When the Ontario campaign began six weeks ago many political experts predicted the Conservatives would defeat the Liberal government of Dalton McGuinty. Instead, last night the Liberals increased their majority and the Conservative leader, John Tory, went down to personal defeat in his own riding.

What happened? Tory’s promise to extend public funding to faith-based schools (Jewish, Muslim etc.) became the salient issue of the campaign. Although the policy would affect only 55,000 pupils (in a student population of two million), all hell broke loose. What the Conservative leader proposed as a measure of fairness was denounced as breaching the wall between church and state and as an undue drain on the public purse.

Even the Catholic schools which are publicly funded were told their funding would be taken away. Shades of the old Orange Ontario.

Was their a whiff of bigotry in yesterday’s election results in Ontario?



  1. 1
    John Says:

    I don’t know that I would term it bigotry, but however we name it I’m dumfounded that a party leader in Ontario would fail to recognize it prior to a provincial election.

    Ontario has two school systems because the second was enshrined in the Constitution, not because it enjoys the support of the current population. Make no mistake about it, if they thought they had a choice the people of Ontario would have one system! What Tory wanted to do, although it made sense, flew in the face of this sentiment. How Tory would fail to recognize that (or why the folks in his party wouldn’t have told him before the campaign began rather than after) is beyond me.

    The fact that Tory lost his own seat also isn’t surprising. Wynne is seen as one of the most effective and popular (read teacher friendly) Education Ministers in years…and it can’t hurt to have the owners of Bell Canada, the Maple Leafs etc in your corner haha….Ok forget the Maple Leafs…..

  2. 2
    Chimera Says:

    His « measure of fairness » was no such thing. It would have been an extension of an already existing unfairness to the secular taxpayers of Ontario — double taxing to pay for something they can’t/don’t use!

    And make no mistake — if this had succeeded, it wouldn’t only be 55,000 students. Ontario would suddenly have « religious » schools coming out of the woodwork! You don’t think that it wouldn’t have become a growth industry, do you?

    And John just spoke to the why of the Catholic school funding. No one had a choice in that. Someone should make it go away. Anyone who wants religious education for their kids can damn well pay for it themselves!

  3. 3
    Joanne Nicholls Says:

    I don’t think it’s bigotry at all. At least not from my perspective. I have a unique position. I have attended public school, attended private Christian school, attended private school and I teach at public school.

    My academic years were extremely white and extremely WASP–such was the nature of the ‘burbs in the 70s and 80s.

    It was a bit of culture shock when I started working–there were kids of different races and cultures and I was not at all used to this. But ithas become second nature. I barely notice the colours of the kids. It doesn’t matter if the girls are wearing a hijab or that kids can’t turn on the light switch or answer the phone after dark on a Friday. I have learned a HUGE amount about other cultures and religions. And, I have no problem asking them–I use them as a resource in class to explain why something happens.

    And the kids don’t seem to notice either. A person is simply who they are and is not defined by their religion or their colour once you get to know them.

    And I think that is what would be lost if religious schools received funding. Barriers that have been coming down would go back up and there would be a much greater us vs them mentality–on everyone’s part.

    The Catholic system is guaranteed to exist through the BNA Act and Ontarians accept that is isn’t going anywhere. Many people would like the Catholic system to be enveloped into a non-denominational public system.

    When people finish school and go to university, college or the workplace, they will be interacting with people of all faiths and backgrounds. Being isolated from them until they are 18 or 19 years old does no one any good.

    Besides this, there is the economic cost. Tory projected that it would cost $500 million to fund all religious schools. Does this mean the ones that exist now or the ones that would emerge? Would taxpayers be expected to pay for the building of new schools or would these new systems be able to take over existing public schools–taking the cream of the crop like what happened when full funding was extended to the Catholic schools?

    Who would be permitted to work at these schools? Would they have to have the same credentials as teachers in what would be the rest of the public system? Would I as a white Protestant female be permitted to teach in a Muslim, Hindu or Jewish school? If not, is that not descriminatory? It is bad enough that I am not permitted to teach in a Catholic school and this seems to me to go against the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

    What if a Christian student wanted to attend a Jewish school? If it is public money, can he be denied this?

    There are a lot of questions that emerge from opening such a can of worms.

    I look at other people my age who have lived in a world of their own culture and background and see them uncomfortable in circumstances where people of other backgrounds are present. We don’t need to continue or to enforce that experience.

    We need to have one system of education so that all people interact with each other–so that barriers are broken down and understanding is encouraged.

    I don’t think it’s a case of bigotry. There is much more to the issue than that.

