An issue that belongs to a past century

Financement public des écoles confessionnelles

I thought I'd been lost in the wilderness these past few weeks, not in outer space.
Yet that's what it feels like dropping back onto a planet where the President of the United States is talking about ghosts popping out of White House walls, where the Premier of the province in which I reside, Ontario, is offering a day off in February as an election bribe - can I vote twice? - and where the leader of the provincial opposition is offering to fund religious schools.
The temptation is to say, "Oh my God!" - but somehow that doesn't seem quite appropriate. Better, perhaps, just to curl up in the fetal position and scream.
Ontario elections, it must be said, are usually about as interesting as the current Canada-Russia junior hockey super series, but this one, scheduled for Oct. 10, just might get as competitive and nasty as the original '72 Summit Series - all over an issue that also belongs to a past century.
Progressive Conservative Leader John Tory has offered $400-million of Ontario taxpayers' money to extend public funding to faith-based schools. Cynics say it is nothing but a desperate gambit for his party to appeal to the large non-Christian immigrant population that has filled up the 905 dialling code and tends to vote Liberal, if at all.
Liberal Leader Dalton McGuinty - already famous for his 2003 election pledge of no tax increase, quickly followed by the largest personal tax increase in a decade - has promised an extra holiday in February. Cynics say it is nothing but a bribe, but who really cares what the cynics say.
Both promises are blatantly opportunistic, with one as complicated as the other is simple.
If Tory somehow wins with his particular promise, however, he may have to offer all February off as a bribe to keep around those of us who don't believe in such funding.
This is not to say that religion has no place in publicly funded Canadian schools. It does indeed - but as a subject alone. Students of all faiths and, for that matter, students of no faith at all need to know more about one another and the overall society in which they will be expected to live and work. Students need to learn about creationism as well as evolution, in an educational setting that encourages them to come to their own conclusions. Schools should preach tolerance, if they preach anything at all, but they should also teach about intolerance and extremism - Christian extremism included.
Bullying, after all, isn't something that happens only in the schoolyard.
What has sent John Tory - who, coincidentally, is running against provincial Education Minister Kathleen Wynne in a Toronto riding - down this known minefield is not certain. While he may indeed pick up support in the Greater Toronto Area and surrounding suburbs, he will only remind older voters in the rest of the province of a previous Conservative debacle over such funding.
Back in 1984, former Conservative Premier Bill Davis caved in to pressure and expanded separate school funding to the end of high school. His successor, Frank Miller, blamed his own demise on voter outrage over Davis's parting gift.
Tory's argument, of course, is that you can't have public funding for one and deny it to the others. And while no one can argue with the logic of this, it has to be pointed out that funding for Catholic schools goes back to Confederation.
Author Richard Gwyn, who has as fine a sense of Canada's relative position in the world as anyone, has warned about the dangers of building internal "walls" in a country that is "charting new territory" in terms of multiculturalism and tolerance. If those internal barriers between Canadians get too high, he warns in Nationalism Without Walls, the centre might not hold.
"If we ceased to be a community," Gwyn writes, "others would notice and would regret the passing of a distinctive idea about how different people can live together."
And where learning how to "live together" begins, of course, is in the classroom - not in schools divided along religious lines.
If John Tory wants to do something about education in his province, he might ask why it is that so many parents with resources are willing to pay university-level fees to send their children to private elementary and secondary schools. It can't just be for the uniforms.
Yet here he is talking about shifting $400-million within a public school system that is still trying to recover from cuts the last provincial Conservative government made.
George Bush, sad to report, can't be the only one these days seeing ghosts of the past coming out of the walls.

Laissez un commentaire

Aucun commentaire trouvé