Marino Gazzola, Ontario Catholic School Trustees' Association (OCSTA) president

More than half of Ontarians against funding Catholic schools

  • May 18, 2012

TORONTO - The majority of Ontarians are opposed to the public funding of the Catholic education system, according to a survey by Forum Research.

Of 1,072 randomly selected adults polled on May 14, a standard sample size for Ontario, 53 per cent disagreed with current economic support of Catholic schools. This is a four-per-cent jump since Forum Research last asked the question in January. Forty per cent of respondents favoured funding Catholic boards while six per cent were unsure.

The study also found that 51 per cent of Ontarians believe Catholic schools should be able to create Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs), with 28 per cent opposed and 21 per cent unsure.

The survey has a 2.99-per-cent margin of error 19 out of 20 times.

Marino Gazzola, Ontario Catholic School Trustees' Association (OCSTA) president, believes media coverage — specifically regarding the GSA issue — has contributed to the survey's results.

"The whole fact that there is a huge media circus going on right now with a lot of the issues revolving or surrounding the Catholic side of it ... could be skewing the support (by) making it difficult to support," said Gazzola.

The media coverage revolves around Bill-13, the province's anti-bullying law that Catholic school boards oppose because of its focus on gender and sexual orientation over other forms of bullying.

Gazzola though, is not all that worried by polls, calling them unreliable. 

"A poll is a poll. It's a very small snapshot of people," said Gazzola, pointing to the recent Alberta election as evidence of their unreliability.  "Polls leading up to the election had the Wildrose Party winning by a landslide and it turned out to be the complete opposite."

Ontario Green Party leader Mike Schreiner sees a different kind of evidence in the numbers.

"Consistently I've seen a majority of Ontarians support ending funding of Catholic schools," said Schreiner, who wants the Catholic and public systems to be amalgamated. "We believe now is the right time to have a conversation about taking the best of the Catholic system and the best of the public system and bring them together to have one single French and English board."

Amalgamation would ease the closure of under-utilized facilities, reduce board positions and simplify the introduction of standardized policies, cutting costs, said Schreiner. He estimated amalgamating the two systems would save taxpayers in the $1.5-billion range annually.

Gazzola doubts there will be any change to the system however.

"It's working very well right now, it's internationally recognized and I don't see that happening," said Gazzola. "The Ontario system is one of the best in the world. One of the reasons for that is a full one-third of that system is the Catholic system itself, 600,000 students."

And the Catholic system has too much history in Ontario, 170 years, he noted.  

"What would be truly unfair would be to tear down a system that's been successful and in place for so long and an integral part of the publicly funded system," said Gazzola. "If you were starting from scratch right now, yeah, maybe then you would want to look whether you're going to fund one faith or not."

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