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Ontario Tories Putting Fund in Fundamentalism

John Tory's pledge to fund private religious schools would have a serious, negative long-term impact on Hamilton.

By Adrian Duyzer
Published September 28, 2007

The topic of religious education has been by far the most talked about issue in Ontario's election season. Although there are more pressing issues, religion is controversial, and controversy sells newspapers.

It's not just that, though. Provincial funding of private religious schools would have a significant long-term impact on the province and its cities.

To anticipate those readers about to protest, "But the province already funds these schools, because the Catholic system is fully funded!", it's worth pointing out the differences between the Catholic system and private religious schools.

The Catholic public school system, like the non-Catholic public school system, is divided into school boards. The Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board (HWCDSB) has 53 elementary schools and seven secondary schools, serving 30,500 students in the region.

Catholic school boards like HWCDSB are large and unified, resembling non-Catholic school boards in their operating budgets and the number of students attending. This has a lot to do with the monolithic nature of the Catholic Church, which is the largest organized religious body in the world, comprising approximately one sixth of the world's population.

Private religious schools, on the other hand, are fragmented, with even small sects creating their own schools. Many of these schools are Protestant Christian, which is not a unified branch of Christianity.

Private religious schools tend to be scattered across large geographical areas. Most of Hamilton's private Christian schools are in rural areas or on the outskirts of the city.

This may be because property is cheaper in those locations or because private religious schools benefit from having their children separated from the rest of the community.

Predictable Effects

It isn't difficult to predict what would happen to religious schools if they were publicly funded. Existing religious schools would grow larger. The number of religious schools would increase, as it would suddenly become affordable and perhaps even profitable for even small religious groups to open schools.

Enrolment in public schools would drop. The more successful religious schools became, the more the public system would decline. This, in turn, would have a ripple effect across cities:

Less Predictable Effects

Years ago, friends of mine from Ann Arbor, Michigan, took me on a "Detroit ghetto tour" - a drive on a snowy winter's night through some of Detroit's poorest neighbourhoods.

One peculiar feature about the streets we drove on jumped out at me: the preponderance of tiny "churches" on streets otherwise populated by hair and nail salons and grimy restaurants.

I put "churches" inn quotation marks on purpose, since they appeared to be nothing more than ordinary houses and storefronts that had a sign (or just paint on a window) advertising places of worship with names like "Lucinda's House of Jesus".

I asked my guides why there were so many small churches everywhere. They explained that churches were exempt from property taxes, creating a powerful incentive for people with few economic opportunites to put a sign on their homes and invite people over on Sundays.

This taught me that when religions are given special treatment, the results can be unexpected. In this case, the results weren't just unexpected, they were also strongly negative for a city with a declining industrial base already desperate for tax revenue (sound familiar?)

Ultimately, the fairest solution, and the one that makes the most economic, environmental, and urbanist sense, would be to unify the secular public school system with the Catholic public school system.

With no major political party willing to take up that gauntlet, however, the best alternative we can hope for is the status quo, because John Tory's pledge to fund private religious schools is bad for cities like Hamilton.

Adrian Duyzer is an entrepreneur, business owner, and Associate Editor of Raise the Hammer. He lives in downtown Hamilton with his family. On Twitter: adriandz

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By maestro*F (registered) | Posted September 29, 2007 at 13:11:11

A lot of really good reasons I hadn't thought of to oppose a really bad idea. Never forget, the Harris Government tried to undermine the Public School System through staffing cuts and the imposition of standardized testing. This is just an attempt to continue to apply the Conservative-Alliance-Reform-Republican agenda through the back door.

