Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty.

When will we hear from McGuinty on GSAs?

  • February 7, 2012

There has been a strange silence from the top of the Dalton McGuinty government on the  contentious issue of gay-straight alliance clubs.

The Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association gave its response to the government’s proposal on Jan. 25. Catholic schools will respect differences but will not go against Church teaching, the OCSTA document said.
The document was a challenge to the government’s attempt to steamroll over Catholic schools but also a strong affirmation of religious freedom and the constitutional right of Catholics to run their own education system.

So what will happen now?
Many parents still have no idea there is a fight brewing for the future of Catholic education. Catholic school boards have not exactly been pushing information into homes through communications with parents. Most of what has been made public has come through the secular media in often highly critical reports.
Left waiting are countless parents and teachers who are concerned and want to see the Catholic side of our school system upheld. For this group, the trustees’ response has given some hope but anxiety continues.

In an interview last week with Canadian Catholic News reporter Deborah Gyapong, Education Minister Laurel Broten seemed to be hinting that the trustees’ response is not enough.

“We’ve been absolutely crystal clear that we expect students to participate in groups and have the issues important to them talked about,” Broten said.

The minister also told Gyapong she expects Catholic schools to work within the framework that she laid out in Bill 13, the legislation currently before Queen’s Park that deals specifically with anti-bullying clubs for homosexuals.

Her comments could be read either as a shot across the bow of Catholic schools or as an attempt to find common ground. While I see them as a warning shot, other Catholic leaders I spoke to seemed to be saying, “Just wait and see.”
Broten though was a bit clearer in a later interview with Postmedia.

“As set out in the legislation (Bill 13), we will require issue-specific clubs to be supported if it is asked for. We have been very clear,” Broten told Postmedia News. She added that the government is “firm on that.”

If Broten’s stance holds then there is only one direction this fight can go, a battle in the courts.
Last week on my television program Byline I interviewed Warren Kinsella, a political strategist with strong ties to the McGuinty government. Kinsella thinks there is a way “for well-meaning people to come together” on this issue that will see Catholic schools retain their rights while also accomplishing the government’s goals. That doesn’t mean it won’t end up in court though.

“I think there probably will be a legal challenge by some group at some point,” Kinsella said.

As for Broten’s seeming rejection of the OCSTA document, Kinsella said look to the top of any government.

“The person that I look to for the government’s opinion is the premier,” Kinsella said. The long-time political operative said cabinet ministers may have their own points of view but, “at the end of the day the person who articulates the position of the government is the premier.”

So where does that leave us? Still dealing with the strange silence from the top.

As I write this we have yet to hear from the premier on the OCSTA document and whether he finds it acceptable. It is obvious that minister Broten does not and neither do many other voices attempting to get the premier’s ear.
Both the Toronto Star and Globe and Mail have written editorials denouncing the trustees’ position. The Star was particularly scathing to the point of insulting Catholics and the bishops.

In the Toronto Sun, Christina Blizzard wondered in a recent column whether McGuinty was using this fight over GSAs as a way to get rid of Catholic schools. I don’t believe that to be the case but it is clear that, across the province, those who have long wanted to see our schools dismantled are using this issue as a weapon to push for a single, secular education system.
 So even if we win this battle, the war will not be over. 

(Lilley is a columnist with the Toronto Sun and host of Byline on Sun News Network.)

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