With less than a month to go before municipal election day, some prospective voters have raised concerns about a few local school board and council candidates.
“Voters should certainly take it into account when thinking about who they want to vote for,” Julie Simmons, associate professor in the political science department at the University of Guelph, said of candidates’ online presence and past comments, while acknowledging the ability of people to change their views over time.
“When you are elected in any capacity, you're there not to represent your personal point of view, but rather the views of the constituents who elected you,” she continued. “Your job in listening to those constituents is never over, even after you're elected.
“It's not your personal opportunity to charge forward with your own individualized beliefs.”
Mark Paralovos (UGDSB trustee candidate)
Social media commenters have flagged a number of Paralovos’ posts as concerning to them, particularly with reference to his allegations of racism within the UGDSB and his stance on the use of pronouns.
Paralovos is taking the school board to task over what he perceives as a violation of its own anti-racism policy, stemming from a tweet by a school board official which included an image featuring the phrase “#BlackExcellence.”
In a blog post, Paralovos claims the hashtag “promotes a message of ‘excellence’ for Black students only.” He goes on to highlight the board’s equity and inclusive education policy statement “values all students” and specifically cites race.
“I think this is a clear violation of this policy statement,” Paralovos posted. “Would (an image) that said #AsianExcellence or #BrownExcellence or #WhiteExcellence be ignored in the current paradigm?”
Paralovos reiterated those comments when contacted by GuelphToday.
“I think it’s a very big problem,” he said, noting he’s scheduled to raise his concerns with school board trustees on Oct. 18. “I just want to have a conversation.”
An agenda for the UGDSB’s meeting that day has not been finalized.
"We are currently living in a challenging time where division, hatred and xenophobia are being actively promoted by a small number of loud voices," board chair Linda Busuttil and director of education Peter Sovran said in an emailed statement. "As members of our wider communities and as an educational system we are committed to actively work for the elimination of racism, hatred and oppression. As an educational community we have a responsibility to identify and describe racism and oppression and then work to dismantle it. The Upper Grand District School Board is committed to disrupting systemic racism and oppression in all of its forms."
Paralovos also believes promoting one group over others goes against the Education Act, which states, “Every board shall … promote a positive school climate that is inclusive and accepting of all pupils, including pupils of any race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, age, marital status, family status or disability.”
Further, the aspiring school board trustee questions the use of taxpayer dollars to support what he believes was a “racial segregated” event in 2021 promoted as being “for Black-identifying individuals” in relation to an update of the City of Guelph’s community plan, which is intended to “guide the work of local government and agencies that serve our community and provide a framework for monitoring our progress.”
In response to a tweet from incumbent mayoral candidate Cam Guthrie about the new library project, Paralovos asked how much was spent on the event and why such an event wasn’t considered racist.
“Sorry man, but there are huge issues that you’ve just ignored. And that silenced anyone with questions," Paralovos tweeted.
In another response to Guthrie, this time regarding a tweet promoting National Day of Truth and Reconciliation, Paralovos tweeted “Seems strange to worry about historic racism when racism is encouraged by this government.”
In the bio on his publicly accessible campaign Twitter account, @TrusteeMarkP, Paralovos describes himself as being “against identity politics.” Paralovos also operates the @MarkParalovos account, which is set to private.
In reply to a tweet about the start of a 2SLGBTQIA+ club in Ottawa and a brainstorming session on “how we can bring International #PronounsDay (October 19th!) to our #onted school,” Paralovos stated through his campaign account that, “Indoctrinating kids to use language that separates them from their parents is wrong. Stop this cult that is using #onted to recruit kids and adults. Hard no to garbage like pronouns.”
Responding to this post, Simmons said, “There are multiple generations that are having discussions about the construct of gender. And we are experiencing that regardless of what generation we are in. My parents, my children's grandparents, have discussions with me about it.”
Robert Higgins (Wellington Catholic District School Board trustee candidate)
In a 2020 open letter to then-Concervative Party leader Erin O’Toole, Higgins questioned the social impact of “homosexual propaganda,” expressed anti-abortion views and blamed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for the destruction of the “hegemony of white people in Canada.”
“I don’t think that I want to cooperate with you,” Higgins said when contacted for this article, adding the topics covered in his letter to O’Toole are “a different subject area” than the school system.
“I expressed views about political governance, in Ottawa particularly, so the subjects are not closely enough related that I could see any positive result for me in this reference.”
In the letter, posted on the website truehumanrights.com, Higgins claimed “people of European descent who condone the federal immigration policy are supporting the destruction of their own heritage and referred to the “socialist-liberal” view of immigration as idealistic and naive.
“They believe the world is composed of people who are thoroughly the same underneath skin that may vary in colour. Actually, the world is a patch quilt of groups who evolved more or less in isolation from each other until a century and a half ago,” Higgins wrote.
“It can be a mistake to mix incompatible groups and we have witnessed that in our southern neighbour since 1865,” the letter continues. “Fundamentally, the people of a country have a right to preserve their heritage, especially when it included much sacrifice by ancestors and defense in wars. That right is trod on by all the left wing parties and some Conservatives.”
In response to Higgins’ written thoughts on immigration, Simmons offered, “We could also say that unless we are descendants of Indigenous peoples in Canada, we are all migrants to our country.”
Shelagh McFarlane (mayoral candidate)
Concerns have been raised on a couple of fronts regarding mayoral candidate Shelagh McFarlene, who has publicly questioned the authority of governments to implement mask mandates and maintains it’s a “criminal breach of trust and dereliction of duty” for council members and city employees not to answer residents’ questions.
A video posted on YouTube shows McFarlene speaking during an anti-lockdown protest in Downtown Guelph last year during which she refers to mask mandates as “fraud,” pointing to limits placed on attendance at 12-step recovery meetings and sign-in requirements.
“If it’s not fraud, then they need to prove otherwise,” she stated. “Fraud eviscerates all. You can’t be forced into doing anything that hurts people, and this hurts people.”
In an email, McFarlane confirmed her participation in the event but explained she wasn’t involved in the protest itself.
“I didn't protest – I presented my information,” she wrote. “The United Nations is an international non-government organization – made up of very rich 'business men', with no inherent authority – other than lots of money – that want the world to themselves. If people disagree, I'd like to see their proof of the UN's governing legitimacy.”
To "free" everyone from public/private partnerships would "get people immediate help! Guelph would have instant, international recognition and respect," she added in a follow-up email, challenging people to prove her wrong.
This is an extremely dangerous time for us in Canada, Richard - they have removed our Canadian "governments". I'm running for Mayor to try to save the kids in Guelph.
She continued to espouse her belief about the city’s government authority, or lack thereof, in an email response regarding a resident’s allegations against a municipal worker, dated Sept. 18.
“Nobody will answer because your local ‘government officials’ (GO) & THE CITY OF GUELPH (Non-GO) don’t work for you,” McFarlane wrote. “Cam Guthrie, the councillors, the police and all CITY employees work for WEF (World Economic Forum) now & to keep their OMERS (Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System) pensions. Nothing will change until this is corrected.”
Thai Mac (Ward 1 candidate)
Faced with past online comments considered offensive by some people, Mac publicly announced his withdrawal from the race on Sept. 9, followed Sept. 23 by its re-launch.
There’s a difference between the use of language considered offensive by some and promoting unpopular political opinions, Simmons noted when asked about some candidates’ participation in groups with expressed opposition to mask mandates, COVID vaccines and more.
“These are things that are questions about the place of science in our society and the certainty with which people think with certainty that governments are looking after their own best interests,” she said. “To me that is quite different from some other things that might be directed towards people of different races or religions or sexual orientation.”