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Advocacy - John Tory's faith-based funding is a loser

September 28, 2007

John Tory's faith-based funding is a loser
One School System Network grows in opposition

By Kevin Bourassa and Joe Varnell

“"It's a bloody stupid idea. When you segregate people along religious lines, it leads to ghettoization," said Gopinath, 49, a travel agency executive whose son attends a Mississauga public school. "The beauty of the public school system is Hindu, Sikh, Jew, Christian children can learn and play together, which goes a long way toward developing understanding. Religion has no place in schools. If I want to teach my son the Hindu religion, I should finance it from (my) own pocket and not expect my neighbours to do it." Toronto Star, September 28, 2007


We met John Tory in 2004, when former CIBC Chairman John Hunkin introduced us at the bank’s first annual Pride reception honouring LGBT employees. We were pleased to learn that Tory supported our efforts to bring equal marriage for same-sex couples to Canada.

Tory’s visible support of gay marriage, at a time when he was running for the leadership of the Ontario Progressive Conservative party, demonstrated a willingness to stand up against extremists who wish to suppress the “progressive” elements that are still represented in their party name, unlike the Conservatives at the federal level..

Tory’s support of same-sex marriage drew criticism from the usual cranks and bigots, including (un)Real Women of Canada [more popularly known in our circle as Ladies Against Women] in their Nov/Dec 2004 newsletter:

“This issue is the mark on which social conservatives draw the line. As a result, Mr. Tory should not have the support of social conservatives, the bedrock of the party. Social conservatives should treat him with disdain and distrust as they did his predecessor, Ernie Eves, unless he adjusts his position on the issue. Will they contribute money to bring down the party's debt of $8.5 million? Mr. Tory will have to rely on his homosexual supporters to assist him.”

Years later, Catholic extremists are still smarting from Tory’s support for same-sex marriage.

“Ontario residents wondering where to park their votes in the provincial election this coming October 10 have good reasons not to support John Tory and his Progressive Conservative party,” Catholic Insight said in its July/August 2007 edition. “A “red Tory” with NDP-liberal views on a number of issues, Tory has openly courted favour with homosexuals since the beginning of his leadership reign in 2004 and even before it.”

Tory appeared to be isolating the albatross of extremism that often sinks Conservative ships in Ontario’s voting pool. But as the Ontario election date neared, he seemed to submit to the demands of extremists in his party who claim they are the “bedrock” of conservatism in Ontario.

The beginning of the end?

"The best course of action would be to simply eliminate public funding for Ontario's Catholic schools. A holdover from the days when Catholics were a threatened minority in need of protection, made worse by former premier Bill Davis's ill-advised decision to extend such funding to high schools as well as grade schools, it is an anachronism in today's multi-faith province … Schools are where children learn to function in broader society. As we struggle to avoid the polarization of ethnic and religious minorities, governments should not be contributing to it by encouraging kids to interact only with members of their own faith.”

Globe and Mail editorial, September 6, 2007

On February 19, 2006, at an Ontario Progressive Conservative policy convention, Tory first floated the notion of extending school funding to all faith schools in Ontario. The move was criticized at the time, and disappeared from the radar. So last April, with an October election looming in Ontario, we decided to add our voice to this issue. Instead of extending funding to all faith-based schools, we supported proposals for a single secular school system, one in English and one in French, for all of Ontario’s students.

Since that story, the issue has become a major focus in the Ontario election, with Tory on the wrong side. The governing Liberal party understands that Tory had compromised his chances of governing Ontario because of his stance on faith-based schooling.

"People come to Canada because they embrace diversity, not so they can be separated from each other," Education Minister Kathleen Wynne (Ontario Liberal Party) told the National Post (August 25, 2007). "We should ask ourselves if we'd be a stronger province if we separate our kids."

"You don't improve a community's schools, you don't build community when you take half a billion (dollars) out of publicly funded schools to fund private religious schools as the Conservatives are promising to do," Ontario Premier David McGuinty added (Toronto Star, August 21, 2007).

A day later McGuinty continued to destroy Tory’s faith-based initiative.

"I don't think that Ontarians believe that improvement or progress is defined as inviting children of different faiths to leave the publicly funded system and go to their own schools," McGuinty said (CTV, August 22, 2007). "I think that's regressive. I think that takes us backwards. I think our responsibility is to continue to improve the publicly funded system of education … An important part of our foundation for social cohesion is a publicly funded education system where we invite children of all backgrounds and faiths, economic circumstances, to come together to learn from each other and to grow together. It's one of those issues where I'm hoping to grab Ontarians by the earlobes and say it's not just another election, it's about the kind of Ontario you want."

Indeed that is exactly what is happening across the province, thanks largely to John Tory tenaciously hanging on to a very bad idea and making it worse.

