Funding for Ontario Catholic schools: What’s up with that, NDP?

Okay, I have to get this off my chest: why the hell does the Ontario government still fully fund one religion’s separate schools, but not any others? What ever happened to the separation of church and state, or the equal treatment of all religions and cultures?

Yes, yes, I know that the British North America Act of 1867 (and thus the Constitution of 1982) both mandate separate Protestant and Catholic schools. This is basically the best argument going for continuing the status quo (and the reason you can’t mount a Charter of Rights and Freedoms case here) and I’m not buying it. Quebec, Manitoba, and Newfoundland have ended unequal funding of religious schools via special Acts of Parliament; it’s obviously possible. Yes, the 1867 agreement was necessary to protect the cultural diversity of the day, but times change! It’s basic fair treatment, and besides, fewer than 30% of Ontario residents are opposed to scrapping funding for religious schools. Besides, it’s only been since 1985 that Ontario Catholic schools have been fully funded (bet you didn’t know that!); it should have been obvious by then that there were other cultural groups who deserved to be treated the same. Ontario is the only province that gives full funding to Catholics and zilch to everyone else. And don’t tell me the Catholic schools are exactly the same as the public schools; they don’t allow public health nurses to discuss some contraception methods, Planned Parenthood, or AIDS awareness for queer youth. If taxpayers are footing the bill they ought to have a say in potentially lifesaving parts of the curriculum like that.

This is shaping up to be an important election issue since the Conservatives announced that if elected in October, they’ll provide equal funding for all religious schools. This strikes me as a rather bad idea, let alone unworkable and expensive, but I have to concede it’s fairer than the status quo, which the Liberals would unimaginatively like to maintain.

But what really irks me is that the Ontario NDP are siding with the Liberals on this! Only the Green Party proposes ending state funding for religious schools. What’s up with that? All the NDP will say on this is that more money needs to be put into the education system, but that’s hardly a justification, and running two parallel state-funded schools is not really a cost-saving measure. I can only assume that nine out of ten focus groups have agreed that you’ll piss off the fewest people by not rocking the boat, which explains the Liberal’s position perfectly, but I had expected better of the NDP. They could have at least proposed something creative, like the Quebec approach of 60% funding for schools run by religious and cultural groups which use accredited teachers and approved curricula.


Edit: Here’s the statistic you’re all wondering about, so you don’t have to look it up: 34.7% of Ontario residents told StatsCan they were Catholic.