinty. Sandals does make a logical second choice - I thought John Wilkinson might have had a chance until he lost a squeaker in Perth-Wellington.
Whoever it is is will have to lead a defensive Ministry - not a lot of new initiatives in the next four years - unless they are connected to buying labour peace. Keeping the money they have in the face of likely bad economic news, declining enrollments, and competition from other Ministries will be the challenge.

Anonymous said...

As for Leona's ouster, I think that the EIE Strategy played a role in turning people away from her and away from the Liberals, generally. Although McGuinty goes back for a third term as premier, he lost a lot of seats and he lost them largely to the OPC. Leona was the most notable casualty and not surprisingly so to my mind - she was the point person on EIE. Her riding is largely rural and, federally, strongly conservative, including the "capital C" variety. As for Leona's replacement, all I can say is that I don't expect it will be Kathleen Wynne. She represents the very left wing of the Ontario Liberals and that agenda is falling into disfavour amongst voters, especially as regards education. I think Kathleen Wynne and I think explicit sex ed in Grade 1 - which the ordinary person doesn't want. If McGuinty is smart, and I don't doubt his political acumen, he will park Wynne some place safe. My bet is that he keeps her right where she is.

Banderblogger said...

Deb Matthews.

Anonymous said...

Deb Matthews is a good bet, but whoever it is will have to deal with the unions and be VERY tough.

Banderblogger said...

I agree. Whoever it is will have to deal with the unions. Both Dombrowsky and Wynne were not afraid to deal with unions. They both consulted teacher unions along with a myriad of other stakeholders while designing and implementing initiatives. This ensured that ivory-tower ideology would be tempered with front-line practicality. It has been this government's willingness to talk with unions that has allowed it make such great strides in Education.

Anonymous said...

@Banderblogger - I think you're missing the point of the comment by Anonymous (not me) re: being VERY tough with the unions. To say that Wynne and Dombrowsky "were not afraid to deal with the unions" as evidenced by the fact they "consulted" on "initiatives" is precisely NOT the attitude called for in a labour negotiation. It is not a ministerial consultation on policy. The province is broke, the teachers will undoubtedly want a raise, and the Minister is going to have to say "no". Ontario is a "have not" province, in case you haven't noticed. Transfer payments to Ontario by the Feds this year will soar to 2.2 billion, and it will get worse before it gets better. The last thing we need right now is an Education Minister who likes to consult. The projected deficit for this fiscal year is 16 billion and Dwight Duncan has said he doesn't foresee a balanced budget before 2018. Belt tightening, anyone?

Education Reporter said...

Ooo, things to catch up on here.

Anon 12 Oct. 17:47, Anon 16 Oct. 9:30, Banderblogger:
We do at times have soft memories.
I'm sure every ETFO member could tell you who the minister was when they were forced to swallow contracts that have since seen them lose wage parity with every other teacher in the province. Wynne was in the chair when she held that line and then when she returned to what was left of the PDT with the lower wage-increase package.

While we never publicly saw Dombrowsky's steel will, I did see it when she was agriculture minister on a number of occasions.

I may be wrong on this, but I don't see the federations running to this government with huge dollar signs in their heads. They're not stupid and they can see the fiscal world as well as the rest of us. They'll be looking for something in line with what other public-sector employees might be getting in the years ahead, and my bet is they'll be looking for those improvements in working conditions that don't have the dollar impacts that big increases in wages and benefits do.


Rural Flamborough said...

While I don’t have a favourite potential nominee, I’m confident it will not be Ted McMeekin. He hasn’t held any major Cabinet roles nor has his tenure been other than lackluster. He has shown real initiative locally on the education front, introducing two separate private member’s bills related to special education issues.

The word in the riding was that he was not planning to run again but was persuaded to seek re-election as the McGuinty government’s prospects dipped. This is a solidly conservative riding; a newcomer Liberal would be an underdog ; even Ted was expected to be soundly defeated by the high-profile PC candidate. He ran a decent campaign however and due to PC gaffes (and the resurrected rage against Mike Harris’ forced amalgamation of Flamborough, Dundas and Ancaster with Hamilton and Harris’ despicable treatment of our PC MPP Toni Skarica), Ted won re-election by a large margin, even taking rural polls like mine that hadn’t gone Liberal in decades.

However, the education portfolio requires someone with more ganas and demonstrated leadership and organizational skills. Sandals and Mathews have more street cred in those areas.

Banderblogger said...

Dear Anonymous, both of them, or all of them. Yes, I did miss the point, but I did so intentionally to make my own point. And that is to say, the last time we had a Minister of Education that got tough with unions, we lost OAC, we had labour turmoil in the schools and our international test scores plummeted. The Liberals' process of working and consulting with all stakeholders in Education has worked exceedingly well.

Hugo, my memory has gone soft in many areas but not in this one. My comment had nothing to do with demands for wage increases; I'm curious why you inferred this. I stand by my original statement. The Liberals have brought forth many changes to Education over the last eight years and they have consulted extensively on most. This has been a successful model as most initiatives, when they hit the ground in schools, had much fewer snags than they would have otherwise if there had been no consultation.

BTW, congratulations to Laurel Broten. I'm sure her experience as Minister of Children and Youth Services will serve her well in her new position.

Anonymous said...

Laurel Broten???? The woman who brought us FLICK OFF and wasted millions on a PR campaign that found its way through to our kids?

The same woman who was sidelined in her Environment portfolio?

Poor choice IMO.

Also re: the Liberal Accommodation review model was flawed from the beginning and it's still flawed.

It makes the assumption that school councils are composed, and working well to communicate with their school communities.

Most learn via trial by fire.

I think Leona saw the door based on the poor roll-out of the Early Learning Program. It's not as popular in the North or rural Ontario as it may be elsewhere...but we're stilling going to be paying a hefty cost for it all.

Education Reporter said...

Anon 20 Oct. 14:30
I agree Dombrowsky may have seen the door coming, but not on FDK. Despite the continual insistence that it's not as popular in the north or rural areas I haven't seen the stats to back that up.

If someone has enrolment numbers (and rates, because smaller schools will automatically generate smaller numbers) for rural and urban, I'd love to see them.