Voters in Toronto Centre will be heading to the polls June 20, 2016, in a by-election for a seat on the Toronto District School Board, and the leading candidates are both members of the LGBT community. The by-election was called after longtime Ward 14 trustee Sheila Ward passed away Feb 17.
Chris Moise, who ran against Ward in 2010 and 2014 — and placed a close second both times — is once again in the race, as is Li Koo, a government worker who has studied public policy and education.
Li Koo, also running for the TDSB board position, also counts herself as a member of the LGBT community. (Submitted)
On the surface, the contest appears to be an NDP-Liberal proxy war, with Moise earning endorsements from both local city councillors Kristyn Wong-Tam and Pam McConnell, and Koo claiming support from local Liberal MPP Glen Murray. But both candidates claim to be independents in the race.
Both Moise and Koo say they are products of the public school system and want to see it protected and strengthened. They’re also both concerned about the impact of school closures and loss of green space on the neighbourhood, and want repairs and maintenance of the ward’s many older school buildings.
Moise — repeating a line from his previous runs for the seat — says he’ll have a more co-operative relationship with the city to preserve public spaces and school grounds than the previous trustee.
“The former trustee didn’t respond or return to the councillors’ calls,” Moise says. “We have so much work to do that we just want to get started on this.”
Koo says she’ll lobby the province to give the TDSB more flexibility with its resources to renovate and maintain school buildings.
“At this time, [Educational Development Charges] can only be used for school boards to buy new land, which isn’t what TDSB needs,” Koo says. “What we need is to repair the schools. As a trustee, one of the things I want to do is to advocate to the provincial government is for modest changes to the Education Act so we can benefit from the increased density in the area.”
Both Moise and Koo say they are concerned about bullying and heterosexism in the school system.
Moise, who has taken continuing education classes and participates in a badminton club run out of TDSB schools, says that when growing up, he was one of only five black students at his school of 800. He says it’s important that schools express zero tolerance for discrimination, and get LGBT parents involved.
“When you go on the ground and speak to the parents and students, it’s an ongoing problem at the schools,” he says. “When kids are bullied or mistreated as a result of their same-sex parents, that needs to be addressed immediately. I think the best way to do that is to just have the parents in the school to take part in it.
“Toronto Centre is a very culturally diverse ward, and people come with their own prejudices in different community and same-sex issue is a taboo in some cases in some cultures. We have to address those issues and let it be known that any sort of discrimination or homophobia is not accepted on any level,” Moise says.
As a mother of a 20-month-old daughter, Koo says she’s experienced heterosexism from people asking about her family. She wants to help TDSB staff and schools become aware of using inclusive language.
“I think there’s always more that can be done. As a gay woman myself, there are always challenges that we face, I don’t know if it’s something that we directly face, but in those in between spaces that may happen afterwards,” she says.
Also seeking a seat on the TDSB is Jordan Glass, who’s running in the Ward 5 by-election to replace Howard Kaplan, who passed away. Glass placed second to Kaplan in 2014.
Glass is openly bisexual and considers himself a member and advocate for the LGBT community. He was motivated to seek a seat on the TDSB by his young daughter, who is on the autism spectrum and has struggled in the system.
“Provincial funding of Intensive Behavioural Intervention is a question I’m focused on, especially with my involvement in the autism community, and how the school board could possibly handle that,” he says.