Is public funding for Ontario Catholic schools back on the political agenda?

Is public funding for Ontario Catholic schools back on the political agenda?

(Image: Steven Straiton) (Image: Steven Straiton)

With a provincial election widely expected in the spring, all three major parties are polishing up their talking points for what promises to be a tough race for the reigning Liberals. And so leave it to a fourth party to bring up an election issue that the bigger players would probably prefer to steer clear of: public funding for Catholic schools.

The Guelph Mercury reports that Green Party of Ontario leader Mike Schreiner is already in the process of riling up Catholic school board trustees in the Niagara region with a simple suggestion: rather than fund four separate school systems (English-public, French-public, English-Catholic and French-Catholic), why shouldn’t Queen’s Park just merge them all into one? “We are not saying Catholic school should close,” Schreiner told the Mercury. “We are saying we need fiscally responsible schools. We want to see financial resources maximized in the classroom.” A pro-funding publicity campaign by the Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association seems, ironically, only to be driving the issue further into the spotlight.

Public funding for Catholic schools goes back to Confederation, when Catholics were Ontario’s major religious minority and lawmakers felt the need to ensure their equal education rights. Attempts to rejig the system to serve Ontario’s more polyglot present-day population have not been successful. John Tory‘s Ontario PC party made integrating more types of religious schools into the public system part of its platform in 2007—and that’s partly why Tory is on Newstalk 1010 today, and not at Queen’s Park.

Still, with Catholic schools under fire for their sometimes-shoddy treatment of gay students, it seems inevitable that the perennial debate should resurface at some point. It may as well be now.