I went to an event last evening for John Tory, leader of the P.C. Party of Ontario. If, by chance, you haven’t been at your post, Ontario votes on October 10th. John is up against Premier Dalton McGuinty, a fellow who I believe has little to show for his five years in office.
I must admit that I went to the event of two minds: first and foremost, John is an excellent candidate and absolutely the type of person who should be involved in public office. The second thought went something like: what is he thinking about funding more faith-based schools? Isn’t that a loser of a plank for an election platform?
I’ll start with the second point, and relay to you what John told our group:
– Premier McGuinty was in favour of funding religious-based schools in 1999 and 2000; he’s being cynical now to oppose it.
– John would require faith-based schools to follow the standard Ontario gov’t-approved curriculum, hire teachers that have been certified under provincial standards, and be open for traditional inspections; there are 53,000 studies attending these types of schools this year.
– if they want to teach topics such as creationism, that has to be done in religious studies class, just as with a local public school or Catholic school today. [ed note. You can’t teach creation in science, for example. Dinosaurs didn’t walk the planet with humans.]
– Ontario already provides public funding for faith based schools: they’re called Roman Catholic schools or the Separate School Board, and 650,000 students attend them today. Ontario has 3.9 million Roman Catholics, for example. Premier McGuinty attended a Roman Catholic School, as did his wife and four children. Why do immigrants that came to Canada more recently not get similar benefits as those who came in the 1800s or first half of the 1900s?
– 7 Canadian provinces already fund faith-based schools, as do a couple of Territories; Ontario is an outlier by not providing faith-based school funding, and John’s proposal hasn’t destroyed the existing public school systems in B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, etc….
– taxpayers already pay for the public school system, and if 53,000 children stopped going to faith-based schools this morning and went to their local public school, the Province would be obligated to arrange and pay for their instruction — even though the Minister of Education hasn’t hired the teachers or built the infrastructure to accomodate them.
John’s thinking is pretty clear on the topic, and there’s no denying that Ontario is at the back of the bus on this topic relative to other provincial systems. Who knew that Albertans were more inclusive of multiculturalism ideals? Not us smug Ontarians.
John will hear a few good counterpoints over the next few days, including:
– Separate school board funding was provided for in 1867, back when Canada had but two religions. Now that there are perhaps 50 or 100 different religions, that doesn’t mean voters like the concept of separate schools today.
– if the idea is to provide services “where numbers warrant”, then do 53,000 students in a province of more than 11 million people warrant special services (they represent just 0.5% of the population)? On that basis, we’d have bilingual (English/French) signs all over Ontario, not just where the local population exceeded a certain legislated threshold of critical mass.
– Ontario has an established system of private schools, and there doesn’t seem to be a concern about what is being taught at Montessori Schools. Or that the parents of Montessori kids pay twice: once for public education via their various taxes and a second time for their own children’s eductaion.
– Canada’s multiculturalism policy isn’t working. Rather than integrate, our society is becoming even more fractured as the years pass and more immigrants come to Canada (half of whom settle in Toronto and environs). Funding schools that keep kids apart by encouraging the growth of more non-public schools is only going to exacerbate the situation.
– Using public funds to support faith-based schools isn’t more likely to get kids “playing basketball together”. All it will mean is that the parents of faith-based school students will dedicate part or all of their freed-up tuition payments to annual school fundraisers (once the provincial funding flows). These fundraisers will raise funds to build beautiful new basketball courts and swimming pools at these faith-based schools, rather than use the tuition funds to hire teachers and pay for heating as they do today. These basketball courts are no more likely to be a place for Muslim and Jewish kids to play basketball together than the existing local public school courts or community centre. To the contrary. Freed-up financial resources will invariably go into improving the existing physical plant of the school, giving faith-based school kids less reason to leave the own school grounds after class, and fewer opportunities to meet kids from other backgrounds and different faith-based schools. They’ll be no beautiful swimming pools or basketball courts built at Jarvis Collegiate this decade, or next.
– There are something like 68 different languages currently being satisifed by the Toronto School Board. While that speaks to accessibility of our public system to folks from most, if not all, religions, it does beg the question: aren’t we already diluting the curriculum as it is? Isn’t English the primary language of Ontario?
