Telling Tales out of School

with Nick Martin

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  • Saying you're a good person is not a campaign platform

    08/21/2014 3:07 PM

    School trustee elections are typically overrun with cliches.

    One candidate in Louis Riel — no, this time it’s Jeremy Friesen — seems to be taking umbrage on Twitter that I and others believe vows to promote transparency and to be of service to the public are not sufficient to constitute a campaign platform.

    Winnipeg School Division candidate Lisa Naylor says she’ll be accessible, accountable, and transparent — all admirable, but they should be givens, not the focus of a candidacy.

    Usually, candidates proclaim that they believe in a quality education and fiscal responsibility. I’ve said before that it would be news if they believe in a crummy education and in being fiscally irresponsible.

    What matters, and what people deserve to know, is how they define those terms, and how they would achieve them. Does fiscal responsibility mean having fewer teachers on the payroll, in order to hold down taxes? Buying less chalk?

    Transparency is all well and good, but how would a candidate achieve it? If elected, what will that candidate say to the Manitoba School Boards Association, whose workshops for newly-elected trustees immediately try to indoctrinate them into MSBA’s dogma that school boards are not individually-elected politicians but corporate boards of directors, meant to reach decisions by consensus, after which only the board chair will speak publicly about the majority decision?

    What will that candidate do about the legislation that allows trustees to go behind closed doors for labour and personnel matters, what will that trustee do about all the other stuff that boards do behind closed doors that they shouldn’t?

    Maybe those candidates could have a word or two with Mike Babinsky in Winnipeg School Division, and find out the price of opening your mouth about secret stuff that should be public?

    I remember when Derek Dabee got elected in Seven Oaks, and he told me that he’d be emulating Babinsky’s making things public, albeit in a less confrontational way, and in four years the only thing I’ve heard from Dabee is his urging me to do a feature on the expansion of school cricket.

    Check our archives, and find out how many times that trustees who do not chair their boards or who are not their board’s finance chair have had their name in the paper over the past four years, of their own volition?

    And as for serving the public...I’ve written at previous elections about candidates who say they’re promising to listen to residents and to represent their views at the school board.

    So, let’s take two examples of members of the public, both of whom you have promised to represent at the board, and both of whom you have promised to serve.

    Not that I know anyone like this, but let’s say that one person is a left-wing pro-union atheist in a strongly feminist household, who believes in science and evolution and in being gay-positive.

    And let’s say there’s another resident and member of the public whom you also represent, who’s right wing and religiously conservative, who believes public schools should still have mandatory religious exercises, and maybe has a Father Knows Best view of families, maybe wants creationism to replace evolution in the curriculum, and who would toss Bill 18 and anti-homophobia education into the garbage can (did I mention this person also opposes recycling?).

    So, you’ve promised to serve them both. How are you going to do it?

    Cliches are all well and good, but they need the substance of your taking positions on specific education issues. Voters need to know who you are, what your values are, and what positions you take on specific issues.

    And don’t get me started on candidates who declare that they have integrity — that’s a given, and don’t give me that nonsense that by saying you offer integrity, that you’re not implicitly, or even explicitly, saying that the incumbents and other candidates do not have integrity. Disingenuous doesn’t describe such a shameful tactic.


  • Irascible senior gives rare glimpse of grumpy side

    08/19/2014 3:15 PM

    I received an email earlier today asking if I would represent the paper in a celebrity pie eating contest.

    First of all, I’ve always said that if the Free Press wants me to be a personality, then management can buy me one.

    And eating a celebrity pie sounds like something from King Joffray’s wedding reception.

    But my response was somewhat grumpier, and here’s the point at which all the anonymous Internet trolls can get out the thesaurus to find names to call me suggesting that I hate anyone’s having fun. Such fun to eat something that many among us would rarely if ever get to taste as an expensive treat, such fun to promote gluttony and over-indulgence in trying to hold down quantities whose consumption would do us great harm.

    What I did suggest was that we could juxtapose coverage of the pie eating contest with a story about homelessness, hunger, and poverty, and with a story about Manitoba’s epidemic of obesity and diabetes.


    And harumph.



  • WSD election already down two incumbent trustees

    08/12/2014 3:17 PM

    There will be at least six school board seats in the city in the Oct. 22 election with no incumbent running.

