An all-boys’ Toronto private school is battling accusations of elitism after New Democratic MPP Cheri DiNovo criticized the school’s tradition of hosting model parliament sessions at the Ontario Legislature.
Ms. DiNovo told the Canadian Press Tuesday that she was “shocked” to learn that “one of the most elite and expensive private schools,” Upper Canada College, has been the sole organizer of the event for 30 years. She said the tradition flies in the face of Ontario’s public education system – as well as the idea that the legislature is truly democratic.
Ms. DiNovo’s comments drew ire on social media. In response to critics on her Facebook page, she said the model parliament should be hosted by “a diverse cross-section of schools.”
UCC denounced the criticism in a press release.
While UCC has been behind the event, other schools – both public and private – have sent students to participate in the annual event’s educational simulations and debates. The organizers will waive the $70 delegate fee for students who can’t afford it.
Matt Griem, a UCC economics teacher and the faculty adviser for the model parliament program, said he was surprised by Ms. DiNovo’s criticism – especially given that February’s event was the last: The school is planning to organize a model United Nations in the future and move out of the Ontario Legislature.
Mr. Griem said several other groups hold model parliament sessions at the legislature and any school can apply to do so. “Our understanding is that any school in Ontario could apply to do a model parliament,” he said. “It may have been that it’s not publicized, but I’m not so sure that’s UCC’s jurisdiction or fault.”
Ms. DiNovo said on Facebook that “most schools [she] knows” were unaware they could plan model parliament sessions at the legislature.
Sebastian Marotta, 20, helped organize the model parliament in 2012 as a Grade 12 student at UCC. Now studying at Princeton, he said that although UCC is a private school, he doesn’t believe it’s elitist.
“There was a solid balance of people from different cultural backgrounds, different neighbourhoods [at UCC],” he said. “You really have to spend some time with the UCC guys before calling them elitist. It’s kind of unfair.”
Emma Groia, 25, was a co-chair on the model parliament organizing committee for two years before graduating from an all-girls’ Toronto school in 2007. She said UCC students typically take charge of organizing the event.
However, she said it was inaccurate to characterize the event as a “bastion of elitism.”
“The tone of the [Canadian Press] article made it sound very much like a bunch of rich boys were running around parliament, and certainly that’s not what it was,” she said.
Ms. DiNovo was not in her office Wednesday and was unavailable for comment.