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Ontarian's flock to the Green Party

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. 

{ 10 comments… add one }

  • Andrew October 11, 2007, 6:41 am

    How could a leader be so completely out of touch with the electorate? If Tory had of campaigned to dismantle the Catholic school system instead of funding faith based schools we would probably be looking at a PC majority today.

    This has to go down as one of the biggest blunders in Canadian political history; and the Catholic school board is most likely shaking in their collective redundant offices this AM, as I am sure Dalton's strategists are weighing whether or not to make scrapping it an election issue next time. It might just mean another majority for them.

  • Andrew October 11, 2007, 6:42 am

    PS – I voted Green too. How do we get one elected?

  • Jim Courtney October 11, 2007, 7:30 am

    Two comments on the Catholic Schools (which are popping up all around Peel Region – the suburb west of Toronto):

    1. Somehow the "Separate" (Catholic) education system is embedded into the BNA Act so getting rid of the system becomes a potentially divisive constitutional nightmare (and the education minister said as much in an interview last night).

    2. I do like the idea of two competing systems provided there are "equal access" opportunities for all citizens. Especially in the telecom industry we all know how much a little competition makes change happen while trying to provide better value.

  • Alec October 11, 2007, 7:35 am

    I don't know that if he had campaigned to dismantle the Catholic system, he could have achieved a majority. After all, with 700K children in the Catholic system, presumably with 2 parents each, that would have meant 1.4 million potential voters in opposition to the proposal. It would have been a divisive issue as well. But you know, as Volpi commented in the Globe this morning, by opening up the faith based funding issue in this election, Tory might have ultimately set the table for the dismantling of the Catholic board in a future election.

    As for the Greens? Keep voting for them, federally and provincially, and put your money and energy where your mouth is. With funding reforms in the last election that provide federal dollars based on the percentage of votes received, and increase in the popular vote is going to result in a virtuous cycle — more support equates to more dollars equates to more support… if you get my drift.

  • Alec October 11, 2007, 7:37 am

    Jim, I would have no objection to two competing systems provided equal access was mandated. That's not the way it is now.

  • Peter Childs October 11, 2007, 8:38 am

    I think the hidden story here is the Liberals lose 5% of their support and lose one seat – the Greens gain 5% of the popular vote and don't have a single seat.

    Put another way the for every 5 people who voted Liberal 1 person voted Green but the Liberals get 71 seats and the Greens none.

    To me this is one of the reasons that we hit a new low in voter turnout.

    I wish that media reported election results a percentage of the elegible voters – not a percentage of people who voted.

    It becomes clear that solid majority is a sliver more than 20% of elegible voter support.

  • Leonard October 11, 2007, 8:40 am

    Competition is good for private education, not the public variety. That is just wasteful duplication. We just end up with two nearly identical (despite protestations to the contrary) systems funded by formula with no incentive to find efficiencies. Plus the duplication diminishes economies of scale and the segregation undermines the public system's role in building mutual respect and understanding between people of different backgrounds.

    English Catholic school boards generally receive hundreds of dollars per pupil per year more than their coterminous English public boards. French public boards also receive substantially more per pupil per year than their coterminous French Catholic boards, which are always the larger of the French boards. French school boards always receive thousands of dollars per pupil per year more than their coterminous English boards, whether public or Catholic.

    This is not favouritism, but government recognition right in the funding formula that smaller school boards serving more dispersed populations need higher funding to offset the disadvantages of their size so they can offer a quality of education comparable to their larger counterparts.

    The larger English (public) and French (Catholic) boards also need higher per pupil funding than they would under one system to offer the same services, as they are also smaller and serve a more dispersed population than they would under one system.

    A move to one system would allow us to reclaim the money we currently waste funding four overlapping systems for programs of benefit to all students, investments in new or existing (crumbling) infrastructure, etc. Right now, some pretty essential and valuable programs (particularly spec ed, specialty teachers, and classroom supports) are being cut — all so we can continue to squander countless millions maintaining a largely religious-in-name-only system for a group of people who for the most part are not even demonstrably religious (70-90% don't attend Church, depending on who's figures you believe).

    The wrong question was asked this election. Rather than asking "Should we fund non-Catholic religious schools in light of the fact we fund Catholic schools?", we should have asked "Should we fund religious schools (including Catholic) at all, and if so, to what level?". A good number of Ontarians, in their fixation on the religious school funding issue, appear to have made this election a referendum on the latter question and the answer was a resounding NO RELIGIOUS SCHOOL FUNDING. I think the question should be put to them more directly in the future so that their verdict is actionable. The Tories did not frame the question in such a way that the public could directly express their real desires. They were using the existence of full funding for Catholics as a convenient political lever with which to extricate their preferred outcome — full funding for all religious schools

    Pigs will fly before any political party tries to push through a full funding scheme again, but perhaps the public would agree to a much more modest partial credit for all religions — including Catholic — in lieu of full funding.

    In any case, it's time for Ontario to call a Commission on the place of religion in schools, as Quebec did in the 1990s. The discrimination in our system (and I'd add, the waste) must be addressed. Let Ontarians provide input into the kind of fair and equitable system they want and then make it happen.

  • Andrew October 11, 2007, 9:37 am

    @ Leonard – very well said, I checked out your info site it is quite complete, and obviates most arguments for not supporting a one board system.

    @ Alec, studies show that 70-90% of parent who send kids to 'by name only Catholic schools' do so out of convenience, and don't attend church.

  • Alec October 11, 2007, 10:11 am

    No argument Andrew. But how will they vote if their cherished Catholic schools (which they all believe to be better quality than the public system) are to be opened to all? That's the questions politicians must ask, OR… they must be persuaded to put the question to a referendum.

  • kerry ritz October 17, 2007, 3:03 am

    the debate about catholic schools seems to mirror the debate between PC and Mac's. isnt the issue more fundamental–about real consumer (parent or pupil) choice and quality in education? Why is it that parents want to send their children to religious schools–perhaps because the quality of education is superior to that provided in the state system?

    one about freedom of choice within education. Perhaps it's time to introduce the notion of education vouchers—every student would be entitled to X amount of money to attend the school of their choice irrespective of whether it's state, public, or religious?

    We have been having similar debates in the UK but no one really wants to address the fundamental issue of letting parents make the choice–the money will go to the schools able to provide the best education. Maybe there should be more religious schools–after all they DO teach students to read and write by the time they are 17!!

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