Sunday, October 14, 2007

A project for Dalton

With their second majority mandate now in hand, I think it’s time for the Ontario Liberals to show that leadership really does matter and begin to do something about the religious schools issue.

That may sound crazy, I know. After all, this is the issue that in all likelihood cost the John Tory Conservatives their chance at forming a government, and certainly cost Tory his seat. And the Liberals and McGuinty were very careful not to wade too deeply into the nuts and bolts of the issue during the campaign, which was very smart politics. It’s not leadership, but it was smart politics, and it helped them win the election.

I think John Tory was very wrong on this issue; I think extending public funding to all religions is a very bad idea. It wouldn’t integrate the system as claimed, it would further divide it, leading to a balkanization of the system as students are sent to different schools depending on religion. It wouldn’t unite, it would divide.

While Tory was wrong in his solution, he was very correct however in identifying the problem. It is fundamentally unfair to fund one religious minority, Catholics , and not others. And for the record, I attended a Catholic school in Grade One and Two. I don’t think the answer is funding all religions though, it’s funding none of them.

This is an issue that should be addressed, and one that isn’t likely to go away. An election campaign probably wasn’t the best time to have this debate either. But now that the campaign is over and McGuinty is safely settled back into the legislature for up to five years, I think it’s time for the government to take action.

It should appoint a commission or panel of respected and learned individuals/s to study the issue and come up with recommendations: should we maintain the status quo, extend funding to all, or extend funding to none? The panel should tour the province, hold hearings, hear from different religious, minority and ethnic groups and just regular citizens, debate these issues and try to come to a consensus.

If there is a consensus that develops, the government should take action on it. Because Tory was right about one thing, leadership does matter. And I’d like to see McGuinty show some leadership here.

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8 comments:

Lizt. said...

One has to get into the Constitution to change the Catholic system. There are other Provinces that now pay funding for all religious schools, which I do not agree with and their populationis are amaller to begin with.

Red Canuck said...

I don’t think the answer is funding all religions though, it’s funding none of them.

Hear, hear. You're absolutely right about this, Jeff.

Kyle said...

I don't think it's a matter of 'all or nothing'. What they should do in the best interest of students that wish to have some religion in their education and in the interest of efficiency and money management is collapse the two systems into one. However, rather than take religion completely out of it, have a religious stream. It could be run in the same manner as french immersion, technical study streams, art-based streams, etc. They are already doing it with so many other programs, adding religion into the mix shouldn't be a major issue.

Jason Hickman said...

One has to get into the Constitution to change the Catholic system

As the Newfoundland & Labrador example shows, this sort of Constitutional amendment can presumably be passed by joint resolutions of the federal & Ontario legislatures. If past practice is any guide, the federal Parliament will go along with such an amendment if it is adopted by the province in question first.

That's not to say it isn't a significant issue but it doesn't require a nation-wide re-opening of the Constitution. Not that this is what lizt. was saying, but it should be remembered that as far as Constitutional amendments go, this one would be (relatively) straightforward.

Andrew Smith said...

I agree that the province should not fund any faith based schools but I don't see the Mcguinty government doing anything about it. I don't think it would sit well with his union friends who helped him win a second majority. Unfortunately, bigotry will remain in ontarios laws for the near future.

Mikael said...

Jeff, what are they going to do? Hold a referendum?

Gerard Kennedy doing spin election night said what students need for now is stability, and I absolutely agree.

A BCer in Toronto said...

kyle,
rather than take religion completely out of it, have a religious stream. It could be run in the same manner as french immersion, technical study streams, art-based streams, etc.

Certainly other options could and should be explored, that would be one of the things a committee/commission could do. My own preference though would be to remove the government from religious education. I'd think this is something that would be better left to the parents and the church/temple/mosque, like sunday school.

mikael,
Jeff, what are they going to do? Hold a referendum?

I'm not sure, I think it'd depend on what the commission comes-up with. If a consensus is achieved by the commission and by all parties in the leg, a bill passed by the leg may be sufficient. If it is contentious, maybe a referendum would be necessary, although I'd hope consensus could be achieved.

Mark Dowling said...

During the election much was made of the 400-500m Tory's promise would "cost" or "take out of the public system". Running the CDSBs costs 5,600m. Now you won't "get all of that back" because some non-catholics attending CDSB schools may opt to return to the public system, in addition to some catholics returning through financial circumstance or a diminution of the number and capability of the CDSB schools.

Rural public school advocates should be pushing hard on this because the returning students will help keep their schools open and provide funding for broader educational availability.

The most important issue for me is this: there is a perception that Catholic schools have - on average - safer environments and have better discipline. Some would dispute this but it certainly seems to be the perception of people I know, even those who are not Catholic and do not support Catholic funding. Catholic schools are currently achieving higher results than public schools, which is why many non-Catholics attend CDSB schools. How do we reinvigorate the public system to provide an equivalent *or better* outcome to public schools - and how much will various handwringers and teacher unions impede that process?

As for funding - my thinking is that it should be discontinued gradually over a period of years, probably starting with junior schools rather than a blanket ratcheting down of the overall funding formula, so that the public system can receive any necessary upgrades to handle transferring students. We cannot expect the public system to handle a massive influx of CDSB students departing post-funding, even if that is only 10% of the 500,000 currently enrolled, given the historic underfunding and the difficulty making current class size targets.

Full disclosure - I was educated at Catholic directed primary and secondary schools in the Republic of Ireland.