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Joe Ortona acclaimed as new EMSB chair as most commissioners face no opposition

File / Global News

The English Montreal School Board has a new chair after nominations closed Sunday with only one candidate in the race: the board’s former vice-chair, Joe Ortona.

It comes about a month before school board elections are due to be held on Nov. 1 and caps off nearly a decade of political turbulence in the province’s largest English-language school board.

In a statement on his Facebook page, Ortona said he is “looking forward to serving the English-speaking community and parents over the next four years.”

When Ortona takes office in November, he will take over a seat that has been empty since Angela Mancini’s resignation in July. In her 13 years in office, Mancini had come under heavy criticism for her leadership style and for several years been involved in a power struggle with Ortona and several other commissioners after they broke away from her political party on council.

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In the wake of Mancini’s resignation, reported first by Global News, the board’s director-general, Ann Marie Matheson, also resigned.

Read more: English Montreal School Board director-general to resign Thursday

The EMSB will also be emerging from the shadow of a year-long period of trusteeship.

A scathing provincial audit, prompted in part by complaints from Ortona and several other opposition commissioners, a culture of dysfunction and infighting, as well as irregularities in the awarding of contracts, prompted Quebec City to strip the board of much of its powers in November 2019. Former Liberal MP Marlene Jennings has overseen most of the board’s day-to-day operations since then.

Like Ortona’s one-man race for board chair, most EMSB commissioners, too, have been acclaimed in their wards after no other candidates entered the race. Ortona’s political party is already assured of a large majority, set to control nine or 10 of the 11 votes on council including Ortona’s.

Of the 10 seats on the council of commissioners, only voters in Ward 3 — which covers all of the city of Westmount and the adjacent Sud-Ouest borough of Montreal, as well as the western part of the Ville-Marie borough — will need to go to the polls on Nov. 1. There, incumbent Julien Feldman (running on Joe Ortona’s ticket) will face off against independent Irwin Rapoport.

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By contrast, the Lester B. Pearson School Board (LBPSB) on the West Island will see a few more competitive races.

Judy Kelley, a longtime educator and the wife of former provincial cabinet minister Geoff Kelley, is running against retired teacher Chris Eustace to be in charge of the board. Three of that board’s 12 wards will also see a competitive race for a seat on its council of commissioners.

Part of the reason why so few candidates jumped into the race this year is likely the continued uncertainty over both boards’ long-term future: the province intended to abolish Quebec’s English-language school boards when Bill 40 was passed in February.

Read more: English Montreal School Board joins legal challenge against Bill 40

This month, however, the Quebec court of appeal struck down the parts of the law that applied to English public schools, though it upheld language ditching French-language school boards in favour of regional service centres.

Despite the low number of seats to fill, the Quebec English School Boards Association (QESBA), which represents 100,000 students in 340 schools across the province, said it is “pleased” with the number of candidatures that were deposited by Sunday’s deadline.

The association said the short timeline and the pandemic created additional challenges for candidate.

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“Candidates rallied over six days, all with strict health requirements, to gather nomination signatures to be able to run in these elections,” said QESBA president Dan Lamoureux in a written statement.

“QESBA is pleased and acknowledges the commitment of the English-speaking community to our institutions.”

Acclaimed ESMB commissioners

Ward 1 (Côte des Neiges/Snowdon/Outremont/Town of Mount Royal/Park Extension): Ellie Israel (Team Ortona)

Ward 2 (Montreal West/Notre-Dame-de-Grâce): Joseph Lalla (Independent)

Ward 4 (Côte-St-Luc/Hampstead): Jamie Fabian (Team Ortona)

Ward 5 (St. Laurent): James Kromida (Team Ortona)

Ward 6 (St. Michel/Villeray/Petite-Patrie/Plateau Mont-Royal/Ville-Marie East): Agostino Cannavino (Team Ortona)

Ward 7 (Ahuntsic/Montreal North): Sophie De Vito (Team Ortona)

Ward 8 (St. Léonard): Mario Pietrangelo (Team Ortona)

Ward 9 (Anjou/Mercier/Hochelaga-Maisonneuve/Rosemont): Mario Bentrovato (Team Ortona)

Ward 10 (Rivière-des-Prairies—Pointe-aux-Trembles): Pietro Mercuri (Team Ortona)

Acclaimed Lester B. Pearson commissioners

Ward 1 (Verdun/LaSalle): Lori Morrison

Ward 5 (Pierrefonds-Roxboro/Île Bizard): Malik Shaheed

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Ward 6 (Dollard-des-Ormeaux/Pointe-Claire Northeast): Craig Berger

Ward 7 (Saint-Geneviève/Kirkland North/Pointe-Claire Northwest): Jason Doan

Ward 8 (Beaconsfield/Kirkland South/Pointe-Claire South): Marilyne Boyer

Ward 9 (Île-Perrot/Baie-D’Urfé/Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue South): Michel Besner

Ward 10 (Senneville/Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue North): Eric Bender

Ward 11 (Hudson/Saint-Lazare/Rigaud/Pointe-Fortune): Daniel Olivenstein

Ward 12 (Vaudreuil-Dorion): Angela Berryman

— With files from Global’s Annabelle Olivier