    I see that Anthony Ramos is running for city council in the Point Douglas ward. Ramos didn’t respond to my email today, but his candidate information posted online has the same personal email and cell phone number as Winnipeg School Division trustee Ramos.

    Incumbency is pretty powerful — you really have to mess up to get knocked off, such as upsetting a voting bloc around a particular decision — and it will be more so in this election, when WSD goes from three wards of three seats apiece and 43,000-or-so voters each, to nine single-seat wards.

    Board chair Suzanne Hrynyk has already announced plans to run for council in the Old Kildonan ward.

    What will also be interesting to watch is who runs where — candidates need only live in the division, not necessarily in the ward whose seat they seek, and I’m reckoning incumbents won’t want to go up against each other.

    Meanwhile, St. James-Assiniboia school trustee Bryan Metcalfe is running for city council in the St. James-Brooklands ward.

    I’ve only talked to Metcalfe once since the 2010 election, and that was immediately after the election, when I called around the trustees to see what the possible impact would be of the SJA’s board having only three of nine seats held by imcumbents, the result of a slew of retirements and defeated incumbents.

    Metcalfe, a former newspaper executive, gave me an interview, which I summarized briefly in my subsequent story. But at the end of our interview, he told me I would have to submit my story to him for approval prior to publication.

    Here’s what I reported Nov. 4, 2010: "Metcalfe said that taxes, declining enrolment and the moratorium on school closures would all be issues. However, when told that the article would not be submitted to him for approval before publication, Metcalfe said that he did not want to be quoted on anything except that he is excited to be on the board."

    That’s the last time he’s had his name in our paper.

    Aldo, Bartley, Dan, Mary Agnes, all you CBC types and other city hall media, heads up, it will be interesting to see if Metcalfe tries that same thing this time around.

    My colleague Jessica Botelho-Urbanski recently reported that veteran trustee and former principal Wayne Ruff is retiring from Louis Riel school board.

    And, sadly, two deaths of trustees in the last while, Ric de la Cruz in Seven Oaks and Shirley Timm-Rudolph in River East Transcona.


  • Rare coverage for a school board candidate --- is it all planned?

    08/6/2014 12:03 PM

    Candace Maxymowich is doing a pretty good job of getting her name in the media.

    Considering there are 61 public school board seats in eight school divisions which are open to eligible residents within the city, and considering where the mainstream media rate school board elections compared to the mayoral and council elections, Louis Riel Ward 4 candidate Maxymowich is doing remarkably well in generating media attention.

    And just because the Twitterverse and the comments section of our paper have not reacted kindly to what Maxymowich has to say and tweet and blog, doesn’t mean that she’s unaware of the voters whom she’s trying to reach, in an election generally plagued by low voter turnout.

    You can read my latest story on her here.

    Maxymowich, who grew up in Vita and rents in Royalwood, is 20, and the first round of coverage was largely due to her being a rarity at that age — very, very few school trustees under the age of 25 get elected in Manitoba, and almost as few run.

    Prominent in Conservative youth circles, having worked for city councillor Paula Havixbeck and now working for MP Joyce Bateman, Maxymowich originally drew attention a few months ago for her social media attacks on veteran Ward 4 school trustees Hugh Coburn and Tom Parker. A retired police officer, Coburn has been a trustee longer than Maxymowich has been alive. Parker goes back 16 years on the school board, after retiring as a high school principal in the division.

    Maxymowich accused them of failing to communicate and consult with residents on major issues, and asked on Twitter how Coburn could sleep at night. She challenged voters to elect integrity over incumbency, which she later claimed did not imply that she was saying that incumbents lack integrity — a disingenuous argument at best.

    Anyway, back in May, I interviewed Maxymowich. Full disclosure — as soon as the story ran, she said that I had misinterpreted pretty much everything she had said.

    In that interview, Maxymowich said she wants the private sector to run school breakfast programs. While she did not know how much teachers are paid, Maxymowich said she would consider reducing the number of teachers on the payroll as a way of keeping down taxes. She called on trustees to donate their stipends back to the community, as she promised to do.

    Which brings us to the latest round of media coverage.

    I came across it on Twitter early Tuesday. Maxymowich declared she is the defender of parental rights and supports the moral integrity of children. She also cited through hashtags two anti-abortion organizations, Life’s Vision and the Campaign Life Coalition.

