Time to vote

  • November 3, 2006

On Monday, Nov. 13, Ontario voters will go to the polls to choose their representatives for local governments. Top of mind for Catholic school supporters should be the selection of school board trustees.

Unfortunately, trustee elections traditionally have drawn the lowest voter participation and the highest rate of acclamations. Yet this is no indication of their importance for the future of Ontario society. The quality of education of our youngest citizens determines the quality of our future society.

For Catholic schools, in particular, trustee elections should be important moments. They provide the only truly democratic way to influence the operation of our schools. Though there has been considerable evolution in parent and school councils, they are yet to match trustees for democratic legitimacy.

Seventeen years ago, the Ontario bishops recognized that our publicly funded Catholic school system faced a crossroads. Full government funding was a mixed blessing. It allowed us the financial means to finally match the resources of the public system. But it came with strings attached: increasingly Catholics face both internal and external pressure to have schools that are more and more like the public system.

"This is not the moment to simply let things happen or to merely react as situations develop. This moment of promise and risk demands that the Catholic community discern with care and with confidence the steps that lie ahead within the total panorama of education in Ontario," said This Moment of Promise, released by the Ontario Conference of Catholic Bishops in 1989.

What are the "things" the bishops feared we would just "let happen"? To name just a few:

o the increasing presence of non-Catholic students, putting pressure on schools to allow exemptions from religious requirements for these students and water down the specifically Catholic character of the schools;

o the growing presence of teachers who are poorly formed in their faith and see their positions not as a ministry but as a job;

o stricter control over spending by the Ontario government, thus limiting the flexibility of Catholic schools to develop their own spending priorities.

In the face of such facets of modern culture, we need strong trustees with a sure sense of their Catholic faith, men and women who are not afraid to insist that our schools must, first and foremost, be Catholic — a radical countersign of Gospel values in a culture that disdains the transcendent.

But our trustees will only be as strong as the Catholic community allows them to be. At the very least, they deserve the minor inconvenience to us of getting out to vote. That means taking the time to educate ourselves on the issues and the candidates. We ought to do this, not for the trustees, or even for our children, but for Ontario society.

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