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By Frank (registered) | Posted October 01, 2007 at 10:53:18

Shouldn't this be in the Opinion section? Perhaps you should visit the Christian school associated with the church I attend. Whenever a student comes from the public system into the school, they're generally a few grades behind. Our public system has better grades because our public teachers are forced to pass people by Ontario legislation regardless of whether they merit the grade or not.
Having said that, I'm a product of a religious school myself and aside from having learned many values and possessing a greater sense of responsibility for my own actions, I don't find much wrong with the way I was educated.
As for Maestro, perhaps you would find it shocking that although you might not have agreed with Mr. Harris's politics, he had the popular vote because unlike most liberal politicians, he did what he said he'd do.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted October 01, 2007 at 11:09:18

Hi Frank,

Adrian is an RTH columnist and this is his column; it's not straight reporting.

As for the popular vote, the Harris Tories won the 1995 and 1999 elections with 45% percent of the popular vote - less than half. It's only because of Ontario's first-past-the-post electoral system that a plurality of votes produces a majority of seats.

Incidentally, the Liberals won the 2003 election with 46% of the popular vote. They deserve credit for taking some initiative in creating a citizen group to study electoral reform and putting an MMP referendum on the ballot for this election, though it hasn't generated nearly as much coverage as it ought.

Also, the main reason reason the Liberals had to "break" some of their election promises is that the departing Eves government had claimed the province was going to balance its budget in 2003/'04, but the actual deficit was $5.5 billion (so much for fiscal responsibility).

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By Voter (anonymous) | Posted October 01, 2007 at 13:45:21

We were 'blessed ?' with the current Liberal Government :-( with a majority, when the Conservative Harris/Eves Government completely alienated most of Ontario voters.

When John Tory announced plans to fully fund all religious schools, I thought that he might be trying to avoid becoming Ont. P.M. (Perhaps he planned to wait until the next election, when the public would become as irate with McGuinty as they had with Harris/Eves, to go for a Conservative majority Gov.?)

What is the matter with these leaders? Do they have no inkling of what the voters want? Do they decide their platforms in a cupboard?

So John Tory has now decided to back off this issue, & have a free vote, ..If he's elected P.M., presumably with a small majority. Fat Chance! He's already scared the wits out of those who want a secular society with no religious overtones to political parties.

The first thing he could have done was hand out a face cord of olive branches to millions of Ont. voters who will likely never vote Conservative again & hope that they take them.

The second thing he might have done is realize that Canada/Ontario is not responsive to U.S. style Old Time Religion holding hands with those in power.

And once again the voters find themselves voting Against, rather than For something, & no matter which of the 2 mainstream parties you vote for, you will Lose something that is very very important! ( sigh.. & they wonder about voter apathy?)

Once again I will vote NDP with my conscience, knowing that my vote is probably wasted in my riding, & once again I will be governed by people who don't have a CLUE!

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By here (anonymous) | Posted October 01, 2007 at 18:40:21

Based on principle, Tory has an argument about equal treatment, however, there's an easier way to promote equality - defund the Catholic system. One public system is all we need. Dalton is hypocritical to suggest Tory is advocating division when his family is involved in the Catholic system not the public. As for the local Christian schools many were founded by Dutch immigrants who came to Canada to farm, hence the schools are in rural areas. Some of the opposition to funding has veered into territory better occupied by the ignorant -- those who stir up fear of religious schools frequently deal in hyperbole. Neither end of times nor "islmo-fascism" will be taught in publicly funded schools -- Tory's proposal demands qualified teachers and Ontario curriculum in exchange for money.

That said I still vote NDP even though they will keep things as they are since this is not the only issue.

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By Ted Mitchell (registered) | Posted October 02, 2007 at 03:42:11

Here's an interesting quotation: A particularly troubling conclusion from the survey is that the integration of the children of visible-minority immigrants into society appears to be weaker than that of their parents.

from:www.triec.ca/index.asp?pageid=40&int=newsite/news-media/inthenews/MediaClippings/StarOct2005.htm

So, would funding religious schools make this problem better, or worse? Consequences like this do not happen overnight, they take more like a generation.

When Tory points out all the provinces that have recently made this choice, well, the jury is still out for a long while.

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By adrian (registered) | Posted October 02, 2007 at 09:27:17

Tory has now flip-flopped on the issue.


