Monday, March 16, 2009

Time For Ontario To End Funding To Faith Based Schools

Stephen Harper and the federal Conservatives are using the economic crisis as cover for such policies as eliminating pay equity and removing government oversight into foreign takeovers of Canadian business. By wrapping these initiatives into the budget, and with the Liberals continuing to roll over and play dead, Harper is back to governing as though he had a majority.

While there's a strong argument to be made that Harper doesn't have a mandate for such initiatives, Dalton McGuinty's Ontario Liberals would have no such concern over eliminating funding for faith based schools. In the December 2007 provincial election the Liberals romped to a successive majority, largely because the Conservative platform included extending school funding beyond the currently funded Roman Catholic board.

Bill Davis was a popular Premier in Ontario from 1971 to 1985, but one of his last legislative acts before retiring was to introduce full funding to Roman Catholic Separate act which some believe caused an erosion in the PC's rural Ontario base. Both the Liberals and NDP however supported the motion, afraid of the potential political fallout from Roman Catholic voters...especially with so many baby boomers having children of school age at that time.

The result? If you're Roman Catholic and wish to have your children attend a publicly funded school which reflects your faith, you have that option. However no other faith group has that choice available, its either the public system...or you can pay extra on top of your taxes for a private religious school.

I will give John Tory, soon to be former leader of Ontario's PC party, credit. At least his position on this issue was fair. If you're going to provide public funding to one faith group you must provide it to others. The idea of providing public dollars to only one separate school board simply reeks of hypocrisy.

Premier McGuinty now has a golden opportunity to right this wrong, and to act on the wishes of Ontarians who voted loud and clear just over a year back on this issue. Will there be fallout? Certainly, some will be upset at being forced back into the public system...or at having to pay to have their children taught in a school that reflects their Roman Catholic faith. I suspect though that many will be happy to see a government that acts on integrity over political expediency. Additionally it would come with a cost savings to the province, at a time when the province's treasury is stretched to the limit.

To those who argue about the constitutionality of such a move, in this case the constitution is an anachronism. The British North America Act, upon which Bill Davis' decision was justified, was enacted in an effort to reflect Canada's makeup at the time of Confederation. If the courts were later to declare the elimination of funding as unconstitutional, McGuinty (or any later governing party) would need simply invoke the 'Notwithstanding Clause'.

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