Don Valley East has been a Liberal stronghold since the provincial riding was created in 1999 and Michael Coteau intends to keep it that way.
The three-term Toronto District School Board (TDSB) trustee was unanimously elected the party’s candidate for next month’s elections, replacing former Health Minister David Caplan who is one of 14 Liberals not seeking re-election.
Caplan won the last two elections comfortably by more than 9,000 votes after defeating Tory government senior Cabinet Minister David Johnson by 3,038 votes in the riding’s inaugural elections 12 years ago.
Acknowledging he’s filling big shoes, Coteau said he’s not overwhelmed by the challenge.
“I have always been supportive of the Ontario Liberals and I have had a long working relationship with them going back to my university days when I was the president of Carleton University’s Liberal club,” he said.
“Campaigning for school trustee and Member of Provincial Parliament however is quite different and I have had to learn quickly. This takes more volunteers, you are dealing with a wider spectrum of issues, you have to invest more time over a shorter period and you have to raise more campaign funds.”
Coteau recognized at a very young age that education was his ticket to a better life and he’s campaigned for expanding programs that allow students to earn post-secondary credits while in high school and increasing mentorship programs.
He’s also a passionate advocate for digital textbooks that propelled him into the spotlight here in Canada and the United States where he was on CNN last January. Trustees this year voted in favour of a plan that could save the board nearly $100 million in the next 10 years.
“Just today, a lady came into my office with her daughter and said she was going to vote for me because of my vision for digital textbooks which she supports,” said Coteau. “I want to be known as the guy who brings the education agenda to Queen’s Park. Almost everything we do revolves around education and literacy.
“We know that if we increase the literacy level by one per cent, we increase the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by 1.5 per cent and we increase overall production by 2.5 per cent. Literacy is connected to everything and education is what I stand for and want to bring to the mix at the legislature.”
Coteau, who is also a strong supporter for student nutrition, community use of school space and environmentally friendly schools, said unemployment, underemployment and insufficient access to health services are among the main concerns of area residents.
Last week, Caplan and former federal Minister David Collenette hosted a fundraiser for the former TDSB vice-chair who has received widespread support from several prominent Liberals, including Alvin Curling who was an MPP for 20 years.
“Alvin called with words of encouragement and he wished me well,” said Coteau. “I appreciated the call from someone who is well respected and was in the game for a very long time.”
Raised in the tough Flemingdon Park neighbourhood, Coteau attended Victoria Park Secondary School and Leaside High School before entering Carleton where he graduated in 1997 with Political Science and Canadian History degrees. He spent two years in South Korea teaching English as a Second Language before returning home to successfully run for school board trustee.
One of the first motions he tabled – along with then trustee Bruce Davis – was a proposal for Canada’s largest school board to look at student achievement on the basis of race, ethnicity, mother tongue, gender, income and place of residence. Trustees passed the motion in a close 11-10 vote to approve the development of a research program to gather the data.
During his second term, Coteau supported the establishment of the controversial Africentric Alternative School that opened in September 2009. That vote too was also close with trustees voting 11-9 with one abstention.
Coteau is the executive director of AlphaPlus, a provincially funded organization that provides expertise to support adult educators through research, information and training on innovative learning technologies.