Progressive Conservative Leader John Tory saw the light on his faith-based school funding scheme – and it was a runaway train headed straight for him.

Faced with mutinous Conservative candidates and polls suggesting the policy would cost the party the Oct. 10 election, Tory yesterday announced a compromise that could undermine his $400 million plan to extend funding to Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Sikh, Hindu and other religious schools.

In a desperate bid to salvage a campaign in which the Conservatives trail the Liberals by up to 10 points – even though polls show voters prefer Tory to Premier Dalton McGuinty – he promised to put the policy to a free vote in the Legislature if he becomes premier.

http://www.thestar.com/article/262573

Given that it's apparent his plan has no broad-based public support and so would never pass a free vote, this is a complete reversal.

I'm supportive of people who change their minds, although I think it's better when they do so as a result of new information, as opposed to polling results. In this case, however, I think the pejorative term "flip-flopper" is fair, given all of the Conservative attacks on McGuinty for changing his mind.

At least one thing has come out of all of this: there's no way that public funding for private religious education is going to happen any time soon.

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By Frank (registered) | Posted October 04, 2007 at 13:27:49

Ryan, Last time I checked we had more than one party in Ontario which is why if one party has 45% or 46% of the popular vote it can still win the popular vote. I'm not saying that the Eves gov't didn't cause problems what I'm saying is that when McGuinty ran for the election he had every opportunity to look into the deficit and didn't despite predictions from his own advisors that it would be bigger than he was anticipating. Also, it's interesting to note that John Tory took over the Conservative pary leadership with his own party being in debt and has since then balanced the budget... Not to mention that party policies are different now as well as there being a different leader. Holding previous "sins" of leadership against a party or the following leaders is very childish and closeminded.

Regardless, the reason Tory was suggesting equality by funding all religious schools is because of the Liberal's refusal to "defund" Catholic schools citing historical reasons. (DM actually attended a Catholic school...surprise!!!) One cannot say that we should have a secular society where religion and politics are separate and continue to fund ANY religious school including Catholic schools. By refusing to remove funding for Catholic schools, the only alternative is to fund them all. This format, by the way, is in effect in, I believe, nine of the other 13 provinces and territories and has not had the negative affect on society that Dalton McGuinty and the Liberals are suggesting.

All that aside, why are we focussing on the issue that will consume all of 400M of an increased education budget. (Contrary to DM's accusation that it will remove the money from the publicly funded system, the education budget would be increased) This is all of what 2% of the total budget. Why not focus on what should be real election issues such as doctor shortage, the repairing of the education funding formula (also promised by DM...but when?), poverty issues, crime rates, the traffic of guns and so forth. Why does it take the NDP leader coming to Hamilton to speak out on poverty issues in an area that has been shown to have one of the highest concentrations of poor people in the province?

You may call Tory's decision a flip-flop, I call it the only way to remove the issue from the Liberal microscope and allow Tory to focus on his other election promises rather than answering rapid-fire questions about religious school funding at every stop on the campaign trail. How can the public find out the rest of a parties platform short of reading the platform online (I've read both the Liberal and Conservative platforms...the NDP site was down at the time) when there's no way for the party leader to talk about them???

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted October 04, 2007 at 14:01:46

"Last time I checked we had more than one party in Ontario which is why if one party has 45% or 46% of the popular vote it can still win the popular vote."

My point was that it's possible to win a majority of seats with less than half the votes. With Ontario's broken electoral system, the seat count bears little relation to the popular vote. (All the more reason to vote for MMP in the upcoming election!)

You also wrote that Harris won because "he had the popular vote because unlike most liberal politicians, he did what he said he'd do." In fact, the McGuinty government won with a bigger margin than either of the two previous elections (albeit still less than half the popular vote).

"Holding previous 'sins' of leadership against a party or the following leaders is very childish and closeminded."

