TORONTO — She knew she was going to lose her job as soon as she saw the announcement.
Allison Cillis, 32, was lying in bed at her Hamilton, Ont. home when she read that the province’s Progressive Conservative government was going to increase high school class sizes from 22 students to 28.
“I kind of did some quick math in my head and realized, ‘Yep. This is me,’” Cillis told HuffPost Canada.
She got the official notice she was losing her permanent teaching job with the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board on May 1.
Cillis took to Facebook, where she posted a “eulogy” for her career. She had been teaching for six years.
“I am SO angry at our government. Increasing class sizes did this,” she wrote. “No student, parent, teacher or education worker wants more students in classrooms. They know that it is not going to help the students of Ontario succeed.”
Her post was shared nearly 1,000 times and messages started pouring in.
“I did not expect that,” Cillis said. “So many people were being unbelievably supportive. People that I don’t know messaged me from all across the province giving great compliments … all of it so positive about the job that teachers do and how these cuts from the Ford government were going to be terrible for the students.”
Cillis said she realized that people were listening, so she kept speaking up. She gave media interviews and went to a rally at Queen’s Park.
High school students at more than 600 schools walked out to protest the Ford government’s cuts.
“I realized my voice can do something. People are listening.”
Now, Cillis is running in the federal election as the NDP candidate for the riding she lives in, Flamborough—Glanbrook. She officially secured the party’s nomination last week.
Cillis said she never thought she would be a politician. But her parents, a stay-at-home mom and an ironworker dad who volunteered with Dollars Against Diabetes, taught her to take care of others.
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“I thought, ‘I’ve spent my career taking care of my students. Maybe this is an opportunity for me to take care of the communities that are part of the riding I live in.’”
While education policy is a provincial responsibility, Cillis said she can make a difference for her community in federal office.
She’s up against Conservative incumbent David Sweet, who has sat in the House of Commons since 2006.
Cillis said she’s confident she can take him on. The NDP candidate in the 2018 provincial election did “incredible,” she said, earning 34 per cent of the vote to the PC candidate’s 40 per cent.
The riding has grown since the 2015 federal election, Cillis said, and Premier Doug Ford’s government has made people want a change.
“Ontarians are really, really not happy with what’s going on.”
If she doesn’t win, Cillis said she’ll keep working occasional teaching jobs and bide her time until another permanent job opens up. She said she’s lucky to have gotten teaching work for September but there is no guarantee she’ll have full-time work next semester or next year.
The risk of losing the election doesn’t feel personal, she said, it’ll only force her to find a different way to try to help others.
“I’m doing this to try and help as many people as I can,” she said.
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