A brave move

By 
  • August 13, 2007

{mosimage}Judging from the torrent of abuse poured on Ontario Conservative Leader John Tory in recent weeks, it is clear that his proposal to fund religious-based education with tax dollars has touched one of those latent nerves in the provincial populace. His is a brave stand indeed, one that deserves better than the dismissal it has received in many quarters.

Tory is proposing nothing terribly radical. He is arguing only that adherents to religions other than Catholic should be given a chance to educate their children by tapping into the existing public school system. Those schools, while permeated by their particular beliefs, would have to abide by the same provincial standards in curriculum and their teachers would have to meet the same quality criteria as those in the other publicly funded schools, whether Catholic or not.

Tory has not yet fleshed out the details on whether the new religious schools would gain access to public funds through the public boards or Catholic boards, but both options have pros and cons. At the very least, his proposal seems to be in keeping with the longstanding position of the Ontario Catholic bishops: that parents of various religions have the right to access public funds to have their children educated in faith-based schools.

The Conservative proposal will be tested in the upcoming provincial election. In the meantime, it has garnered backing from those parents who have fought long and hard to obtain public funding for their own faith-based schools. And it has received a flood of negative comment from pretty much everyone else.

Some of this is to be expected. The never-ending letters to the editor in the daily press, along with the editorial cartoons and the attacks from opposing politicians all chant the same refrain: non-religious public school systems bring together children of all faith and backgrounds and help them develop a better understanding of each other and have a deeper appreciation for diversity. Religious schools instil bigotry and prejudice. It is a theory as old as education in Ontario and it has been proven wrong time and again.

In fact, Ontario’s premier, Dalton McGuinty, is proof positive that the old saw about Catholic education is a myth. A product of the Catholic schools (and coincidentally, married to a Catholic school teacher), McGuinty is proud of his sensitivity to all of Ontario’s rich diversity. In fact, in other circumstances he could be criticized for being overly solicitous of the diversity arguments. But that is an editorial for another day.

Considering McGuinty’s own background, his defence of the current system has been rather milquetoast. Rather than simply arguing that he is saddled with the constitutional reality of Catholic education, he should be lauding its positive contribution to the common good in this province.

Then he should lead the Liberals to their own education policy that recognizes the value of both religious and ethnic diversity.

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