You accused the McGuinty government of not keeping its promises. I pointed out that they had to change some of their fiscal plans because the previous government had lied about the provincial deficit situation. It's irresponsible to blame the Liberals for changing their plans without considering the context in which they made that decision.

To borrow an expression from John Maynard Keynes, they changed their plans because the facts changed.

"You may call Tory's decision a flip-flop"

Actually, I have no strong feelings about it. Tory made the right choice abandoning the idea, which he would never have proposed in the first place if he understood what voters want.

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By Frank (registered) | Posted October 04, 2007 at 15:59:23

The McGuinty government had every opportunity (as I pointed out) to research the actual deficit independent of the finance minister's account. In fact, he was told by his own advisors that he was heading into deep water. It's irresponsible to promise something based on an opposition party's account despite warnings from your own advisors. The facts actually didn't change. The facts were there. The finance minister's account was wrong, the facts were still available and it would've been an astute decision to research them...especially when making a promise like this. I regularly listen to a talk radio show on CFRB from 3-4 called Two Bald Guys with Strong Opinions. One happens to be a conservative and the other is a lawyer who was elected president of the Ontario Liberal Party in 1998 and 2000. Both agree on one thing - this issue would most likely have been voted through legislature with the existing government and it was because of misinterpretation and plain old political b.s. that this relatively minor issue has come to the forefront and is making/breaking this election when it should never have done so.

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By ugghhh! (anonymous) | Posted October 05, 2007 at 00:50:58

frank, i was actually considering your arguement until you mentioned listening to talk radio, which unfortunately is like invoking the nazis to prove your point. you lose.

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By Frank (registered) | Posted October 05, 2007 at 09:51:33

haha, ugghh... the only reason i listen to that show is because it produces opposing viewpoints which, in turn, creates good discussions and provides a viewpoint that I don't normally hear. I don't base any argument I make solely on listening or researching one angle without doing significant research from the opposing viewpoint. In other words, I'm a fan of playing devil's advocate in order to promote discussion.

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By Genghis (anonymous) | Posted October 06, 2007 at 17:09:40

I was always for a Faith based schooling system in the past, but after rethink this has "Bad Idea" written all over it.I can see where Tory was coming from. One Group of RC gets it while all the rest dont.Trying to level out Provincial educational politics.McGuinty is hilarious as the chumpion of Public education though.The Hutzpah!If only someone would wipe that sanctimonious smirk of his face when he talks about "Public Education".

Unfortunatly,the alternative is a change to erase all religous funding, but would inevitably lead to intrusion into Federalist territory and Constitutional issues on French and English( or prior Roman Catholicism and Protestantism).The idea was doomed from the start for Tory.All he left out was discussing Faith based funding while championing buying alcohol at corner stores for a real firestorm of a debate.

Keep Education education and leave Faith to the Parents,Religious institutions etc.

All Tory had to do was keep his yapper shut and let McGuinty stand on his broken record and his ethnic slush fund.

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By Yup-per (anonymous) | Posted October 06, 2007 at 21:58:05

Why is it nobody ever mentions Newfoundland, Labrador, & (I think?) Nova Scotia who stopped funding Catholic schools altogether? (In some of the most Catholic places in Canada)

I don't recall that they had to tweak the Feds coat tails to do that, or turn back the clock to pre-Confederation times.

Most of the R.C. people that I have talked to, (yeah even the ones who go to Mass every Sunday) say that funding for Catholic schools beyond the elementary school level is absurd. Many also say that funding both systems at all is a waste of money. So who exactly is John Tory trying to be 'fair' to?

CBC Radio interviews & an article in today's Spec. confirm that the only people who want full funding are those that are currently involved in a religious school as a parent, or as part of the infrastructure of those schools. The rest of the parents in religious communities seem quite happy with things as they are.

For all religious schools to be on a 'Perfectly Equal' footing, would this not mean that we would add many more elected school boards & bureaucrats to our current 4? (Eng. Public, Fr. Public, Eng. Catholic, & Fr. Catholic)

Do we want to fund all religious schools beyond the elementary level? Again, if we want all religious schools to be 'Perfectly Equal', we must also fund all religious schools until the end of Gr. 12.