“They teach evolution in the Ontario curriculum,” Tory said on September 5 (Toronto Star), “but they also could teach the facts to the children that there are other theories that people have out there that are part of some Christian beliefs,” the Progressive Conservative Leader told reporters.

Tory was forced to issue a clarification after the Liberals pointed out that teaching “creationism” would be a violation of the Ontario curriculum.

“Mr. Tory’s proposal would allow other theories or philosophies to be discussed only as part of religious studies …” the Sept. 5 “Statement of Clarification” said.

But the damage is done. A politician once seen as evolving the Ontario Conservatives into a moderate, reasonable, and electable party, is now a dinosaur facing extinction as a comet of his own creation(ism) comes smashing into his campaign.

"Quite frankly, I think it probably has done him in," said Henry Jacek, a political science professor at McMaster University in Hamilton. "This is just dragging him down all the time." The National Post, September 27, 2008

Canadian Civil Liberties Association opposes Tory's vision

Most significantly, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association has weighed in with their opinion on September 21 with “The Public Funding of Religious Schools”, submitted to Ontario’s Minister of Education, Kathleen Wynne.

“In the event of public funding [of religious schools], there may well be no legitimate or effective way to control any hateful or discriminatory messages espoused by particular religious schools,” the CCLA says. “Although our democracy may defend the right of any group to hold and attempt to spread such views, it is repugnant for the public purse to subsidize [emphasis in original text] the exercise.”

The CCLA reminds us that Canada has experienced challenges in dealing with bigotry.

“Within living memory, this country jailed thousands of innocent Japanese Canadians, denied many aboriginal people the right to vote, restricted immigration from developing countries, and turned back Jewish refugees from Hitler’s Germany. There is no reason to believe such behaviour could never again by possible.”

Indeed, Canadian Catholic Bishop Fred Henry serves as a current example with his attacks against gay and lesbian families, saying "the State must use its coercive power to proscribe or curtail them in the interests of the common good."

The CCLA issued a joint statement warning of intolerance fostered by religion, stating:

If the funding proposal goes ahead, public schools could lose significant numbers of students to religious schools. If this were to happen, the public schools could no longer hope to perform their role in bringing people together. In time, our community could become a much less tolerant place.

The hatred promoted by the leadership of the Catholic Church, and the fear of other faith-based extremists, have dramatically driven home a point to Canadians: we must ensure that church and state are truly separated. Increasingly voters are questioning why religious groups receive public funding.

Religious opposition to equal marriage for same-sex couples is cited by the CLA to illustrate the point.

“Most Canadians are deeply uncomfortable at the thought of government involvement in matters that are predominantly religious in nature,” the CCLA explains, using our marriage battle as an example. “Indeed, a number of religious organizations intervened recently before this country’s highest court, to argue that, even if same-sex marriages received legal sanction, objecting clergy should not be required to officiate. A general theme of their interventions was that if freedom of religion were to have meaning, the state should stay out of the temples and chapels. The court and Parliament concurred. While same-sex marriages were recognized, the conscientious objection to performing them was protected.

“This is no minor point. If the Ontario government starts funding religious schools, it will find itself becoming immersed in matters of religious doctrine. It is all very well to require religious schools to follow the Ontario curriculum, but will such schools also be required to desist from teaching some of their central tenets and texts? To what extent is it appropriate for the government to prescribe or proscribe what religious doctrines are acceptable for religious schools to promote? Conversely, if religious freedom means religious teachings and practices should be left alone, does that mean religious schools would have free rein to teach their beliefs as they will? To what extent is it appropriate for publicly-supported schools to promote, for example, those fundamentalist Christian doctrines that promise salvation for only their adherents and damnation for everyone else?”

Building political support

The answer is clear. We must free faith-based schools from an unhealthy dependency on the public purse. So far, only one political party has called for the elimination of public funding of religious schools: The Green Party of Ontario.

“The Green Party advocates a single publicly funded system,” says party leader Frank de Jong. “We will remove duplicate administrative, facility and transportation costs to create a truly open and equitable environment where children can learn together. The savings will help fund the greening of Ontario’s education—strengthening both our economic competitiveness and our social fabric.”

We’re confident that other political parties will catch up to the public, as they did with gay marriage, and join the movement to end Catholic school funding in Ontario.

To that end we have joined an umbrella group the One School System Network (in addition to our April 9th call for support of Education Equality In Ontario, now also a member of One School System Network).

Please register your support of OSSN by visiting their website or by signing a petition.

Encourage your friends and family to do the same.

We’re pleased to see an initiative to expand faith-based school funding fail so spectacularly, but saddened to see the damage this has caused to John Tory. He could have used his political capital and courage to do the right thing and move Ontario toward a unified public school system instead of using religion as a wedge issue in an attempt to gain votes.


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