A February poll in Ontario found that Ontarians oppose tax support for Catholic schools by 52% to 38%. Ontario Education Ministry spokesperson Liz Sandals, however, said that Ontario will continue to provide full tax support for four separate school systems – English language public, French public, English Catholic and French Catholic. The church-run schools get more per student public funding than the two public school systems. Protestant, Jewish and other private schools in the province get zero public funding. British Columbia provides funding to various church-run schools, but less than in the other three provinces. This system goes back to Canada’s constitution, the British North America Act of 1867, which created modern Canada. Only three provinces require public funding for Catholic schools – Ontario, Saskatchewan and Alberta. Predominantly French and nominally Catholic Quebec ended Catholic school funding in 1999. Newfoundland, which had only tax-supported church-run schools – five systems of them – switched to public schools only in two sweeping referenda in the 1990s.
In mid-March Canadian columnist Samantha Emann wrote that it’s time to “put out the fire” in the burning debate over Catholic school funding. Changing the constitution requires only the approval of the House of Commons and the Senate and, importantly, only the province that is affected. Emann notes that this is what happened regarding Quebec in 1999.
“Samantha Emann writes, “are unfair to Canada’s many other religious groups and cultures. Funding all religious schools would be a logistical nightmare, and in my view, public services should be affirmatively secular.” She adds, “As should be apparent to anyone who has been following the news for the past year, some Catholic schools boards, trustees, teachers and advising clergy have a record of discriminatory, socially regressive efforts to hinder advances made in the interest of student safety and learning. . . . In Ontario there was opposition from Catholic leaders to the much-needed, recently updated sex-education curricula.”
Emann continues: “That deficit-plagued province [Ontario] recently asked voters for ideas online for ways it could save money in its budget. Here’s an idea. According to a 2012 report from the Federation of Urban Neighbourhoods, mergimg Ontario’s Catholic and public school boards would save the province more than $1 billion.”
The 2016 poll was conducted by Forum Research. Its president, Lorne Bozinoff, said recently that “If it were ever put to a public referendum, Catholic school funding would lose, fair and square.” Just as, I might add, it has in the US in 28 referendum elections by large margins from coast to coast between 1966 and 2014.
In related news, the Ontario-based Civil Rights in Public Education organization (CRIPEweb.org) reports that the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal will consider a complaint “about the treatment one student [non-Catholic Claudia Sorgini] has received from Roman Catholic school board personnel when she applied for an exemption from religious courses and programs in one of the board’s high schools.” The complaint is based on the Ontario Human Rights Code and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms which are supposed to provide protection from religious or creed-based pressure.