To a large extent, the recent election in Ontario was an utter waste of time. Democracy was shattered as one single issue was abused, exploited, caricatured and then used to frighten people into voting Liberal and re-electing a government that broke more promises than most in living memory. A shame and a sham.
The issue, of course, was faith-based funding for schools outside of the Roman Catholic system. Progressive Conservative leader John Tory had proposed that Jewish, evangelical, Muslim and other religious schools be funded as long as they accepted the public curriculum and teachers trained and approved by the official college.
Frankly, it was a deeply flawed policy. Many Christian schools would have refused funding on such terms – part of their distinct and separate identity and vocation requires education outside of the stiflingly secular public curriculum and the strings attached were so thick as to bind to the point of strangulation.
But it revealed just how fearful of religion is Canada’s most populous province, one that on this issue differs relatively little from the rest of Canada. One particular and particularly unethical Liberal backroom strategist realized that a relatively minor part of the Progressive Conservative party’s manifesto could dominate the election. The same person recommended that the word “segregation” be used to describe the faith-funding proposal and Liberal leader and Premier Dalton McGuinty use it with apparent glee.
He and other Liberals also warned of civil strife, social disorder and even cars being overturned on city streets! Mind you, it is significant that many leading Liberals refused to be dragged down to that level. Some because they thought it unnecessarily divisive. Others because they supported the Tory proposal.
This is important. Many cabinet ministers, including the education minister and even the premier himself, had to varying degrees supported the notion of faith funding over the years. In fact, it could well have been a Liberal policy.
It was all about winning, with no concern for how much pain and division such an irresponsible attack would cause. Nor was the issue itself even properly discussed, with massive generalizations about how much it would cost and how many people it would involve being tossed around without any regard for truth or responsibility.
Dalton McGuinty deserves special condemnation, as he does for so much of what he has done and not done. He’s a product of a faith-based school, sent his children to faith-based schools and his wife teaches at a faith-based school. Catholic, of course. Or Catholic in name.
Just as with the man’s support for abortion and same-sex “marriage,” and his broken promises to parents of autistic children, he has betrayed his Catholicity on any number of occasions. Most of us knew this about McGuinty. What we perhaps didn’t know was the extent of Canada’s new secularism.
Much of the popular hatred – not too strong a word – of the faith-funding proposal was based around a staggeringly high degree of anti-Muslim sentiment. Politicians seldom admitted in public what they told journalists and friends in private. The “are you seriously going to give money to Muslim schools?” line was heard on doorsteps every day.
But anti-Christian feeling was also apparent. What we in the pro-life movement have known for some time was proved beyond dispute during the election. Canadians have been influenced by aggressive secularism and by the anti-religious bias of mainstream media and popular culture. While relatively few voters explicitly condemned the idea of Christian schools being funded by, well, Christian people through their tax dollars, many were horrified by any intrusion of church into state.
Of course, this was never intended. Of course, it is only fair that parents should have choice for their children’s education. Of course, the public system is fundamentalist in its secularism and was, anyway, designed as a Protestant entity. But none of this mattered while the spectre of Christians teaching young people about morality, creation and God danced around the body politic.
The debate also unleashed for the first time in a generation a serious discussion about the future of Catholic education. Only the Green Party officially supported the removal of Catholic funding and the establishment of a single education system, but a poll taken during the election revealed that the majority of people in Ontario support such a policy. It’s a debate that will divide even Catholics themselves. Many, if not most, separate schools teach a diluted, emasculated Catholicism and some of them are positively anti-Catholic. Whether they are worth preserving is a matter of discussion.
The subject of greater faith funding has been put on hold for the foreseeable future. It’s been shown to be an electoral disaster and no party can afford to adopt it until and unless there is a fundamental change in Ontario society. So a lot of people will have to continue to sacrifice a great deal to pay for their sons and daughters to be educated. Which may in itself not be such a terrible thing at all. Triumph requires pain and the less the government has to do with religious education, the better will be religion and education.
Michael Coren is host of Michael Coren Live on the Crossroads Television Systemand a columnist with theToronto Sun.