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On wedge issues in Ontario

I’ve not commented a lot on provincial politics, or more specifically the Ontario provincial election that is coming up in Ontario. I’ve obviously said a fair bit (and will continue to do so) about the referendum on whether to choose MMP or not, but that’s not quite the same as the general election campaign itself, so I think I will interject an observation on it as I see it right now.

The big issue so far has been the school funding issue. John Tory and the Progressive Conservatives propose to fund private faith-based schools the same way that is done with the public school and Catholic separate school system. I am a Liberal supporter, and I’ll be voting to give Dalton McGuinty another mandate this October (the Mike Harris memories are still vivid), but I’ve written here before that I support Tory’s proposal; so have some others who are Liberals. John Tory, however, is running into some problems with that proposal.

The question was asked why rural Ontario is so against funding of religious schools. I will have to disagree with Jason that it’s because thy have a small-l liberal philosophy. I would suspect it’s unfortunately more to do with the fact that they don’t like the idea of funding faith-based schools that aren’t teaching Christian philosophy. Some areas of rural Ontario are still rather socially conservative in their outlook, and wouldn’t be happy at all about other faiths getting equal public funding, regardless if they met criteria to do so or not.

This becomes a potential “wedge issue” that can be used against the PC’s and to try and use it to “drive a wedge” between their traditional rural conservative base of support, and the Liberals have jumped on the issue. The problem for John Tory is whether he can woo away enough of the other faith-based communities to support him and the Progressive Conservatives to offset any losses he might incur with his traditional support from rural Ontario (either from voting for the Liberals or simply not voting for the PC’s because of disillusionment over this policy), and at this point, I’m not sure he will be able to do that.


13 comments to On wedge issues in Ontario

  • lol.  Just saw the date on the post.

  • Except that one of the biggest winners under the Tory plan is Christian schools…

  • Am I missing something here?  It seems to me some funding for Catholic schools is established in the BNA of 1867.  No such guarantee exists for other  denominations.

    Way back in 1935 Liberal leader fought for extended funding for Catholic schools based on constitutional grounds.  And he won a smashing victory.

    Look in on my blog  at

  • I can't agree with you, Scott. Tory's "solution" is worse than the problem. I have more to say here:

  • KC

    I think that Ontario taking the constitutional steps to eliminate the Catholic school board is FAR LESS messy than what Tory is proposing.   What Tory wants to do will cost hundreds of millions of dollars, and take badly needed money from public school particularly if every "wacky" religion under the sun decides it wants in and that is before we even consider what IMHE (expectation) will be the horrible effects for social harmony and secularism in the province.    It'll also be very very very difficult to reverse.  Far more difficult than it would be to eliminate funding for Catholic schools now.

    That being said I find McGuinty's position totally ludicrous as well.  Its possibly the most disappointing aspect of his time in office.  It would be one thing if he said his long term goal was to eliminate funding for Catholic schools but that more time was needed.   I would understand that.   I'd prefer that he have the courage to actually take the steps now but it would be better than letting religious schools get their "foot in the door" so to speak.    But the tradition argument is ludicrous.    One of my favourite quotes of all time was by GK Chesterton when he said "Tradition means giving a vote the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors.  It is the democracy of the dead".   Some of the most important progressive initiatives of the past hundred years have been made in the face of the tradition argument. 

  • Typo: What was formerly a high school (grade 8 – 12) in my area is now grade <b>1</b> – 12.

  • I think we'll create more troubles if we fund these faith based schools. Every penny that goes to church schools comes out of our public education system. We simply cannot afford to take funding away from cash-strapped school boards and give it to religious education. We need to put more into our public schools – not less. Over the past 20 years, our schools have been forced to trim their budgets by eliminating art and music from the curriculum. Schools have been forced to amalgamate. What was formerly a high school (grade 8 – 12) in my area is now grade 7 – 12. Serious issues are cropping up wrt bullying and sexual encounters between grade 12 boys and grade 7 girls. This followed the recent opening of a new, super deluxe Catholic high school.

    I grew up and was educated in the US. There were plenty of Catholic schools but they got zero public funding. Dedicated Catholic parents who were finacially able paid the tuition and sent their kids to Catholic school. Many Catholic students, however, were educated in public schools. Either their parents couldn't afford the luxury of private, religious schooling or they opposed the concept of separation on the basis of religion. The outcome was that we protestant kids had Catholic classmates who also became our friends.

    I have a lot of Canadian family and growing up, I was very close to my Canadian cousins. Even as a fairly young child of 11 or 12, I saw my protestant Canadian cousins distrusted and disliked Catholics far more than any of my American public school classmates. I wasn't aware of teh nature and history of Catholic school funding when I was an American kid. After moving to Canada and raising a child in our school system, I realized why my cousins were so intolerant. They'd been kept apart from Catholics and they distrusted what they didn't understand. 

    The Newfies made a sensible move. Interestingly enough, Newfoundland was the scene of some horrific pitched Protestant-Catholic battles that are reminiscent more of Northern Ireland than of Canada.

    We need excellence in education. We owe that to our children and to future generations of Canadians. We won't maintain or develop an excellent system if we divvy up what little resources we have among as many disparite groups as can cobble together a classroom. Keep religion out of the public purse and out of public education. That's why they have Sunday Schools.

  • Bailey:

    Nope.. that wouldnt affect it. I look at it from a social liberal POV that says I agree with the UN saying we are discriminating against these other faiths by not funding them as we do the public and Catholic school boards.  My solution is to be fair and fund all of them, rather then create more problems by attempting to remove the funding given to the Catholic school board.

  • I don't believe in funding 'faith based' education. Mainly because I think that is the mandate of churches not schools.

    Living in a more rural part of Ontario I can agree that some of the concern is religious prejudice, however, some of it is economics.

    Currently large numbers of kids on rural roads must walk long distances on bad roads early in the morning while it is still dark to meet the bus.

    Busing is constantly being cutback and there are so many 'fund raisers' and various things there might as well be school user fees.

    McGuinty asked school boards across the province to cut back even more. One can only assume that soon education will be only for those that can afford it.

    Until these issues can be addressed the idea of creating yet more competition for the few education dollars available seems ludicrous.

  • Bailey

    Hi Scott,

    I looked back and read what you had written before on the subject of supporting funding for all faith based schools.  One of your reasons was that it is too difficult to "re-open the constitution" and compared it to changing the Senate.

    However, amending the Senate is different from faith based schools since it doesn't affect the entire country.  Newfoundland held a referendum and the majority voted to remove the separate schools.  If Newfoundland was able to do that and not re-open the constitution, why can't Ontario?  If this is an easier route to go, would that change your mind as to supporting John Tory's idea?

  • Lindsay Staller

    Interesting to watch the election start to heat up. Driving into work today I heard a new commercial from John Tory. Found them online. Its worth a listen.

  • […] traditional Conservative base of voters hasn’t been too happy with this policy – I have made the assertion it’s because a lot of the religious-right rural wing of his support are less then thrilled […]

  • […] On wedge issues in Ontario By Scott Tribe The big issue so far has been the school funding issue. John Tory and the Progressive Conservatives propose to fund private faith-based schools the same way that is done with the public school and Catholic separate school system. … Scott’s DiaTribes – […]

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