Whitby’s Julie Payette Public School will still be named after controversial former Governor General

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Published January 18, 2022 at 4:31 pm

Durham District School Board will not rename Whitby’s Julie Payette Public School, named for the former Governor General who resigned as head of state following allegations of workplace misconduct.

The board decided to keep name in a January 17 meeting moments after voting to rename Pickering’s John A. MacDonald P.S. to honour Ojibwe water rights activist Biidassige (Josephine) Mandamin. This move was contrary to nearly 70 per cent of surveyed members who thought MacDonald should not be renamed.

DDSB announced in May that they were considering renaming both schools. Julie Payette P.S. was chosen for a rebranding following numerous allegations of workplace harassment against the Governor General while she was in office.

Numerous staffers at the Governor General’s officer reported a toxic work environment driven by verbal abuse and screaming tantrums from the former-astronaut-turned-head-of-state, that left the workers in tears. More than half a dozen staff members left their positions during the pandemic.

Payette resigned her post in June after the allegations and a scathing report on her behaviour were made public. The DDSB renaming process entered its second phase, public consultation, the following November.

In a school community of more than 600 families, only around 100 people engaged in the survey, far below the engagement seen for John A MacDonald P.S., provoking concern from a couple of trustees, including Michael Barrett.

“I don’t think the survey indicated to us that there’s a huge, overwhelming desire for the community’s stand point to go forward with the change. In fact it didn’t even get a majority of individuals being able to say they wanted change,” said Barrett.

Barret did say that the John A MacDonald name is no longer acceptable, in reference to ongoing racism visited upon First Nation communities, but the Julie Payette issue is “a little different,” noting her many acheivements and her Order of Canada.

He noted people have requested name changes for trivial or nakedly political issues such as Bobby Orr’s full page ad in support of Donald Trump to Pierre Trudeau for “issues I won’t even bother touching base on.”

Three names were selected from the 25 suggested options including;

  • Michi Saagiig Public School, named for the Mississaugas people
  • Dr. Elsie Charles Basque Public School, for the first Mi’kmaq person to hold a teacher’s license in Nova Scotia, and
  • Gord Downie Public School, for the Tragically Hip singer-songwriter acclaimed for his work toward reconciliation

Gord Downie was the community’s top choice for the schools namesake. However the naming committee chose Michi Saagiig Public School as its first choice, pending approval by the Chiefs of the Mississauga Nations.

This was decided based on the Mississaugas thousands of years of history in the local area and a professed alignment of values between DDSB and pre-contact Mississaugas among other reasons.

It was noted that despite his national significance, Downie was not from the area, and he was the least voted option by the committee.

The school was previously named after Leslie McFarlane, journalist and novelist from Whitby and Oshawa best known for his contributions to the Hardy Boys series. McFarlane was not floated as an option in the final report, despite a 1000-signature strong petition to revert the name.

Ultimately two two voted to change the name and five voted not to, which also resulted in saving DDSB $25,000-$35,000 for new signage

 

 

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