Your View: Time To Merge The Ontario School Systems

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By Peter Chow

The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario has reiterated calls for the Ontario government to end funding of the province’s Catholic schools and move toward one secular school system for each official language. Both the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario and the Ontario Secondary Schools Teachers’ Federation have now called for the dismantling of the separate school systems.

That is what Quebec did in 1997.

The Ontario government has funded Catholic schools since Confederation. Most other provinces have either moved away from publicly funded schools for religious minorities or never permitted them in the first place. Ontario is one of only three provinces – Saskatchewan and Alberta being the other two – that still fund Catholic schools.

Ontario’s school boards are divided among four large separate publicly funded school systems: English public, English Catholic, French public, and French Catholic.

Charles Pascal, a former Ontario Deputy Minister of Education and now a professor at the University of Toronto’s Ontario Institute For Studies In Education,  said, “When it comes to publicly funded Catholic education in Ontario, it’s time to let go of our “separate ways” so we can come together. Providing Catholic education with public money is an anachronism waiting to be brought to an end by a courageous Queen’s Park legislature.”

Combining Ontario’s two largest school systems would save over a billion dollars, which should be attractive to the Ford government, given its stated goals.

Polls consistently show that the majority of Ontario residents are in favour of ending funding for Catholic schools. When the province sought budget advice from its citizens, ending Catholic school funding was one of the most common suggestions.

Politicians, however, seem unwilling right now to touch the idea of merging the school systems. The PCs, Liberals and NDP all stated during the last Ontario election campaign that they had no interest in shaking up the status quo on the issue. One exception is Green Party leader Mike Schreiner, the first member of his party ever to be elected to Queen’s Park, who has long been in favour of a single school system.

In October this year, Ontario Liberal Leadership Candidate, Alvin Tedjo, announced his campaign commitment to see the province’s public and Catholic school boards merged into one English language board and one French language board.

Tedjo, a well-known advocate for education in Ontario, argues that his plan will not only generate significant benefits for students and teachers, but will also have financial benefits that cannot be ignored. Tedjo argues that his plan to merge the school boards will result in savings of $1.6 billion dollars per year that could be reinvested back into public education for ongoing improvement.

“Quebec, Manitoba and Newfoundland have already done this. It’s time for Ontario to make a change and stop spending precious education dollars to maintain twice as many school boards as we actually need,” said Tedjo.

With teaching jobs in short-supply in the province, a non-Catholic is immediately at a disadvantage, as a third of the jobs are with Catholic boards. Ontario’s Catholic school boards remain tightly tied to the Catholic Church. Hiring of teachers into Catholic schools explicitly discriminates on this basis, with school boards requiring a signed affirmation from a priest that the candidate “participates in the sacramental life of the Church” and “comes from a Catholic background.” There is a surplus of willing and qualified teachers for Ontario’s public schools who cannot find work. It should infuriate any thinking person that public funding flows to schools that actively discriminate against teachers simply because they don’t come from the right religion.

Kelly Gallagher-Mackay, a professor of law and society at Wilfrid Laurier University, says the issue is not only unfair to teachers but is unconstitutional under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and that ending funding of separate schools is long overdue.

“We’ve known that the current status quo simply doesn’t meet our standards for international human rights or Canadian constitutional equality,” she said. “Catholics, unique among religious groups, are getting an unequal benefit of the law, have the right to have a publicly funded school system and they use that school system to advance specific religious views.”

In 1999, a United Nations human rights report found Ontario’s policy of fully funding Roman Catholic schools and denying funding to other religious schools was discriminatory. In order comply with the ruling Ontario could either extend funding to other religious schools, or end funding to Catholic schools. 20 years later, the province has done neither.

In Ontario’s 2007 election, then-Progressive Conservative leader John Tory argued that publicly funding only Catholic schools represents unequal treatment for all other religions. However, Tory picked the wrong solution, proposing to fund all religions’ schools. Tory lost the election, in large part due to his mishandling of this issue. Ever since then, both the Liberals and Conservatives, have been deathly afraid to revisit the issue.

Funding of Ontario’s Catholic schools will persist until an Ontario government has the courage to adopt the only principled solution. The time has come for Queen’s Park to find the courage to do the next right thing, to eliminate public funding for Ontario’s Catholic schools and re-affirm the separation of church and state in our educational system.

50 COMMENTS

  1. I think there is something profoundly disturbing about organized labour that seeks to undermine its sister unions. At a time when all education workers are supposed to be united in their common fight against Doug Ford’s policies, it seems grievously counterproductive to be creating division between sister unions representing the same profession. ETFO and OSSTF should recognize the legitimacy of OECTA and AEFO to exist and realize that their members have no desire to join different unions that try to undermine teacher solidarity.

