The ‘anti-woke’ wave in Ontario’s municipal elections was an epic fail

Many school board trustee candidates running on anti-LGBTQ2S+ platforms came up short

While an unprecedented wave of anti-trans school board candidates competed in this year’s Ontario municipal elections, few managed to win trustee positions. 

Right-wing organizations like Blueprint for Canada and Vote Against Woke marshalled efforts to install candidates on school boards who oppose anti-racism education and LGBTQ2S+ equality. These groups attracted dozens of candidates, and activists were worried about how electing people like Chanel Pfahl, who once argued in an op-ed that transphobia is “common sense,” or Mark Paralovos, who denied the existence of non-binary people, would impact queer and trans youth.

Fae Johnstone, executive director of Wisdom2Action, told Xtra last week that electing “anti-woke” school board trustees would make life even more difficult for vulnerable LGBTQ2S+ children. “What I’m worried about is the removal of all the supports and protections that our queer and trans young people need to survive,” she said in an interview.

But despite these fears, voters largely rejected extremist rhetoric. Around 50 candidates campaigned on anti-trans issues this year and just 10 won seats, according to CBC News.

Take Ottawa, where a slate of eight anti-trans candidates were running in the English-language Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) and Catholic School Board (OCSB). None were elected. Meanwhile, OCSB trustee Glen Armstrong came up short in his reelection campaign after running on a platform promising to “remove excess ideology” from schools—a conservative dog whistle referring to the removal of instruction on racism, LGBTQ2S+ issues and sex education from schools. 

Lyra Evans, who became Canada’s first openly trans school board trustee when she was elected in 2018, handily won reelection in OCDSB Zone 6. One of her competitors was Shannon Boschy, a self-described “anti-woke” candidate whose trans son alleged that his father’s transphobia had driven a wedge between them. Evans won in a landslide, beating Boschy by 48 points. 

Pfahl, meanwhile, came in third in the race for Zone 8 of the OCDSB. After the election was called, she tweeted a photo of the LGBTQ acronym accompanied by a heart that had been spray painted over one of her campaign signs, claiming the gesture felt “a little hate crimey.”

 

“Targeting me because of my sexual orientation, in 2022!?!” she wrote.

https://twitter.com/ChanLPfa/status/1585497598881841156

Another notable loss is Peter Wallace, who failed to be elected as a school trustee in Kawartha Lakes. Wallace is the founder of Blueprint for Canada—a group promoting anti-LGBTQ2S+ conspiracy theories, which supported or endorsed some school trustees in their races. Wallace had previously told a right-wing website that he aimed to remove “cultural hot points” of “diversity, equity and inclusion” from schools, according to a report from PressProgress.

Terry Rekar—who led a local chapter of the far-right group Action4Canada, which helped organize the so-called Freedom Convoy earlier this year—also failed in her bid for a trustee seat in Clarington. So too did Jeanette Lee, a candidate in Hanover who told CBC News she was not “confident” discussing a platform the broadcaster described as broadly “anti-woke.”

While Luanne Ashe’s supporters in the Grand Erie school district board election claimed she had won, she finished 180 votes short of claiming a seat. Ashe is a self-styled “politically incorrect lobbyist for common sense” who has retweeted anti-trans misinformation and opposes vaccines.

Voters in Hamilton turned away from fellow “Stop Woke” candidates Catherine Kronas and Larry Masters, as neither won their school board seats. Kronas created the webpage StopWoke.ca, which is affiliated with the socially conservative and anti-vaccine New Blue Party of Ontario. In an interview with the Hamilton Spectator, Kronas called equity efforts “Marxism” and claimed trans identities “don’t relate to anything in objective science.” 

And in Guelph, Paralovos finished fourth in the contest for Wards 1 and 5 of the Upper Grand District School Board trustee race, taking in 1023 votes. That’s a third as many as the top vote-getter, incumbent Martha MacNeil, who earned 3,854 ballots. MacNeil will hold onto her seat alongside newcomer Luke Weiler, who came in second with 2,559 votes.

However, some anti-LGBTQ2S+ candidates did succeed in their bids. Anti-trans trustees triumphed in Oshawa and Caledon. Linda Stone was reelected in Oshawa after previously resigning over transphobic tweets, while Paula Dametto-Giovannozzi was elected to Caledon’s Catholic school board. Earlier this month, Dametto-Giavannozzi told local newspaper The Peterborough Examiner her top priorities were to block mask or vaccine mandates, roll back the sex-ed program, and “abolish critical race theory.”

While some school boards saw clear-cut rejections (or elections) of socially conservative candidates, others were more of a mixed bag. In Waterloo, three of five candidates endorsed by Vote Against Woke won trustee races for the 11-member school board. Socially conservative incumbents Mike Ramsay and Cindy Watson were joined by new trustee Bill Cody, although anti-trans candidates Linda Brooks and Cristina Bairos Fernandes were not elected. 

The Greater Toronto Area also saw a mix of wins and losses. The anti-trans, anti-choice and anti-racial-justice organization Campaign Life Coalition (CLC) endorsed nine candidates across different school board races in Halton. Four won: Emma Murphy took a Catholic school board trustee seat in Milton, while Xin Yi Zhang in Burlington and Robert Kennedy and Helena Karabela claimed positions in Oakville. Five CLC-supported candidates didn’t make the cut, including Vincent Iantomasi who lost his re-election bid in Burlington. 

In Toronto, Mike Del Grande was reelected as a Catholic school board trustee in Toronto. Del Grande has a long history of anti-LGBTQ2S+ views, having previously compared LGBTQ2S+ identities to bestiality

Although most anti-LGBTQ2S+ candidates failed to gain election, their one-in-five win rate signals a worrying tolerance for bigotry among voters. Although no school board in the province has an anti-trans majority that we know of, individual trustees may act in ways to waste time or push anti-equity funding measures. The far-right will continue to mobilize, taking the victories they have won and spending the next few years planning their next steps. 

Concerned voters can ask their local trustees to stand up for LGBTQ2S+ students and faculty and push back against any harmful rhetoric in board meetings. As Johnstone said ahead of the election: “Everyone should be asking their school board trustees where they stand.

“We need all trustees after this election to be louder and prouder champions of our rights,” she urged.

Correction: November 22, 2022 12:20 pmRachael Prinzen, who was elected to the Hastings and Prince Edward County School Board, has been removed from this story. Xtra‘s original reporting was based on Prinzen’s social media posts which are no longer publicly available. Prinzen has recently communicated with Xtra to say that she is not anti-LGBTQ2S+, she did not attend the trucker convoy in Ottawa, and she is not a PPC supporter. We apologize for any confusion our original story may have created. 

V.S. Wells

V. S. Wells is a British writer living in Vancouver, B.C., with bylines in Slate, VICE and Autostraddle. Please stop asking them about Brexit.

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