    The Twitterverse went totally squirrelly, and we members of the mainstream media sought interviews. Maxymowich declined to talk by phone, but told me she would reply by email to specific questions.

    She did so, in a fashion, but subsequently declined to provide further answers when I followed up seeking elaboration and clarification in specific areas.

    So, boiling down what she said by Twitter and email, which was pretty consistent across the mainstream media...

    Maxymowich believes that abstinence is the only acceptable part of sex ed in schools. Sexual education, it needs to be pointed out, is only a portion of the family life curriculum, like all curricula a massive document. However, Maxymowich would not push abstinence-only if elected, even though she told her campaign fundraiser last month that you should never waiver from your personal values.

    The provincial family life curriculum, when it gets to reproduction and contraception, puts abstinence first among a long list of topics to be taught in class. The curriculum also notes that schools are to consult parents before teaching sensitive material, and that parents have the right to hold their kids out of any part of the curriculum.

    She wouldn’t do a lot of explaining about parental rights and the moral integrity of children, providing no definitions of what Maxymowich means by those terms and what she sees as the problems. One wonders which trustee or candidate would be opposed to the moral integrity of children, though I’m not naive about the different approaches people take to defining those buzzwords.

    Likewise, Maxymowich urged candidates to debate family values and religious freedom during the election campaign, but, again, wouldn’t elaborate on what she means.

    My family has values, and it has beliefs about religious freedom, but I expect that what the four of us in our family value doesn’t share the same universe as the family values and definition of religious freedom of the people who have co-opted those buzzwords for their exclusive use.

    It would be helpful if Maxymowich would elaborate; as it stands, her touting those terms suggests she is signalling certain potential voters that she is one of them.

    And as for the two prominent anti-abortion progamizations to which Maxymowich gave a shoutout, she would say only that it’s because they have some positions on education. So do lots of people and organizations and groups, but she cited only those two, and would not elaborate.

    The Campaign Life Coalition website is huge, and includes a long list of positions on schools. The CLC concentrates on attacking the education policies of the Ontario Liberal government, which it notes repeatedly is headed by openly lesbian Premier Kathleen Wynne.

    Ontario has a family life curriculum as does Manitoba, it teaches kids about sexual orientation in what appears to be a similar positive manner as does Manitoba, and it has a bill very similar to our Bill 18, including protecting the right of students to organize a gay straight alliance in their schools.

    The CLC calls the sex ed portions of the Ontario curriculum disgusting, and says that the Ontario government — headed by its lesbian premier — is ‘Christophobic’ because, among other things, it teaches children that they must accept gays, lesbians, and other non-heterosexuals as normal people.

    OK, so Maxymowich isn’t saying that. But she did choose to single out those two organizations, and she did so because they take positions on education — so, it’s legitimate to ask, what are her beliefs and values about the education positions the CLC takes?


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About Nick Martin

Nick Martin is the old bearded guy at the back of the newsroom, the most experienced reporter at the Winnipeg Free Press, having started his career in Ontario in 1971.

He’s been covering education for the Free Press since the spring of 1997, after decades primarily covering municipal politics, including a four-year stint at the Ontario legislature for the London Free Press.

Nick moved to Manitoba in 1988 with his Winnipeg-born wife, who is a professor at the University of Manitoba. They have two kids, both of whom graduated from Grant Park High School: son Chris and daughter Gillian.

Nick has won a national journalism award from the Canadian Association of University Teachers, two Manitoba Human Rights Journalism awards, and the Ontario Reporters Association investigative award.

Nick is a long-distance runner, having finished and survived 18 marathons and 15 half-marathons and 30-kilometre races, and having (barely) survived 10 years as an outdoor and indoor soccer coach.

Nick became a soccer referee in 2007, delighting in his 60s in outrunning 16-year-olds and keeping his distance from obstreperous coaches and parents.

Nick and his wife have discovered a mutual love for kayaking at their Whiteshell cottage, and are both regulars at the Reh-Fit Centre. They hold season tickets to both the Manitoba Theatre Centre and the Warehouse, and as empty nesters, have rediscovered the joys of an active winter vacation.

A native of Jarrow-on-Tyne, England, Nick is a member of the Toon Army as a Newcastle United supporter, and a proud citizen of Leafs Nation.

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