"Separate but Equal" Wasn't that how segregated schools were described in the U.S. South before integration?

Tiny Ireland seems to have found a way to fund all students with the interest & aptitude to go on to post secondary education. That seems absolutely Fair to me. Couldn't we put our education budget/tax dollars there & truly invest in the future of Ontario, instead of a lot of navel gazing about what is fair & equal?

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By Frank (registered) | Posted October 09, 2007 at 14:01:25

I have a big problem with this being such a big issue. I think that as Hamiltonians and Ontarians, we should be asking things like: Why did DM refuse to visit Caledonia? Why is he negotiating with people who are occupying disputed lands causing disruption and terror in the bordering neighbourhoods and paralyzing a city? What EXACTLY is Dalton Mcguinty's plan with respect to promoting and/or public transit such as our LRT system here in Hamilton? What about the Health Tax? I bet if we lowered his and the other MPP's salaries we could get rid of it pretty quickly... What's his plan when it comes to our doctor shortage? Take a listen to the interview with Scott Thompson and John Tory posted on 900CHML.com from Oct. 5. I still haven't heard Howard Hampton talking about this either. I understand he's frustrated with the media (from his rant during his last visit here) and maybe we'll hear something worth hearing today when he visits Hamilton again...but come on....These are the REAL issues. Not something that's worth a miniscule part of the provincial budget.

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By Frank (registered) | Posted October 09, 2007 at 14:02:36

Should say "...and/or funding..."

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By Yup-per (anonymous) | Posted October 10, 2007 at 01:41:03

The problem with all Native land claims is that so much has already been built on disputed lands (that should never have been built until the land claim was settled!)that the Fed. & Prov. Gov's would have millions of dollars in compensation owing to people who had bought property in good faith on what may/could be native land, or millions of dollars in compensation to the Bands involved. This is why no one wants to deal with most land claims. Who wants to be caught holding the hot potato? So both levels of government keep putting off negotiating or even addressing them because they Can. (or at least they have been successful until now.)

The recent occupation of lands is the only thing that has gotten the matter into the press or the public eye. Like it or not, it's the only effective method so far that promises to force the issues into real negotiations.

You can charge anyone with trespass, but in order to prove trespass, the claim would need to be looked at in court & it could be appealed all the way to the Supreme Courts of both the province & federal government. So one way or another, this is a way of getting the land claim into court, where it belongs. As much as I'd like to see McGuinty lose this election, I don't think that John Tory could do any better with this, unless the Prov. Gov. wants another Ipperwash. (which still hasn't been settle either, even though the enquiry blamed the Lib. Fed. Gov. for not dealing with the issue, as well as the Prov. Gov, of Mike Harris for over reacting.)

You may not agree with the methods, but how else can a Government ruling be forced on land claims? Nothing else has worked. I hope you do agree that the land claims are legal documents, & have to be dealt with as soon as possible, just as we would expect any other land dispute to be settled promptly.(or within 200 years)

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By Genghis (anonymous) | Posted October 10, 2007 at 16:19:09

DM will only fly in if it is an opportunistic photo Op at Caledonia( expect once it is settled, him and his Lieberal ministers to weasel thier way onto the Podium out of the shadows with the Federal Minister for a full round of applause from the residents)

Dalton should do what he is voted to do.
Have the Police enforce the laws or re write so they can.If the Police cannot act because of upsetting thugs, then write new laws to enable them to stop illegal activity

Its quite simple once you stop cowering at every inch of resistance from protesters.

1) Stop all development
2) Remove all Natives and Residents from 500 yards of the area in which to atagonize each other.
3)If they dont, arrest them.repeat jail and fine as required until it sinks in.
4)The Police..... stop being such pussies too afraid to upset thugs and do your job.

Have Provincial Minister contact Fed minister for solution.End of.(Fish or Cut Bait)

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