  4. 4

    I share your astonishment that John Tory and his advisors so misread the temper of Ontarians that they put forward a policy for fundiong faith-based schools. They seemed to have no notion of the salience this issue would take on.
    I don’t think there is any way you could wave a wand and expect public funding for Catholic schools to go away. As John and Joanne have pointed out this funding is imbedded in the Constitution. I see no evidence Ontario wants to follow Newfoundland and Quebec in dumping it.
    You make many good points. The one about the teachers of one faith not being able to teach in the schools of another faith is a puzzle to me too. As I understand it a teacher in the Catholic system could be divorced, separated, gay, an apostate and a heretic and perhaps demented but they could still teach in that system but a well-qualified upstanding Protestant could not. Beats me.
    Reading you comment carefully, I wonder whether you favour a kind of homogenized populace. Isn’t there a p olicy of multiculturalism in Ontatio?

  5. 5
    Chimera Says:

    Neil, if Quebec and Newfoundland have already dumped the funding of religious schools, despite its being embedded in the constitution, does that not mean that it can be done? And with the current political climate running its feverish way across the country, the voters in Ontario may decide they want to do just that. Funding of religious schools not only goes against the separation-of-church-and-state ideal; but the funding of only one religious school system and the exclusion of all others is gonna stick in many a craw. Wait for it…

    By th’ way…I came across your name in a book I was reading on the bus: « Anglo 2, the Sequel (to « The Anglo Guide To Survival In Quebec »). » You’re listed among the Famous Anglo Celebrities.

  6. 6
    Joanne Nicholls Says:

    Neil, I didn’t mean to say that we should all be the same. In a system where everyone attends, we meet people of all cultures and backgrounds and learn to appreciate them for the people they are. It is even as simple as food. I have tried things that I would never have tried elsewhere. Like hummus. It’s good! In a system where schools are all separated, that opportunity would not exist.

    I encourage people to maintain their culture. I don’t think educating each group separately is necessary to do that. And, I think it would damage society as a whole by encouraging segregation–something that people have fought against for years.

  7. 7
    Barbara Says:

    I cannot agree more with Joanne. I teach a cegep in Quebec. We are quite secular and, being a cegep, we accept qualified students from all languages and cultures. One of the biggest events of the year is Multicultural Week when students display food, clothing and objects from their culture (or another that I have chosen to represent). They perform music and dance from their countries of origin. Cree students once set up a teepee and prepared bannock and caribou meat over a fire — absolutely delicious!
    I am so proud of our students when two kids of Arab descent embrace and protect a classmate who suffered an anti-semitic remark. I had an Iranian student who would have named her baby after me had it not been a boy. Muslim students offered a fast-breaking dinner open to all students and faculty. Francophone students slip back and forth between languages in their conversations with others. We are a friendly place and all are welcome.
    There is much to say for a totally secular public school system. Let those who want extensive religious education attend private schools.

  8. 8
    Barbara Says:

    not « I have chosen » but « they have chosen ». I wish I could retro-edit!

  9. 9
    Dan R. Says:

    Considering only about 3% of student enrollees would have been affected by the Tory proposal, I believe fear played a role albeit subtly, but fear is part of racism and bigotry.

    Having grown up in Montreal (and having listened to and called Exchange when I lived there), I had no problem with faith-based schools. I’m Jewish, but I went to public school. For my faith-based education, I went to after-school Hebrew school at the private Jewish school. The way I see the experience and my parents’ objectives, it was merely to give my a background of my ascendancy, where I came from. I found bits of what I learned biased, but as I matured over the years, I figured out those very few biases and drew my own conclusions.

    No doubt there were worriers of Muslim schools designed to teach terrorism. Considering these and all Ontario schools are under scrutiny, it is more likely that anyone who wants to engage in terrorism will likely be working out of a country that practices terrorism and this would be done in a more covert way. This, however, at least somewhat answers your question affirmatively.

    Since my move to the Toronto area in 1984, I have always said that Ontario elections are about as interesting as watching paint dry, and until this campaign I was grateful for that. This is as opposed to Quebec elections of federalism vs. separatism. After this election, I think everybody was so deeply inhaling the fumes from the fresh paint that nobody was thinking of the real underlying issues facing Ontario over the past four years and the next four! Ontario has lost over 100,000 jobs, the auto and forestry industries are struggling as an industrial-based economy does when its currency is strong.

    Ontario’s debt load never came up for discussion. Seems Ontario taxpayers, sadly, forgot about the regressive health tax that McGuinty promised not to impose during his last campaign. Worst of all, 50% of the population that was eligible to vote, didn’t. I once heard Patrick Watson on a local Toronto radio station promoting a ten-part CBC documentary he hosted called Struggle for Democracy. This documentary came out around 1989, and he even commented back then that voter apathy was becoming a problem then. « Canadians will end up with the democracy they deserve » he said due to this apathy. Don’t be fooled. McGuinty is not as well liked as the election results indicate.

  10. 10

    It’s always great to welcome an old Exchange listener (my phone-in show at CJAD in the seventies and eighties.) Of all the excellent points you have made, it seems to me the 52 percent voter turn our is the most worrisome. What can we do? Should we make voting obligatory as I believe it is in Australia?

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