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From back bench to front and centre

After more than nine years as a backbencher at Queen’s Park, local MPP Liz Sandals is finally just where she wants to be. She was elected in 2003 with the sort of resume that made her a natural for the post of education minister – and now she is.
Sandals’ promotion to cabinet, straight into the high-profile position of education minister, was a long time coming, and she has certainly earned her spurs along the way. She’s been a parliamentary assistant – an MPP sidekick to a cabinet minister – in a variety of ministries, including education. She has led provincial government initiatives, such as its Safe Schools Action Team, and has toiled in the financial trenches on the government’s treasury board.
These years of hard work at Queen’s Park, along with many prior years as a school board trustee and a four-year stint as president of the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association, are on top of her experience teaching computer science at the University of Guelph. Degree-wise, she comes equipped with a Master of Mathematics from the University of Waterloo and a Bachelor of Science from the U of G.
Sandals “knows her onions,” as they say. And she’ll need all of her vast knowledge of the education system, her connections to people within that system and her problem-solving skills to achieve her most pressing task – getting teachers in the public system to start participating again in extracurricular and other voluntary activities.
While Sandals has been striking a conciliatory tone with the teachers’ unions, no one should expect this to mean she’ll be bowing or kowtowing to the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario and the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation. She’s shown in the past that she’s tough as nails when push comes to shove.
Of course, Premier Kathleen Wynne is a former education minister herself and will no doubt have much to say about what happens with the education file. But she and Sandals have lots of experience working together, including at the education ministry and treasury board. So it’s likely they’ll have a productive relationship in their new roles – assuming the minority government can survive through the spring. Let’s hope it can. Ontarians don’t need another election any time soon, and the new-look Liberal government deserves a chance to show what it can do.

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