Premier Mike Harris appears to be planning to erase gently the Ontario Catholic school system for the backboard.

Mike is dangling a fairer share of commercial taxes – spreading the largesse evenly all over Ontario – hypnotically a T-bone steak in front of a meat lover.

Ed McMahon, the able chairman of the Metro Separate School Board is also concerned about what’s happening.

The deal. The Ontario Catholic school boards are being forced to give up their historic and much-envied right under the 125-year-old British North America Act (BNA) which allows them to tax their own supporters; in return the Ontario government will compensate them for their lost revenue. Remember the old adage – never trust a politician with a bad memory.

However Marilies Rettig, the president of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association (OECTA), seems to sense a forthcoming calamity. Rettig accuses Mike of setting a trap on the funding issue and the Catholic school system may be doomed. Rettig says that Catholic trustees seem to have suspended their constitutional rights to tax their supporters in a tradeoff for a fairer distribution of per pupil dollars.

A board legal source insists what form taxation takes is a provincial prerogative and he feels could not be successfully challenged under the BNS Act, and under that same Act the sole authority to run the Catholic school system would still remain in Catholic hands. This legal source hints that it is fear of province-wide bargaining in the future that is worrying OECTA.

What assurances do Catholic schools have that they will get any more money from this government or the next? Catholic schools are being forced to part with a ‘chip’ that provided them with an alternative form of income and throw ourselves totally at the mercy of Mike Harris. Remember that old adage – never trust a politician with a bad memory.

False promises

And some Catholic trustees have been informed that if they give up their taxation powers – they can get still get them back. Yeah, right after I swim Lake Ontario. What about the well-known politician who said that he was going to kill the GST and the Chinese government that said that it would respect the civil rights of Hong Kong residents?

If the curriculum in Catholic schools and the importance of role models are watered down by the opening wide of Catholic schools to non-Catholic students and teachers, the argument for a Catholic schools to non-Catholic students and teachers, the argument for a Catholic school system will disappear. Harris will say: “What’s the difference?”

I remember when Queen’s Park during Bob Rae’s undistinguished reign sent out an unsolicited anti-Catholic piece of educational pornography directly to the Catholic school principals – completely bypassing the school administration. If this tactic were repeated today, would Catholic schools be brave enough to bite the hand that’s feeding them?

Mike wants to go back to the days when school trustees who were really keen, served without pay or got a modest honorarium for a part-time job. City school boards then were largely a well-heeled gentlemen’s club. Harris is shopping for those same kinds of people 30 years later. Maybe they’re still out there ready to spend a bundle and a lot of their time for $5,000 a year for a minor role to play. Or maybe you’re going to get the biggest collection of numbskulls ever elected to public office as school trustees.

It was the outrageous $120,000 yearly blowout for a Toronto Board of Education full-time trustee, which included a staff of two, plus juicy expenses that sounded the alarm bells at Queen’s Park that allowed those pirates to gorge in the first place.

Eventually Harris may give more power to the new parent councils which have no mandate from the voters at large to run anything and with a vision no bigger than their local school. However they may end up flying paper airplanes around the gym when they find out that the only car with gas in it is at Queen’s Park.

If elected trustees, who were the last chance for complaints, go the way of the dinosaur, then there will be nobody left to act as ombudsmen.

Catholics are asked to trust a government that’s taking away their unique historic rights to tax their own supporters and that imperils school autonomy. Good grief!