Tory vow of tax dollars for faith-based schools will define October provincial election
Ontario’s upcoming election may have just gotten its ballot issue. Premier Dalton McGuinty signalled yesterday he intends to lay bare his Conservative rival’s pledge to extend full funding to Jewish, Muslim, fundamentalist Christian and other faith-based schools in the run-up to the Oct. 10 election.
Speaking to reporters before his government’s final pre-election cabinet meeting yesterday, Mr. McGuinty said he viewed the pledge by opposition leader John Tory as retrograde, a step backwards for Ontario’s successful multicultural makeup.
“I think it’s a really important and defining issue and I’ll continue to talk about that during the course of the campaign,” Mr. McGuinty said, responding to a reporter’s question. “And it’s one of those issues where I’m hoping to grab Ontarians by the earlobes and say, ‘It’s not just another election, it’s not just business as usual. It’s about the kind of Ontario you want.’
“If you want the kind of Ontario where we invite children of different faiths to leave the publicly-funded system and become sequestered and segregated in their own private schools, then they should vote for Mr. Tory. If they think it’s important that we continue to bring our kids together, so that they grow together and learn from one another, then you should vote for me.”
Some proponents of change, however, have a problem with the premier’s position.
Mr. McGuinty, his wife, Terri McGuinty, and the couple’s four children, all attended Roman Catholic schools.
In fact, Mrs. McGuinty continues to teach part-time in the Catholic system.
York University professor Eric Lawee, among others, said he sees “tremendous hypocrisy” in Mr. McGuinty’s opposition to extending funding to religious schools.
“As he tells the story, (faith-based schools are) segregationist, regressive and so on — and yet here’s someone whose wife goes off every day and provides this type of education,” Mr. Lawee, a member of a multi-faith coalition pushing for funding, said yesterday.
“I think it belies everything he says about faith-based schooling. The fact that we have a premier who’s a product of these types of schools shows that one can not only integrate, having had exposure to faith-based schooling, but can flourish and make major contributions to the welfare of all Ontarians regardless of their faith.”
Mr. Lawee’s children, who range in age from 13 weeks to 16 years, attend Jewish schools in the Toronto area.
“I bike to work every day and I bike by a Catholic school and I see all the things my kids don’t have because they’re members of the wrong religion, as it were, in Ontario in 2007,” he said.
Mr. Tory has framed the issue in terms of fairness. The province has had fully funded Catholic school boards since 1984. Extending the same rights to other religious minorities will fix a fundamental inequality, he believes.
In 1999, the United Nations Human Rights Committee ruled Ontario was in violation of the international covenant on civil and political rights by not funding faith-based schools.
Deputy Conservative leader Elizabeth Witmer noted yesterday that in order to qualify for funding, religious schools would have to teach the provincial curriculum, take part in standardized testing and hire qualified teachers. The plan would cost an estimated $400 million.
“If you bring them into the public school system they can interact with one another, they can participate in sports or science fairs or other activities together,” she said. “(Students) would develop an appreciation, certainly, for the values and understanding of our province, our country, our history.”
But Mr. McGuinty called the Tory plan “regressive.”
The Ottawa-born premier said that in recent trips overseas he has boasted about Ontario’s social cohesion, a big part of which is due to “a publicly funded education system where we invite children of all backgrounds and faiths, economic circumstances to come together, to grow together and to learn together.”
Tarek Fatah, a secular Muslim activist who opposes the Tory plan, believes the government erred by extending full funding to Catholic schools. Mr. Fatah says the Conservative plan will compound the current inequities and “ghettoize” various communities.
“There’s not a single Islamic school that has categorically come out in opposition of the doctrines of jihad or Shariah (which advocates different treatment of women and men),” he says. “We know that in all these schools women are sent to the back of the class. They are not even allowed to sit as equal students. Now we’ll have the Canadian taxpayer funding this segregation.”
About 53,000 students in Ontario go to private faith-based schools, roughly 2.5 per cent of the total student population.
Ontario New Democrats, like their Liberal rivals, believe in the status quo when it comes to religious school funding.
Ontario’s Green party, vying for their first ever seat in October’s election, has proposed scrapping all faith-based school funding, including money for Catholic schools. Party leader Frank de Jong says that as a young student in southwestern Ontario, he witnessed firsthand the failure of Catholic schools to promote integration.
“There was a sense that we were different from the public school kids and we didn’t play sports with them, we didn’t associate with them and it was basically implied that we shouldn’t,” said Mr. de Jong.
“This is so wrong. We need a system that’s not divisive.”
…this post forwarded by Windsor Humanist, Alexander Hodgins, after an August 23, 2007 article by Lee Greenberg in The Ottawa Citizen