In two previous posts, I feature brief video clips in which Pamela Gough describes how she first became involved, in the 1980s, in political life:
Here is a transcript of Pamela’s remarks about her start in political life in 1988
Pamela Gough: It all started in the mid-1980s, when my husband and I moved to our current house in South Etobicoke – and we chose the location we did because of its proximity to a neighbourhood school.
To our surprise, the school board, which at that point was the Etobicoke Board of Education, closed the school down just as the community was beginning to turn over from having had a number of the children – that had been born and raised in it, over the previous Baby Boom generation – leave.
So enrolment had dropped drastically by the mid-eighties, and the Etobicoke board was closing schools all over Etobicoke. We had the steepest level of decline in enrolment of any board in Canada, and that included my local school.
However, I knew, and my neighbours knew, that there were babies being born and families moving in. And we knew that there were children in the area that were going to be of school age, by the time the five year lease, that the school was under, had expired.
So we were banging on the doors of the Etobicoke Board of Education, to try to get them to listen to this, and consider breaking that lease – or at least allowing the lease to expire, and then reopening the school – but to no avail.
The planners were telling us they have the census data, they knew the demographics: “there weren’t enough children to run a good program.”
So, at any rate, after a certain amount of banging on the walls, I decided that there was only one way forward – and that was, I had to run for office as a trustee, and get on the board and work from the inside, to have my voice heard. Which is what I did. So I ran in the 1988 election, and I won.
Won the election by 20 votes
I won by 20 votes [laughs] – I did not win by a landslide, but I won and that was the most important thing.
And then I proceeded to get deeply involved in, not just this local issue of reopening the school, which did happen, by the way – the school was reopened in 1990 and now is overly full and has a portable.
It’s got a school-based day care in it, that I was on the original board of directors of. We managed to get Ministry funding to get a day care – to get two rooms inside of the school renovated, so they could become a day care, which is run by the parents of the children that go to the school.
A huge success for the community
So that was a huge success story for our community. And for me it was a real revelation, because, coming from a background in environmental science, I had not been exposed to education before.
But I found that the ideas that I was finding all around me as a trustee – in terms of how children learn; what constitutes an effective school – these were all questions that really affected me very deeply, that made me eager to learn more.
A life changing experience for Pamela
One of the most life changing experiences I had, as a trustee, was just sitting on hearings that took place, to excuse students from having to attend school, because they had in effect dropped out.
So there’s a process that the board allows students to go through, to work with them when they are disengaged and on the verge of leaving school. And that process begins with a hearing that’s actually conducted by trustees.
So I took part in many of those hearings; I chaired many of those hearings. And I heard and saw many of the same profiles in the students coming in front of me.
I saw students whose educational struggles were really rooted in the problems that they brought with them from the home environment
I saw parents who were struggling, to put food on the table, who were working two and three jobs, to keep their kids ins table housing.
And single parents, in many cases, who were trying desperately to help their kids, but didn’t know what to do.
So those social problems that I saw, at the root of the educational problems, really impressed me.
Because it said to me that, the first thing that needs to happen, for children to experience educational success, is they have to have a stable home environment – with food, sufficient housing, and enough capacity on the part of the parents to take care of them.
And in many families, that was just simply not the case, and as a result their kids were dropping out, and losing the value of a secondary education – which they need to go on, and create a place for themselves in society.
Centre of Excellence for Child Protection
So that led to my interest in child welfare. And after I left off being a trustee, I went back to university; I did a Master of Teaching Program in the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, and after that ended up working at the University of Toronto in the Faculty of Social Work, with the Centre of Excellence for Child Protection.
So this is an organization that was funded by the federal government, that worked on a national basis, in both official languages, to take child welfare research and translate it into easy to use information that child protection workers could use to advance their professional knowledge.
And also we were working in many other areas of policy, to do with child welfare, specifically indigenous child welfare, because Indigenous children are vastly overrepresented in the child welfare system.
First Nations Child and Family Caring Society
So the work that I did at the centre of child welfare, which was largely to do with Indigenous child welfare, was a real eye-opener.
We did a lot of work on Reconciliation. One of the board members, of the centre, was Cindy Blackstock, who is the executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society.
And Cindy is a major advocate for Indigenous child welfare. In fact, she took the federal government to court, claiming that the supports for Indigenous children in the child welfare system were vastly lower than the supports given to non-Indigenous children, and she won the case. And so she’s a major player in the Canadian scene.
So at any rate, she and the others that I worked with were wonderful mentors, and really gave me a tremendous education about the First Nations, and Metis and Inuit people in Canada, and their cultures.
Acknowledgement of First Nations ancestral lands
And as a result, when I became a trustee again, in 2010 – I was re-elected as a trustee. I immediately got on the Indigenous Community Advisory Committee of the TDSB, and I have sat on that now for eight years.
And it was my great honour to bring forward, from that committee to the TDSB, a motion to start the school day at every single school with an Indigenous Acknowledgement. I brought that motion forward; it was unanimously agreed to by the other trustees. And it began, I believe it was, in September 2014.
And so now, every single school in the TDSB and most of the meetings – the major meetings that happen at the TDSB, all the major committee meetings – start with an acknowledgement and recognition of ancestral lands of the Indigenous people.
I’m really proud of that.