Faith-based Schooling Leads to Decimation of Ontario Conservative Party
First a primer for Americans: Ontario is a province in Canada. A province is exactly like a state, except with less autonomy from the federal government. Ontario is close to western New York and Michigan. We had an election on October 10 featuring governing Liberal party led by Dalton McGuinty against the Progressive Conservatives (oxymoron anyone?) led by John Tory. Our third party, the NDP, was a non-factor as usual since they are owned by the labour unions and labour is dead as a political force. Sorry if I've insulted your intelligence with any of this.
Ontario atheists got to celebrate Wednesday night as we watched John Tory and the provincial Progressive Conservative party go down in flames after lamely trying to exploit religious zealotry by promising to give government funds to religious schools if elected. They made the promise in the summer, then could only shriek in horror as the Liberals and the voting public tattooed it to their asses and made it into the defining issue of the campaign. The conservative-owned media (such as my local paper, the London Free Press) bleated in protest throughout the campaign that Tory was not a right winger, the promise was only a third of a page in the PC platform, everyone was ignoring the real issues (Mcguinty's lies in the last election), here's another example of cynical Liberal smearing and fear-mongering, blah blah blah blah blah.
In a development that should give good cheer to all North American atheists, the voters of Ontario steadfastly IGNORED the media's attempts to paper over the faith-based promise and relentlessly drove Tory down in the polls, citing over and over the faith schooling issue as the main reason they wouldn't vote PC. The issue was so devastating to Tory that in the last week of the campaign he flip-flopped and promised to put the matter to a free vote (which means members of parliament are not obligated to vote with the party), reversing his earlier commitment to make it a matter of policy for his government. The flip flop only served to alienate the few who liked his faith-based position and did nothing to mollify the millions who didn't, among whom many were normally PC voters.
The Liberals won a huge majority government again, with Tory only managing to maintain the PCs number of seats in the provincial legislature at 26. This is a pathetic outcome, considering the media had been recording a steady stream of broken Liberal promises over the last four years and Tory was viewed going into the election as by far the more attractive leader. It is the first time in 70 years that Liberals have won back-to-back majorities in Ontario. Going into the election pundits were talking about a Liberal minority as McGuinty's best outcome, with a PC minority or even majority more likely.
Tory even lost his own seat in the legislature, making it practically impossible for him to continue as party leader.
So what we had here was the outcome of the election of the largest (by population) province in Canada turned on its ear by our rejection of even the appearance of a breakdown in Church/State separation. I'm proud to be an Ontarian today. Too many of us are still religious, but even the religious among us understand that there is no such thing as a modern, civil society when religion is part of government and education.
Many of you will be aware that there are hundreds of government-funded Roman Catholic schools in Ontario, with over 650,000 students. The existence of these schools is due to a concession written into the original constitution of Canada, the British North America Act, back in 1867. At that time, our fathers of confederation were having trouble convincing Quebec to join the country. Quebec is predominantly French speaking and Catholic. So as part of the deal to get Quebec to join, they wrote right into the BNA that Roman Catholics would have the right to "govern" their own school system. 150 years and a number of Supreme Court decisions later, that concession has meant that Ontario is saddled with the embarrassing anachronism of having two separate, publicly funded school boards in every part of the province.
There are important differences between these schools and the religious schools that Tory was talking about funding. For one thing, anyone is allowed to go to a Catholic school and many secular people do in cases where the Catholic school in their area is better run than the public school. The only real difference between a Catholic school and a public school is that the Catholic schools won't hire non-Catholics, and the kids have, I think, one religion class per week where they are brainwashed in the Catholic faith. The kids uniformly hate these classes and do everything they can to avoid them, but it is there.
Under Tory's plan, the other religious schools would be forced to teach the official curriculum that is set by the Education Ministry, but there any resemblance to public schools would stop. They would be able to reject anyone they like from attending the school, despite having accepted money from public taxpayers. They could teach as much religion as they could fit in around the official curriculum and mandatory religious observance would certainly be part of the program. Tory also stated in the campaign that he would have no problem with creationism being taught in these schools. He later tried to say that he thought creationism should stay in the religion class and evolution in the science class, but let's get real. Who is going to police these fundy nurseries to make sure that they are not saying creationism is the only right answer? Oh, and here's a minor point: evolution is NOT a mandatory part of the Ontario curriculum. That means it's up to individual teachers as to whether they want to teach a unit on evolution in their science class. That means there's nothing to prevent religious school teachers from teaching creationism everywhere but science class, and simply leaving evolution out of science class. I don't know, but I would bet hard cash that evolution doesn't get the proper treatment even in the heavily secularized Catholic schools.
Many people are unhappy about the publicly funded Catholic schools here, and there was a huge fight over extending full funding to them in the '80s that cost another PC premier his job. However getting rid of them would basically mean a constitutional amendment, and no Canadian politician wants to open up that can of worms. For the present, it looks like we are going to have to hold our noses and accept the mess we've got.
Tory and the PCs tried to make their faith-based promise out to be about fairness. There's all these Catholic schools...shouldn't the other schools get funded, too? This was probably their strongest argument of the campaign, but happily it failed miserably. Ontarians, it seems, are smart enough to understand that when you've taken a wrong turn, you don't try to find your way by hitting the accelerator in the same direction. Two wrongs don't make a right.
Plus there's the whole problem of where you stop funding religious schools. Tory pointed out over and over that we aren't talking about a lot of students here...maybe 50K. OK, but that is the number when religious schools are NOT funded. What's going to happen if every congregation in Ontario realizes that they can run their own little hothouse of error on the public dime? I can tell you this: there wouldn't be FEWER students in religious schools the next year.
Meh, this is long so I'll stop now. WAY TO GO ONTARIO! I LOVE MY PEOPLE!
Lazy is a word we use when someone isn't doing what we want them to do.
- Dr. Joy Brown