Premier blasts Tory’s election promise to fund religious schools as moving ‘backwards’
Ryan Taplin/Canadian Press
The Progressive Conservative promise to extend public funding to Jewish, Muslim and other religious schools will be a “defining issue” when Ontario voters go to the polls Oct. 10, Premier Dalton McGuinty predicted yesterday.
Stepping up his attack on the Tories’ $400-million pledge for faith-based schools, McGuinty said it risks unravelling the “social cohesion” developing in Ontario by having children of many religious, ethnic and economic backgrounds growing up together in public schools.
“It’s one of those issues where I’m hoping to grab Ontarians by the ear lobes and say, ‘It’s not just another election, it’s not just business as usual, it’s about the kind of Ontario that you want,’ ” he said on the way into a cabinet meeting.
“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 as we know it and go to their own schools,” he added. “I think that takes us backwards.”
With polls showing the Liberals holding a slim lead over the Conservatives, it marked the second time this week McGuinty has taken a swipe at the policy, prompting Progressive Conservative Leader John Tory to accuse the premier of misrepresenting it.
Tory said it’s unfair that Ontario funds Catholic schools with taxpayer dollars but not other religious schools now attended by 53,000 children — a criticism also levelled by the United Nations.
The Tory proposal would fund religious schools — which are not regulated now — only if they agree to teach the Ontario curriculum and use accredited teachers under existing public or Catholic school boards.
In Toronto, deputy Conservative Leader Elizabeth Witmer said McGuinty is ignoring the reality that “the face of Ontario is changing” given immigration patterns.
While the Green party says the best recipe for fairness is to end taxpayer funding for Catholic schools in favour of one public, non-religious school system, McGuinty rejected such a move as too disruptive.
Tory said the premier — a Catholic whose wife, Terri, teaches in a Catholic school — is trying to deprive children of other faiths the same advantage he enjoyed. “They should receive the same education that Mr. McGuinty himself enjoyed in a faith-based school that his father and his family fought for,” Tory told the AMO convention.