In a provincial election campaign that has already seen the resignation of Premier Kathleen Wynne, there’s an unlikely contender for the Ontario Liberal nomination: an elementary school-speaker.
The Liberals, in a sign that the election could be a test of their ability to woo the educated, have invited more than 500 students from schools across the province to speak about issues ranging from social justice to social equity.
The Liberals are looking to make the case for their education policies, particularly their plan to overhaul the Ontario Public School System, and the role of teachers in education.
And they are doing it by bringing in students to speak at their campaign events.
“This is an opportunity to speak to the people of Ontario about the issues that matter most to us, the students, parents, and educators of Ontario,” said Education Minister Liz Sandals, in announcing the invite to the school-speech event on Friday.
The event will be held at the Queen Elizabeth II school in Ottawa, the minister said.
Sandals said she hoped the students would speak about their education and the importance of school to the province.
As well, Sandals also announced that the Liberals were looking for “young, capable teachers” to serve as part of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Association.
Sandal added that her office is also looking for people who can teach at the community elementary school.
There are already two other Liberal candidates in the race to be Ontario’s next premier: Progressive Conservative MPP Michelle Rempel, who is a social justice advocate, and her husband, Peter Rempel.
Rempel, a former provincial education minister, announced she would be running for the Liberals in the fall, after the Liberals announced that she would not run in the 2011 election.
She has received endorsements from prominent education advocates, including former Education Minister Michael Schreiner.
Schreiner announced his support for Rempel on Friday, telling reporters he has been “outraged” by what he considers the Liberals’ “outrageous” handling of the issue of sexual harassment.
In a statement, the Ontario Education Association, the union representing teachers in the province, called the Wynne government’s decision to appoint a woman as education minister a “disgraceful, disgraceful decision.”
“Ms. Wynne’s record is one of being a member of the Liberal Party, a politician who has voted to undermine the integrity of the provincial education system and a party whose leaders have repeatedly shown that they are willing to use their positions to further the interests of the wealthiest and most powerful group of Ontario’s political elite,” said the union’s president, Mike McCormack.
“Ms. Rempel has repeatedly demonstrated her commitment to teaching and learning in a classroom environment, and she is a leader for teachers across Ontario.”
The Liberals also released a letter from Education Minister Heather Stefanson, which they said would be sent to school boards across the country.
The letter was signed by her deputy, the education minister and a number of other senior officials.
It stated that while the Ontario government was not going to “treat this issue as a political matter,” it is “treating this issue in the context of the education system that is working for all Ontario children and young people, not a partisan issue.”
Sandals, the Education Minister, said in her statement that the Liberal platform is “in support of our schools, our students and our teachers.”
“We need a teacher in government who is ready to speak up, who knows the issues, who has been in the classroom and who has seen how our education system works,” Sandals added.
“I know that we will be doing everything we can to ensure that all our children and teachers have the best possible experience and are well cared for in their homes and schools.”
The Liberal platform, which has not yet been released, also includes a pledge to create 100,000 apprenticeships for young people in the next two years.
Ontario is already one of Canada’s least educated provinces, with just 1.4 per cent of Ontarians having completed high school.
About 17.4 million Ontarians lack the formal education credentials to work in the public sector.