Abstinence, creationism and the war on Christmas

The importance of school trustee elections

For a few short days in an otherwise sleepy summer prior to this fall’s municipal and school board elections, prominent conservative youth activist and Riel School Division Ward 4 candidate Candace Maxymowich set the Winnipeg Twitter-verse afire, and in doing so, taught us a lesson in the importance of school board elections.

The saga of Maxymowich began on Aug. 5, 2014 when the 20-year-old candidate declared that she would defend the moral integrity of children - in the process referencing two prominent groups who actively fight against women's reproductive rights.

In response to some probing questions, she also revealed herself to advocate for abstinence-only education. The current curriculum in Manitoba is based on the idea of abstinence first - that is, teaching abstinence as the only guaranteed way to avoid STIs and pregnancy, while also educating youth about ways to reduce risk to themselves and partners if they choose to have sex. It seems Maxymowich would prefer teachers left out risk reduction.

The gnashing of teeth in the public square over these comments was so great that Progressive Conservative leader Brian Pallister was forced to distance himself from Maxymowich, who serves as the youth representative on the PC board of directors. A Conservative youth organization at the University of Manitoba, where Maxymowich is a student, also distanced itself from her, declaring their support for evidence-based, comprehensive sex-education.

While initially seeking to temper public outrage by claiming these were personal views only and that she would not be seeking to change the curriculum, at some point Maxymowich decided to embrace her inner Sarah Palin and double-down on her commitment to radical social-conservative positions - basking in the national spotlight which her controversial statements have brought on her.

In the following weeks, Maxymowich has proclaimed her opposition to Bill 18, anti-bullying legislation which requires schools to support LGBT students set up gay-straight alliances, her opposition to the so-called “war on Christmas”, and called for creationism to be taught in science classes. Months prior to these most recent comments, in May of 2014, she told Nick Martin of the Winnipeg Free Press that she wanted to privatize the division’s breakfast program and consider reducing the number of teachers in the growing school division.

It's sometimes easy to forget just how important school trustees are to K-12 education in Manitoba. These individuals, often elected with very little fanfare, are responsible for the system that educates the next generation of Manitobans - not to mention being responsible for annual budgets totaling over $2 billion. Indicative of the sort of irrelevance school trustees hold in people’s minds, a 2011 a bi-election held in Winnipeg School Division Ward 1 managed to attract just over six per cent of eligible voters to the polls.

Despite all that is said about the 20-year-old culture warrior, she has done a great service in raising awareness about the importance of school trustees in our public education system. With a few tweets and media interviews, Maxymowich forced voters in Winnipeg to at least think about who they are electing to these incredibly important positions. For that we owe her our thanks. My vote? Not a chance.

Matt McLean is a researcher at the Canadian Union of Public Employees.

Published in Volume 69, Number 1 of The Uniter (September 3, 2014)

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