Waterloo School Board councilors’ sidelines are an affront to democracy


Commentary

It has been over two months since Mike Ramsay, the duly elected board member of the Waterloo Region District School Board (WRDSB), was effectively fired. However, he was dismissed not by voters, but by six fellow councilors. This was very strange, to say the least.

Ramsay is certainly no newbie to politics. In fact, he has been his trustee since 1989. Ramsay is a former police officer and veteran with a distinguished career. He is also WRDSB’s sole non-white trustee. None of this mattered, however, for his six colleagues who voted to be suspended until the end of September.

Ramsay’s “crime” was his refusal to speak out against the chairman of the board and follow decisions he thought were wrong. Not only did he openly challenge the chairman’s decision to remove a teacher from the board for voicing concerns about sexually explicit material, but he also used his Twitter account to expose journalists critical of the teacher. shared an article written by Board Decision.

The reality is that elected officials don’t always agree with each other and often use the media to get their message across. It makes no sense to make it The trustee who suspended him needs to grow thicker skin. Just because the public debate is heating up doesn’t mean the trustees can effectively remove political opponents.

In Ramsay’s case, his colleagues used the WRDSB Code of Conduct to silence him. Citing the board’s requirement to “support the implementation of board resolutions after they have passed the board,” one director said that any public disagreement between Mr. Ramsey and the chairman amounted to a code of conduct violation. This led to a resolution to stop Ramsay from attending board meetings or receiving confidential information.

WRDSB Directors need to be aware that publicly voicing disagreements with the Chair of the Board is not the same as blocking implementation of Board resolutions. Trustees are elected officials and, as such, have a duty to represent those who voted for them. This may also mean expressing opposition to positions taken by fellow councilors.

When openly criticizing the chairman or another director becomes grounds for suspension, the dissenting director quickly loses the ability to voice voter concerns. School boards are not corporate boards accountable only to shareholders. Rather, they are elected bodies that must represent the public interest. The idea that trustees need to speak in unison may make sense if they are serving on corporate boards, but certainly not for elected officials. It doesn’t work.

Unfortunately, WRDSB isn’t the only school board that uses ordinances to silence dissent. Former University of Calgary trustee Lisa Davis resigned from her position in 2020 after her fellow trustees continued to call closed-door meeting after meeting. Because trustees are legally prohibited from releasing information from closed meetings to the public, Davis was unable to adequately inform voters of what was happening at the Board School. Davis, who she hoped would improve the school board’s governance practices, was thwarted at every turn by a board determined to maintain the status quo.

By cracking down on public dissent, the school board has diminished the vital role played by individual trustees. No group of politicians at any level of government allows this method of castration. Imagine what would happen if the lower house of parliament began suspending members of parliament who openly criticized the prime minister. It will be widely condemned as an attack on democracy.

It’s time to clarify the trustee’s role. Should these positions continue to be elected, the Trustees should be made clear that they have the right to express their opinion and to oppose the decision of the majority of the Board. This does not mean that dissenting councilors are empowered to completely overrule the will of the majority or the will of the citizens, but that they may say things that make the chairman of the board uncomfortable. It means to be able to speak freely.

The school trustees are elected by public vote. Therefore, only the public should have the power to remove a trustee from his position.

Views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The Epoch Times.

Michael Zwargstra

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Michael Zwaagstra is a public high school teacher, Senior Fellow at the Frontier Center for Public Policy, and the author of The Sage on Stage: A Common Sense Reflection on Teaching and Learning.