– Let’s give the voters a chance to decide for themselves about funding all faith-based schools via a referendum, as in Newfoundland. Do politicians fear that a majority of Ontario voters will take the position that there should be just two school systems: public and private, rather than three: public, faith-based and private? I’ll bet that’s how the vote would go.
One can go on, and some folks will. But forget about all of that.
Back to basics:
Premier McGuinty says that “we can’t afford” the $400 million that John Tory says it will cost to provide this funding, even though the most recent provincial budget surplus was $2.5 billion.
That factoid is a good reminder for all Ontario voters. How can’t we afford it if we have a surplus? This election isn’t about faith-based school funding. It doesn’t rank in the top eight issues that confront us this fall. This is what the election is about:
– during Premier McGuinty’s time in office, the provincial budget has grown from $68 billion to $90 billion; nice bump. Do taxpayers feel as though they have seen any increases in services during Premier McGuinty’s tenure? The grade one public school class near our home has 37 students in it, more than is legally allowed for a single teacher. Where’s the Fire Marshall? This is what Premier McGuinty has to show for his five years in office.
– Mr. McGuinty promised during the last election not to raise taxes, and then brought in the biggest tax increase in Ontario history. If we re-elect him, aren’t we telling the next generation of politicians that lying to win office is fine, as long as you’re earnest about it.
– Ontario spends about $8 billion more each year on healthcare than it did when Premier McGuinty took office. Can anyone tell me where that money went, and why we still don’t have such basic tools as electronic medical records?
– Premier McGuinty promised the environmental lobby that he’d shutter the coal-fired electricity plants by 2009. Now he says it isn’t possible to keep the promise. What data did he have that suggested it was possible to replace that power so quickly? Hadn’t there just been a blackout? Was the coal plant vow anything but a fib at the time?
– This year alone, more than 50,000 manufacturing jobs have disappeared in Ontario. The Premier has no economic strategy, other than clamouring for a “better deal” from Ottawa. The MaRS Centre doesn’t as a strategy. Buildings don’t, by themselves, create jobs or innovation.
– Ontario has the highest provinical corporate tax rate in Canada. Why does the economic engine of the country tax its businesses the most? Won’t that drive entrepreneurs elsewhere?
– Our larger cities can’t seem to get enough police on the streets to keep folks feeling safe. And a budget deficit in Toronto will require cuts to police services. Photo ops following gun crimes (with guns that were usually possessed illegally) aren’t a proxy for leadership. What’s the plan to deal with the financing of our cities?
– Leadership is essential. Premier McGuinty has had his chance. There’s no evidence of a leader inside that plastic shell; decent though he may be. His approval ratings have rarely strayed above 32% since the day he became leader of the Ontario Liberal Party. There’s a reason why that is. Despite basking in a growing North American economy during his entire tenure, little has been accomplished during the past five years. And little is promised for the next four should the Liberals win again.
The John Tory that I’ve had the benefit of watching for almost 20 years has been doing things. Achieving. Making a difference. Whether it be saving the Canadian Football League, fundraising for the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund, Chairing the United Way Campaign or running Rogers Cable to cite a few. This is the kind of spirit and energy and honesty that we want in our politicians.
The election isn’t about how $400 million of a $90 billion budget is to be spent. On the one hand, Ontario is one of the few provinces to not provide funding to faith-based schools, and it seems unfair to pay for a Roman Catholic education but not a Hindu one, for example. At the same time, splintering our communities won’t help an already failing immigration strategy. But that is just one of a host of issues that politicians need to wrestle with each day. It’s a brutally difficult job, and one I wouldn’t want.
This election is about trust and honesty, economic growth and leadership. John Tory wins on those tests. Focus on the forest.
(disclosure – as one might have noticed from my bio, I spent 5 years working for the gov’t of Brian Mulroney. If there’s any doubt, I’m a P.C. voter. But my view on this topic is an objective one. I don’t agree with funding any faith-based schools, including the separate school board. But I can still vote for Mr. Tory, even if he doesn’t agree with me. And so should you.)