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Wedded to education — and each other: Married trustees make TDSB history




Education, politics and policy have long been part of dinnertime discussion at the home of Parthi Kandavel and Anu Sriskandarajah. But those topics will likely now dominate their every waking moment.

The pair made history last week as the first married couple elected as trustees to the Toronto District School Board, with Kandavel re-elected in Ward 18 (Scarborough Southwest) and Sriskandarajah winning in Ward 22 (Scarborough-Rouge Park).

Parthi Kandavel, right, and wife Anu Sriskandarajah, are the first married couple to be elected as trustees on the Toronto District School Board, which serves 246,000 children in 583 schools.
Parthi Kandavel, right, and wife Anu Sriskandarajah, are the first married couple to be elected as trustees on the Toronto District School Board, which serves 246,000 children in 583 schools.  (Rene Johnston / Toronto Star)

“(The board) is probably a place where we’ll agree on more than at home,” jokes Kandavel, seated next to his wife at the dining room table in their two-storey home in northern Scarborough.

“We still have trouble figuring out what time the garbage should be taken out,” laughs Sriskandarajah. “So this might actually be easier.”

“We don’t know how it will play out. This will be new for us and new for the board,” says Sriskandarajah, one of 12 new faces elected to the 22-member board, which serves 246,000 students in 583 schools.

The couple say they share a similar vision when it comes to improving public education and ensuring all children have access to the same opportunities. But they differ on strategy. He tends to be more direct with people and more bold in his approach, whereas she’s more diplomatic and conservative.

“We definitely have different personalities, but I think it’s complementary,” she says.

Both are passionate about education. Kandavel, 36, is a math teacher at a private independent school in Scarborough — trustees are prohibited from teaching in a publicly funded board in Ontario. And Sriskandarajah, 32, is a York University professor in the Child and Youth Studies Program, where many of her students are aspiring teachers. When doing a PhD in sociology, her doctoral research focused on marginalized youth in her ward, and last year she co-authored a STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) Teaching and Learning Report for the TDSB.

And because being a trustee is essentially a part-time gig, with an annual salary of about $25,000, neither will be leaving the classroom.

Education is a theme woven throughout their relationship. They met in 2010 at a University of Toronto conference, and started dating shortly after, staying awake into the wee hours talking about education and politics. And, because Kandavel was in the midst of running for trustee in Ward 18, where he grew up and lived with his mother, there was plenty to discuss.

“A lot of our conversation was on the content of my brochures, what’s the messaging I’m putting out there, what are the fundamental ideas and concepts I’m championing at the door,” recalls Kandavel. “Much of it came out in our back and forth.”

He was unlucky at the polls, but not in love. Kandavel proposed at the spot where they met and the couple married in 2012, eventually buying a home in northern Scarborough because they were priced out of neighbourhoods in the south.

During the 2014 elections, Kandavel ran again in Ward 18 where his mom still lives, and Sriskandarajah helped him canvass. As an academic immersed in educational theory, she gained valuable insight from knocking on doors and listening to the concerns of parents, which typically dealt with crumbling buildings and outdated infrastructure.

And, because Kandavel won in 2014, Sriskandarajah gained a much deeper understanding of the day-to-day demands of trustees, such as the many phone calls and meetings with parents, community members and board staff.

So when Sriskandarajah decided to run this year — something she had never before considered — she knew what she was getting into. Initially, her husband was hesitant, because he was running in a tight race and had no time to help out with her campaign. But she was confident she could run her own campaign with her own team of volunteers. For weeks, they hardly saw one another, each focused on their own race.

Her plan was to run in the current ward Scarborough-Rouge River, which is the northeastern pocket of Scarborough, where the couple lives. But in the middle of the election, Premier Doug Ford introduced legislation to slash the number of city councillors, which resulted in municipal and school board boundaries being redrawn. The couple’s home is now just metres outside Ward 22, where Sriskandarajah ran. That ward, the most eastern slice of Scarborough, running from Steeles Ave. E. all the way south to the lake, is extremely diverse, including both affluent neighbourhoods and pockets of poverty.

“I felt that we needed somebody that would be able to represent the many, many different interests because the ward is so diverse,” says Sriskandarajah.

When the new term begins at the school board, on Dec. 1, Sriskandarajah says she’s committed to making evidence-based decisions and bringing “a fresh sense of optimism.”

“Coming from academia, our ultimate goal is to create positive changes and I’m hoping I can actually use what we learn to do concrete things,” she says.

Neither are ruling out a future in other political arenas. But for now, they are focused on their jobs, on being trustees — and on having children.

“We want to use our real-life experiences to enhance public education,” says Kandavel. “We’re both graduates of the TDSB and we want to give back.”

Isabel Teotonio is a Toronto-based reporter covering education. Follow her on Twitter: @Izzy74


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‘Business as usual’ for Dorel Industries after terminating go-private deal




MONTREAL — Dorel Industries Inc. says it will continue to pursue its business strategy going forward after terminating an agreement to go private after discussions with shareholders.

