We had an election here in Ontario last night. The governing Liberals, led by Premier Dalton McGuinty, smoked all three opposition parties walking away with 72 of the 107 seats in the provincial legislature; a significant majority, although a largely unchanged result when compared with the 2003 election. Despite the unchanged seat count, voters fled the mainstream parties. The Greens did particularly well last night, garnering 8% of the popular vote compared to 2.3% in 2003. The NDP also increased its share of the popular vote to 17%, and gained three additional seats. Popular support for the Liberals and Conservatives fell by 4% and 3% respectively. The Conservative campaign, despite having a charismatic and well-liked leader in John Tory, was derailed by the issue of faith-based funding for schools. Tory's proposal to extend provincial funding to religious schools proved to be a lightning-rod issue, which most Ontario residents were opposed to.
Tory's argument, that we should extend funding to all religious schools in addition to the already-funded Catholic schools, was presented as a fairness issue. We needed to bring the 53,000 children currently educated in private schools outside the public system "into the fold", thus ensuring a consistent standard of education for all. Ontarians didn't buy it. As Janice said to me a few days ago, "I don't care if Dalton McGuinty tortures cats. I'm not voting for John Tory and his faith-based school funding." McGuinty struck the right tone when he said: "We do not want to see our children divided. We want publicly funded schools, not public funds for private schools."
Why not simply dismantle the Catholic system? An historical artifact of the early days of Canada, the Catholic system is an anachronism and a drain on the public purse. Plus, it's fundamentally unfair that tax dollars are being used to fund institutions that are not inclusive of all Ontarians. New Catholic Schools are popping up like mushrooms in my neighborhood, while children in the public system (including mine) are bussed long distances to aging country schools in other nearby towns. Dismantling the Catholic system, while the right thing to do, would risk the ire and votes of the significant Catholic population in Ontario.
For the second time in my life, I voted Green, rather than Conservative. The Greens' libertarian smelling blend of free market economics and environmental activism suits me just fine. It's a safe place to put my vote when the Conservatives succumb, all too often it turns out, to blending religion with government.