From bad to worse

Financement public des écoles confessionnelles

Supporters of John Tory's pledge to expand funding for religious schools in Ontario contend that it's unfair for only Catholic schools to receive public dollars. They're right. The same people point out that it's hypocritical for Dalton McGuinty to rail against encouraging "children of different faiths to leave the publicly funded system and become sequestered and segregated in their own private schools," since the Premier has no objection to a separate system for Catholic kids. They're right about that, too. But neither argument justifies what Mr. Tory's Conservatives want to do to the province's education system.
The best course of action would be to simply eliminate public funding for Ontario's Catholic schools. A holdover from the days when Catholics were a threatened minority in need of protection, made worse by former premier Bill Davis's ill-advised decision to extend such funding to high schools as well as grade schools, it is an anachronism in today's multi-faith province. But it is sometimes easier to make policies than to reverse them after they have grown outdated. Even if the province could sidestep the constitutional requirement of Catholic school funding, as Newfoundland and Labrador did, it is a political impossibility. In a province in which approximately 35% of the population is Catholic, no party could get elected promising to scrap Catholic schools. And doing so between elections, without having campaigned on it, would be a gross violation of a government's mandate.
Consequently, the only way to put all religions on the same footing is to do as Mr. Tory is vowing - namely, to make public religious schools that are currently private. No question, this would be fairer. Too bad it would run contrary to the province's interests in every other way.
It is plainly obvious that Mr. Tory has not properly thought through his proposal. To begin with, he has yet to provide a satisfactory answer as to how it would be decided which religions qualify for funding, and how he would prevent marginal sects and cults from coming under the public umbrella. And yesterday, he bafflingly mused that publicly funded schools would be allowed to teach creationism alongside evolution - something that Liberal Education Minister Kathleen Wynne promptly pointed out is not even the case in Catholic schools, where creationism can be taught in religion but not in science classes.
But there is a bigger problem with what the Conservatives are proposing. Schools are where children learn to function in broader society. As we struggle to avoid the polarization of ethnic and religious minorities, governments should not be contributing to it by encouraging kids to interact only with members of their own faith.
There is no perfect position to take on religious school funding in Ontario - not one that can reasonably be achieved. But Mr. McGuinty is right to stand up for the lesser of two evils. In this case, an unfair and hypocritical status quo is better than the alternative.

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