By AMARACHI AMADIKE, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Ontario’s two French language school boards elected new trustees for vacant ridings in central and east Toronto on Monday, Jan. 23.
The byelections took place after original elections for both the Conseil Scolaire Viamonde’s Ward 3 (Centre) and Conseil scolaire catholique MonAvenir Ward 4 (Toronto Est) were made void in last year’s municipal election in October.
Viamonde board Ward 3 candidate Anna-Karyna Ruszkowski beat her four opponents by a large margin, claiming 59 percent of voter support.
Although the new Ward 3 trustee previously expressed surprise about the high number of candidates she was up against considering the lack of candidacy that forced the initial election to be void, less than 1,000 out of 3,700 eligible Conseil Scolaire Viamonde Ward 3 voters made it to the ballot—a low turnout.
Ruszkowski won the trustee seat with 421 votes. Second place finisher was Alexandre Nanoff with 107 votes. Richard Kempler was third with 61 votes; Serge Paul was fourth with 53 votes; and Mary Wood was fifth with 36 votes.
Further east, the Conseil scolaire catholique MonAvenir board experienced a much closer, but still very decisive, race during its byelection for trustee in Ward 4 on the night of Jan. 23.
Rhea Dechaine was elected the new trustee after outperforming her opponents Regis Joseph and Valerie Rousseau by winning 51 percent of the 209 tallied votes. There were a total of approximately 3,000 eligible voters for MonAvenir Ward 4 (Toronto Est) ward, which added up to a turnout of less than 10 per cent.
Dechaine won with 107 votes. Rousseau received 71 votes; and Joseph had 31 votes.
“I am honoured to have been chosen by the French Catholic families in Toronto-East to represent their needs at the school board level,” said Dechaine. “This is not a responsibility I take lightly.”
Dechaine, who has served on the parent council of her son’s school for the past eight years, told Beach Metro Community News that her priority is the establishment of a French Catholic High School in the east end of Toronto.
Dechaine and Ruszkowski both saw an opportunity to run for trustee due to a lack of candidates in their respective wards during the October 2022 municipal elections.
In Ward 3, Amina Bibi Bhayat was the sole candidate remaining in October’s elections after her opponent was disqualified following discovery that he didn’t meet the criteria for French public school board candidates. Since she had not been acclaimed before the campaign started, the City of Toronto declared the election void.
Although Bhayat previously expressed interest at running once again during byelections, she opted against it.
Similarly, Ward 4 of the French Catholic School Board also saw last year’s election voided by the City of Toronto. One of three candidates was ineligible while another withdrew. According to law, if there is only one candidate due to such circumstances, the election must be void.
Amarachi Amadike is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter for Beach Metro Community News. His reporting is funded by the Government of Canada through its Local Journalism Initiative.