The proposal to fund multifaith schools in the Province of Ontario has been defeated with the re-election of the Liberal Party in today's election. While it was the key issue that dealt the mortal blow to Progressive Conservative leader John Tory, it was also one that, thanks to Tory's campaign, motivated voters to reflect on the essential imbalance it presents in today's education system.
While other provinces have abandoned the concept of school funding based along religious lines, Ontario continues to move along with its established system, based on precedents from the 19th Century (see post of September 23rd); a system whereby Roman Catholic schools receive public money and maintain a parallel education structure to the secular one. Jewish schools, Islamic schools and those of other faiths do not receive tax revenues and depend on private funding to remain open.
During the campaign Tory argued the system is worrisome and unfair. He was concerned that students in some of these schools are not necessarily meeting the standards of the Ontario curriculum because of the lack of funding and public oversight. Standing on principle, Tory said that public money either goes to all of the religious schools or none of these schools. He chose the path of across-the-board funding because he felt that was the preferred approach.
In doing so, he raised a crucial point that no one seems to want to tackle; it's the elephant in the room no one wants to address. It is, of course, that in today's multicultural, multifaith Ontario, perhaps what we ought to be doing is considering the removal of the right of Roman Catholics to send their students to separate schools. It is a funding practice that comes down to us from another age, and maybe the time has come to change direction. A tough choice, one that is politically very risky, as we have seen.
John Tory's position on multifaith school funding cost him the election. However, we are indebted to him for having opened a debate that perhaps was long overdue and that we will have to tackle squarely again in the future.