We need to talk about this in Ontario. But we probably won’t

Posted on November 15, 2019 in Education Debates

Source: — Authors:

NationalPost.com – Opinion

Surely a party that’s committed to truly rebuilding itself has to at least bash out in public the issue of taxpayer-funded Catholic schools

Readers from outside Ontario will be relieved to hear that we have safely endured one of our patented controversies over publicly funded Catholic schools. It all went entirely according to script. In October, a subcommittee of the Toronto Catholic District School Board voted 4-1 against adding the terms “gender identity” and “gender expression” to its code of conduct as specifically prohibited grounds for discrimination — language that would align it with the provincial human rights code, but which offends a doctrinaire Catholic worldview. Much consternation ensued, but then last week the board itself voted 8-4 to adopt the language.

In the end we got a policy that’s superficially in line with the government that funds the TCDSB and 28 other Catholic boards, but which the Archdiocese of Toronto says must be “interpreted through the lens of the Catholic faith as articulated by the teachings of the Church and protected in legislation.” No one is too bothered by what that actually means.

What usually happens now is that some of us throw up our hands and wonder why on earth we’re funding schools that struggle with human rights legislation — or if we’re going to fund some such schools, why only Catholic ones. There is an obligatory round of newspaper columns and editorials. But because no party in the legislature save the Greens (who hold a single seat) wants to talk about change, and the same goes for all but vanishingly few individual MPPs, it just fizzles out. The issue’s third rail status became official over a decade ago, when the Progressive Conservatives under John Tory proposed extending funding to schools of other faiths, and it blew up in their faces. And so life goes on until the next collision between church teachings and the march of secular progress.

Mississauga’s Alvin Tedjo might not have much of a chance at winning the leadership of the Ontario Liberals: The one-time Liberal candidate is up against former cabinet ministers Steven Del Duca, Mitzie Hunter and Michael Coteau. But he might be able to fracture the cone of silence around Queen’s Park on the schools question, simply by forcing his opponents to address the issue in public. He proposes merging the Catholic and public systems, and it probably helps that he’s arguing against his own self-interest: His three children all go to a French Catholic elementary school and, he says, “we’re very happy with their level of education.”

But …

“Because my wife has French-language rights, and because we’re Catholic, I get to choose between four different schools to send my kids to. The other 70 per cent of Ontarians don’t get that choice,” Tedjo says. “They can only go to an English public school. How is that fair for anyone?”

Parents are struggling with all manner of cuts and shortcomings to their children’s education, he notes. “And you start digging into why, and a lot of people will tell you it’s because we have multiple boards. … What’s available to one set of parents is not available to everyone else.”

Tedjo’s campaign cites a discussion paper by the Federation of Urban Neighbourhoods that suggests merging the four systems into two could yield annual savings of as much as $1.5 billion by using available resources — not least real estate — much more efficiently. Merging bureaucracies seldom produces the savings it logically ought to — Ontario’s consolidated municipalities are the gold-standard example — but the idea clearly makes sense to many people.

Because we’re Catholic, I get to choose between four different schools to send my kids to. The other 70 per cent of Ontarians don’t get that choice

An Ipsos poll conducted last year, which Tedjo is happy to cite, found 74 per cent of Ontarians supported changing the system. Of that 74, 18 wanted to move toward funding more schools, not fewer; they and the remarkable 26 who somehow support the status quo would be among the loudest voices if this were ever seriously proposed at Queen’s Park. It is very notable that only 10 per cent of respondents strongly agreed it should be a priority issue. The political risks here almost certainly outnumber the potential rewards.

But the Liberals are a party rebuilding from a historic shellacking, richly deserved after years of jettisoning all manner of basic principles for the sake of political expediency. If you asked them to their faces, not even Katherine Wynne or Dalton McGuinty could bring themselves to defend the status quo as anything other than an ostensibly practical necessity. Surely a party that’s committed to truly rebuilding itself has to at least bash this issue out in public — and we would all be better off for it.

“We need to move away from policies and proposals of the past that we’ve been afraid of because of what we perceive to be political backlash,” says Tedjo. “We need to show Ontarians that we’re listening to them, and that we’re not just putting out proposals that are politically expedient … but are actually the right thing to do.”

At least on this issue, the other candidates don’t seem to agree. Coteau ruled out supporting Tedjo’s proposal last month; Hunter and Kate Graham, another longshot candidate, did so in statements to the National Post on Thursday. (Del Duca’s campaign did not respond by deadline.) But between now and March 7, when delegates cast their ballots for leader, we can at least hope to see them on the hot seat. This third rail should have been de-electrified long ago.

Chris Selley: We need to talk about this in Ontario. But we probably won’t

Tags: , , , ,

This entry was posted on Friday, November 15th, 2019 at 12:36 pm and is filed under Education Debates. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

Leave a Reply