« Moving ahead. Business as usual, » a spokesman for the company said in an email on Monday.

A group led by Cerberus Capital Management had previously agreed to buy outstanding shares of Dorel for $16 apiece, except for shares owned by the family that controls the company’s multiple-voting shares.

But Dorel chief executive Martin Schwartz said the Montreal-based maker of car seats, strollers, bicycles and home furniture pulled the plug on a deal on the eve of Tuesday’s special meeting after reviewing votes from shareholders.

“Independent shareholders have clearly expressed their confidence in Dorel’s future and the greater potential for Dorel as a public entity, » he said in a news release.

Dorel’s board of directors, with Martin Schwartz, Alan Schwartz, Jeffrey Schwartz and Jeff Segel recused, unanimously approved the deal’s termination upon the recommendation of a special committee.

The transaction required approval by two-thirds of the votes cast, and more than 50 per cent of the votes cast by non-family shareholders.

Schwartz said enhancing shareholder value remains a top priority while it stays focused on growing its brands, which include Schwinn and Mongoose bikes, Safety 1st-brand car seats and DHP Furniture.

Dorel said the move to end the go-private deal was mutual, despite the funds’ increased purchase price offer earlier this year.

It said there is no break fee applicable in this case.

Montreal-based investment firm Letko, Brosseau & Associates Inc. and San Diego’s Brandes Investment Partners LP, which together control more than 19 per cent of Dorel’s outstanding class B subordinate shares voiced their opposition to the amended offer, which was increased from the initial Nov. 2 offer of $14.50 per share.

« We believe that several minority shareholders shared our opinion, » said Letko vice-president Stephane Lebrun, during a phone interview.

« We are confident of the long-term potential of the company and we have confidence in the managers in place.”

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Pandemic funds helping Montreal businesses build for a better tomorrow




Many entrepreneurs have had to tap into government loans during the pandemic, at first just to survive, but now some are using the money to better prepare their businesses for the post-COVID future.

One of those businesses is Del Friscos, a popular family restaurant in Dollard-des-Ormeaux that, like many Montreal-area restaurants, has had to adapt from a sit-down establishment to one that takes orders online for takeout or delivery.

“It was hard going from totally in-house seating,” said Del Friscos co-owner Terry Konstas. “We didn’t have an in-house delivery system, which we quickly added. There were so many of our employees that were laid off that wanted to work so we adapted to a delivery system and added platforms like Uber and DoorDash.”

Helping them through the transition were emergency grants and low-interest loans from the federal and provincial governments, some of which are directly administered by PME MTL, a non-profit business-development organization established to assist the island’s small and medium-sized businesses.

Konstas said he had never even heard of PME MTL until a customer told him about them and when he got in touch, he discovered there were many government programs available to help his business get through the downturn and build for the future. “They’ve been very helpful right from day one,” said Konstas.

“We used some of the funds to catch up on our suppliers and our rents, the part that wasn’t covered from the federal side, and we used some of it for our new virtual concepts,” he said, referring to a virtual kitchen model which the restaurant has since adopted.

The virtual kitchen lets them create completely different menu items from the casual American Italian dishes that Del Friscos is known for and market them under different restaurant brand names. Under the Prasinó Soup & Salad banner, they sell healthy Greek options and their Stallone’s Sub Shop brand offers hearty sandwiches, yet the food from both is created in the same Del Friscos kitchen.

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Downtown Montreal office, retail vacancies continue to rise




Some of downtown Montreal’s key economic indicators are heading in the wrong direction.

Office and retail vacancies in the city’s central core continued to climb in the fourth quarter of 2020, according to a quarterly report released Thursday by the Urban Development Institute of Quebec and the Montréal Centre-Ville merchants association. The report, whose first edition was published in October, aims to paint a socio-economic picture of the downtown area.

The survey also found office space available for sublet had increased during the fourth quarter, which may foreshadow even more vacancies when leases expire. On the residential front, condo sales fell as new listings soared — a sign that the downtown area may be losing some of its appeal to homeowners.

“It’s impossible not to be preoccupied by the rapid increase in office vacancies,” Jean-Marc Fournier, the former Quebec politician who now heads the UDI, said Thursday in an interview.

Still, with COVID-19 vaccinations set to accelerate in the coming months, “the economic picture is bound to improve,” he said. “People will start returning downtown. It’s much too early to say the office market is going to disappear.”

Public health measures implemented since the start of the pandemic almost a year ago — such as caps on office capacity — have deprived downtown Montreal of more than 500,000 workers and students. A mere 4,163 university and CEGEP students attended in-person classes in the second quarter, the most recent period for which figures are available. Border closures and travel restrictions have also brought tourism to a standstill, hurting hotels and thousands of local businesses.

Seventy per cent of downtown workers carried out their professional activities at home more than three days a week during the fourth quarter, the report said, citing an online survey of 1,000 Montreal-area residents conducted last month.

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