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The Ontario Education Minister, Lisa Thompson, announced last week that her government intends to require student teachers to pass a math test as a condition of receiving a licence to teach.

Okay. Mathematics is a critical part of a child’s education, and a lot of students don’t do well at it – especially in Ontario. If making teachers pass a math test somehow translates into students doing better at the subject, go for it.

We have our doubts. It’s not as though every elementary-school teacher can explain the subjunctive mood or name the longest-serving premier of Alberta, and yet they successfully teach English and History. But every cabinet minister needs a hill to die on, and Ms. Thompson has decided to climb this one.

You know who really ought to have to pass a math test in order to practise their chosen field? That’s right: politicians.

Our elected legislators are, after all, the keepers of the public purse. The government is allowed to tax us, and our elected representatives are there to scrutinize how the money is spent. It is the essence of their role.

Or was. Sadly, the purse-watching part of their job has become largely symbolic. Our MPs and provincial legislators have long since stopped closely scrutinizing department spending. Instead, those on the government side vote as they are told by the party whip, while those on the opposition side have little ability to examine estimates, thanks to opaque bookkeeping and rules that limit the time allocated to the process.

The money comes in, the money goes out, and other than in the bowels of treasuries and finance departments, it is rarely subject to the rigours of basic mathematics. No elected representative ensures that the numbers add up.

Today, a total innumerate could serve in a Canadian parliament and no one would be the wiser. Which is shocking when you remember that they are there to manage the public purse.

If making teachers take a math test will improve math scores in Ontario schools, maybe making politicians do the same could balance our budgets. It’s worth a shot.

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