Guest Post by Renton Patterson
Dear Mr. Paikin:
Your Inside Agenda Blog post entitled “Could This Be A Way of De-Funding the Separate School System” is ill-conceived, to say the least. However, for clarification of the issue I need to comment on the whole content, not just its conclusion.
The Confederation Bargain
Yes, 150 years ago there was a “grand compromise” to placate religious minorities; a guarantee for publicly-funded Protestant schools in Quebec, and a similar guarantee for the Roman Catholics in Ontario. When, in 1987, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled on a legal reference as to the legality of Ontario’s plan (Bill 30) to extend full funding to the end of high school for the Roman Catholic separate school system, the confederation compromise was cited by the Court as being so important, that it referred to this bargain no fewer than ten times to bolster its argument for throwing out the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom (with no reference as to which sections). The Charter, of course, would not allow the discriminatory provisions of the proposed changes to pass into the Ontario Education Act. The Supreme Court thereby showed its obvious support for religious discrimination to endure.
Since then, however, in 1997, Quebec changed the constitution so that it no longer has any obligation to publicly fund Protestant schools, and so it doesn’t. Publicly-funded schools in Quebec are now secular, the only division being on the basis of language. With the confederation bargain now broken by Quebec, there is no longer any “bargain”, and Ontario has no obligation or reason to publicly fund the Roman Catholic separate school system.
You say, “critics say it’s discriminatory.” One of the “critics” is the Supreme Court which admitted that its decision, above, is a violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom. Another “critic” is the United Nations Human Rights Committee which censured Ontario/Canada for a violation of Article 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Debate? What Debate?
You mention that education minister Liz Sandals has no interest in opening up the “debate again.” What debate? As a citizen of Ontario, I have not had any opportunity for a debate on the public funding of religious schools. What is there to debate? To have one side argue for the continuation of a) religious discrimination, b) the waste of over a $billion each and every year to maintain this discrimination, c) the closing of one of the two publicly-funded schools in small rural communities, d) cuts to medical and social services in order to keep funding the separate schools, etc and etc.?
To debate the issue is “too divisive and reduces social cohesion”? What rubbish! It’s the existence of the separate system that is responsible for division and the destruction of social cohesion. For a lesson on this topic, you should have had a seat in Mattawa when a meeting was held on the topic of a new Roman Catholic French high school costing $9.1 million to be built for a mere 100 students. The North Bay Nugget reported that “some [citizens] fear [the new high school] will tear the community apart.” Previous accommodation was shared in the public school by English Catholic and French Catholic students for the past 25 years.
The de-funding of the separate system needs to be debated? Rubbish! Just get rid of it.
A Shameful Head Tax
You are wondering about another way to “un-fund” the separate system “without alienating Catholics?”? The rest of us – the presently alienated – don’t count? We suffer social divisions, and a reduction of all sorts of government services in order to support the horrendous expense of over a $billion every year to support the separate system, and we, the presently alienated ones, don’t count? A calculation based on the documented extra annual cost of supporting the separate system ($1.4 billion) and the census figures for the number of taxpayers in Ontario (10,187,000) shows that each taxpayer pays, on average, a head tax of $141 for the “privilege” of living in Ontario.
No Backlash from the Common People
Do you really believe there will be an “incredible backlash” from Roman Catholic citizens when the separate system no longer receives public money? Do you really agree with your “former pol” who presumably paints Roman Catholic citizens as goons? We, the present victims of the separate system are more numerous and we haven’t resorted to anarchy in protest against our second-class citizenship. Also, I object to any inference by anyone that Roman Catholics are goons, I have a sister-in-law and a daughter-in-law who are Roman Catholic and they are not goons who would presumably participate in a “horrendous backlash.” The few people he is talking about here are the Roman Catholic hierarchy, not the common people.
Just Ask Manitoba, Quebec, and Newfoundland & Labrador
You question how the province could “un-fund” the separate school system. Why the question? Manitoba has not fully funded the Roman Catholic schools in its province since 1890 and their so-called “constitutionally-protected rights” are still constitutionally protected in the constitution today, but full funding is gone, eliminated by an act passed in the Manitoba Legislature. Quebec ceased funding the Roman Catholic schools in 1997 and Newfoundland & Labrador eliminated full funding for religious schools in 1998. And you are wondering how to de-fund the separate system in Ontario? Answer; read the newspapers and the history books.
A Preposterous Proposal
A referendum to de-fund the separate system in which only Roman Catholics have a vote? Are you really serious? You advocate that Ontario suspend what democracy we have and allow a religious organization to dictate the terms of their own existence to the rest of us? That is truly revolutionary. What’s next? The Liberal Party of Ontario have a referendum of all Liberals proposing they pass a law to change the terms of their mandate to a century instead of four years? Give me a break!
Extra! Read All About It! The Bargain Is Broken!
You write: “You may ask why would any Catholic vote in favour of getting rid of rights the community has enjoyed for almost a century and a half.” Answer. The RCs in Ontario only had “rights” to their publicly-funded separate school system while the Protestants in Quebec had theirs. The bargain is broken. Ask the Supreme Court, today, now that its reason to allow religious discrimination in Ontario, the confederation bargain, is no longer its excuse to throw out our exalted Charter. Dollars to doughnuts, it would have to rule that the present publicly-funded separate system is unconstitutional. Ontario opposed one attempt for such a ruling, and I don’t have to wonder why.
For Survival of the Roman Catholic Church
Finally, you write, “even some Catholics believe the status quo of funding one religious group to the exclusion of all others is intellectually indefensible.” Even some? I dare say that most Roman Catholics have a social conscience and a sense of fairness such that they believe in the wisdom of the equality provisions in our Charter. Also, if Roman Catholics wish to see their church survive, they should take notice of the findings of Fr. Real Ouellette who serves the Quebec parishes of Fort Coulonge, Otter Lake, Waltham and Vinton. This priest is not mourning the loss of funding for Catholic education in Quebec. Since the de-funding of Catholic schools in Quebec, Ouellette has witnessed a stronger bond between church and family. Church attendance “gets them to be involved in their faith. They don’t see religion as just another course at school or something that the teachers are better able to handle.” Amen.
For more on the value to the Roman Catholic Church of de-funding, see “Catholics Should Support the Abolition of Ontario’s Catholic Schools.”
President of CRIPE