On Catholic schools

  • May 11, 2007
Is the current challenge to Ontario’s publicly funded Catholic education system a tempest in a teapot? Perhaps, or perhaps not. Regardless, there is never a time when Catholics can be complacent about their cherished separate schools in Ontario, or anywhere in the country.
As the province’s fall election approaches, we’ve witnessed a few attempts to make mischief at the expense of Catholics. A one-man campaign began in Ottawa to push the province to amalgamate the public and Catholic systems, ostensibly to save money and “eliminate discrimination.” This has been picked up by a handful of public boards that feel threatened by competition from their Catholic counterparts.

At Queen’s Park, the legislature was the scene of a recent attempt to get the assembly to back a resolution that the Ontario government would never fund anything other than the two current education systems. This was a blatant manoeuvre by a Liberal backbencher to force the Conservatives to reveal their own platform on whether they would use tax dollars to fund religious or other private schools. The attempt failed when even fellow Liberals refused to support it.

Political theatre aside, the short debate put the Catholic system once again in the limelight. In doing so, it highlighted the privileged position of our schools versus other religions — a privilege that is increasingly unsustainable in a pluralistic and multicultural society.

But does this mean the days of Catholic education are coming to an end? Hardly! In fact, there is even a stronger case for our schools today than there was in the days prior to Confederation.

The Catholic system is testimony to the multicultural roots of Canadian society. The very existence of the separate system was the result of the need for preConfederation Canadians of different ethnic and religious backgrounds to work together to overcome differences and develop innovative and distinct ways to meet the needs of our diverse population. In many ways, the Catholic system is a successful example of how different Canada’s approach to ethnic diversity is from the United States melting pot.

The arguments about cost-savings are really red herrings; the amalgamation of Ontario’s larger cities prove that being bigger doesn’t necessarily translate into cheaper. Those who attack the Catholic system are really expressing deeper fears about multiculturalism and the place of difference in our society. Yet they fail to see how the Catholic schools actually raise generations of citizens who — having been taught in a milieu that recognizes the basic human dignity of us all despite our differences — are ideally suited to deal with the challenges of multiculturalism.

It’s true that Ontario’s Catholics should be willing to share the public space for religiously based education with other faiths, as our bishops have already said. We can no longer stand on our constitutional privileges alone. In the meantime, let’s not hide our light under a bushel.

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