This election was looking very hopeful for the Jewish Community who send their kids to Day Schools. The sitting Liberal government was very unpopular after a string of broken promises. The Conservatives new leader John Tory did not seem to fit the mold of the scary George Bush neo-con with a hidden agenda that Conservatives are often accused of. They decided to address ending the current system of discrimination of funding Catholic schools and no other religions. They would allow all faith based schools to join the public schools system under similar criteria that are already applied to the Catholic Schools.
The Liberals had said they were going to run this election on their record. Instead McGuinty took this opportunity to divert the entire election focus on the plan that was allocated less than 9% of the Conservatives new proposed spending and less than 0.05% of the total government budget. McGuinty declared himself the champion of public education. They ran their campaign on the slogan "Stand Up for our Schools Public Catholic, French and English" They also launched a hurtful smear campaign against communities that send their kids to non-Catholic faith based schools. It was filled with so much hypocritical and intentional misinformation that many times I felt physically ill and embarrassed to live in a province that claims to be proud to support multi culturalism.
The campaign worked and yesterday John Tory declared that in 2-3 years when the plan is ready for implementation his party would hold a be free to vote. This flip flop will probably seal on a landslide Liberal majority government. This will kill the issue of fair funding from emerging into public discourse for at least another 20 years. The declaration that Liberal Cabinet minister Monte Kwinter supported the Conservative proposal was only picked up in one major newspaper across the province. This despite the fact that the Conservatives sent out two press releases and the NDP one bringing this issue to the media's attention. If the Conservatives some how manage to win it will be another 3 years to find out if they support fair funding. If it turns out they do not, it will take even longer to become part of the public discourse. In the mean time the movement against funding Catholic Schools is growing. If fair funding does not get accepted they may very well be next under attack.
Before everyone goes to the ballot box I would like to correct some of the false Liberal claims.
The Liberals claim that funding faith based schools is "segregation" and will lead to a break down in the social fabric of Ontario. This has not happened in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, North West Territories or Quebec. Catholics in Ontario have not had problem integrating into society. They counter that Ontario is different because it is the most culturally diverse province due to our immigrant population. While it is true that more than 50% of immigrants are ending up in Ontario, the other 50% are not flocking to the Maritime provinces that have a single secular public school board. Personally, I think more segregation occurs because there is only one hockey house league that offers teams that do not play on Saturdays than worrying about which school people go to.
The Liberals have accused the Conservatives of trying to cater to the immigrant vote. This is an interesting argument from a government recently got in trouble for doling out millions of dollars to ethnic groups with no accountability. When the opposition called them on it the Liberals played the race card. They also shut down parliament 3 weeks early to avoid public scrutiny. Currently about half of the non Catholic faith based schools are from other Christian denominations. Approximately 40% are from the Jewish Community. The Jewish community has been well established for many years and currently does not have a huge influx of immigrants. It is the Jewish Community that has spear headed this issue. The demand for fairness comes from those who communities that have been in Canada for some time and have legitimate reasons for wanting to be treated equally.
The Liberals claim that it will 'divert money from public schools' and cost more than the $400 million price tag. The Liberals are going to assume that every single eligible school is going to opt into the public school system. Looking at other provinces we can assume that at least 2% of schools are going to decline funding. Currently in Ontario the government pays $9500 for every public and Catholic School student. The formula is not going to be decreased to make room for the other faith based schools. They also claim that if a student switches from current public school to a faith based school it will cost more money. As the money has already been allocated to that student this will have no net effect on the government books.
The Liberals favour 'public' not 'private' schools. This is a simple use of terminology to ignore the facts. There are currently 7 or 8 non-Catholic Christian schools that have worked out special arrangements with the local school board to be counted as part of the public system. A public faith based school could be almost identical in quality of teaching as a private school the only noticeable difference is one is a member of the state approved religion and the other is not. Any attack on the faith based private school should be applied equally to faith based public schools. Premier McGuinty stood up in a Catholic school to make the point that as a grad of the Catholic system he was able to make adjustments to secular society implying other religions can not.
The Liberals claim we should support Catholic schools because of a constitutional obligation and that is what has always been done. This type of thinking ignores United Nations condemnations and goes against Canadian values. Would we tolerate other countries around the world treating their minorities in this way? Why should we accept discrimination in our own back yard. Homosexuality was once illegal and now legal. McGuinty has even expressed support for legalized gay marriage. Using his own logic he should support the position that it remain illegal. The same would apply to any other rights obtained through women's suffrage and the civil rights revolution. All that is required is the political will to obtain the constitutional amendment to end funding of Catholic Schools and free up billions of dollars to be spent in the public school system.
McGuinty has argued that he is keeping his eye on the 2 million students currently under the public system. 30% of those students attend faith based Catholic Schools. Why do the 53,000 non-Catholic faith based students not deserve his care and attention? The same question can be asked as to why religious and/or ethnic votes should be worth less than votes from other Canadians.
There have been complaints that this issue came out of nowhere and caught everyone by surprise. The Harris private school tax credit was designed to address this issue. Cancelling the credit (retroactively) was one of the first and few campaign promises McGuinty kept. Tory announced his intention to bring forth this proposal during the leadership campaign 3 years ago. The Liberals have had the issue briefly discussed and rejected at their policy convention. I also understand that the NDP leadership have been active in making sure this topic never reached the floor at their policy convention.
There has been fear that faith-based school might teach 'creationism' or racism. Christians have more of a hard time dealing with the evolution issue than other religions. This would be an argument for discontinuing funding Catholic schools instead of not funding other religions. Other provinces have put in a place a set of hard rules of things that cannot be taught in government funded schools. These rules take care of the bigotry and racial superiority fears.
It looks like on October 10th Secularism & Catholicism are going to be endorsed as the true official state religions for Ontario. While this may make many people very happy, I feel that it undermines some of the core principles that make this country great.