  2. @siddavidson… yes…because the public board is without fault….they had an issue also not long after Deluca …

  3. Anyone who thinks that their taxes will go down by half or at all by doing what’s suggested is living in dreamland!

    • Over a billion dollars (with some estimates over $1.5B) can be saved by merging the two school systems. Larger school boards receive less money per student so larger school boards (after merging) will certainly reduce costs.

    • Ontario is a secular province and the school system should be secular. Religion can be freely taught and practiced in the home or at a place of worship. Non-Catholics teach and practice their faith outside of the public school system and it is only fair that all faiths have the same rights.

  4. If this happens it will only be a matter of a few months till there will be no signs of the catholic school system ..There will be so many liberal complaining about religion in their children’s school..keep them separate ..

    • You know it ..This is just another way to remove any religion that is associated with western society ..Next thing they will be wanting to teach our children to pray to Islam..Wait that’s happening now !!!!

      • I do not think it is desirable to be sheltered from Islam. Certainly, Catholic schools are not promoting the ideology of Islam, but it is good to have some understanding of other faiths and traditions.

      • Lisa…grade 11 religion in the Catholic system specifically deals with world religions which include Islam. So yes, in a Catholic school your grand kids are definitely exposed to Islam. It’s part of the curriculum ALL students in the system have to take. The only way they wouldn’t have to be exposed would be to attend the public system or amalgamate systems and give students the choice to have the religion classes if they want the Catholic experience but better utilize resources to teach science, math, english etc that both boards teach (eliminating overlap and bloated admin to save $$$)

  5. How about one board for all schools? Each building can be unique. But one set of administration overseeing it all. Share common resources like books, technology, supply teachers, non teaching staff, etc.

    • Great idea. Amalgamating and streamlining top end administration and sharing infrastructure and resources would be a huge savings while reducing the need to cut front-line teachers, aides and assistants like they are doing now. That would meet the governments stated goals while maintaining the class sizes and program options that the teachers are looking for. Going one step further, in Stoney Creek one of there schools shares its library facilities and resources with the public instead of having two separate entities.

      • Any change whether amalgamating public and Catholic or french and english would require a revision to the Education Act. But since the PC’s have such a huge majority and said they want to be financially responsible to get the budget back on track, this is something within their power that would have a massive effect.

    • Yes, I agree with One Board, not one for the English and one for the French. If it’s adequate for Catholics and non-Catholics, then it’s adequate for the English and French. Just think of the money we’d save! No duplication of jobs. One board fits all.

  6. Having taught in the Catholic System for over thirty years I can say without a doubt that it is as fake as anything. During my tenure I witnessed more hypocrisy, lying, cheating, backstabbing people who all thought they were better than everyone else. Don’t be fooled by the word Catholic when it comes to the quality of those professing to follow the teachings of Christ in their day to day dealings with students.

    Let’s never forget how the Catholic board covered up the years of abuse at the hands of the sexual predator KEN DELUCA. This Catholic spent years sexually molesting female students and everyone from the Director of Education to the Principals and Vice principals of schools where he taught said and did nothing to protect students. They kept moving hm from one school to another. Seems that this is certainly not doing the Catholic thing in any way, shape or form. Recently there was another Catholic teacher accused of robbing funds from a charity. So tell me how the Catholic system is so much better than the public system. I agree with Chow, if this is the best they have to offer, end public support for these non Christian schools.

    • The College of Teachers deals with disciplinary hearings. Anyone can file a complaint, so it is pretty hard for a board to cover up the acts of bad teachers today. It is ludicrous to describe separate schools as
      ‘non-Christian’; it is also naïve to expect any organization to be immune from the imperfections and flaws of humanity. Having a school system where everyone feels free to discuss religion and God is good. Moreover, having some choice for parents is also beneficial. My children attended both French public and separate systems and I think they benefited from each.

      • Good point Richard. The College of Teachers deals with ALL teachers in Ontario, so we should have one board to administer ALL those teachers as well.

  7. I think the rites of the catholic schools is enshrined in the charter of rights. I think having competing boards is a healthy thing.

    • The rights for denominational schools is in the Constitution (Section 93) and Section 93A is the one sentence constitutional amendment for Quebec to not support denominational schools. Given this precedent, Ontario can also ask for and receive the same constitutional amendment. Note that this took place in Quebec so smoothly hardly anyone knows about it.

    • A one school system is being proposed for two reasons (1) end the religious discrimination in Ontario’s public education and (b) save billions of dollars.

    • You cannot amalgamate French boards with English ones; it would be against the constitution.
      Perhaps you should read our constitution and then re-evaluate your position in light of the linguistic rights conferred to the English and French speaking peoples of this country. The mandate of French schools in not to teach a French class. It’s to provide a French-language education and promote French-Canadian culture.

      • Richard, have you even read the constitution. It clearly states that Canadian citizens (French or English) have the right to educational instruction in their primary language. It says nothing about French-Canadian culture. Thus you don’t need a separate board to provide education in someone’s primary language, just the teachers and resources to provide the instruction. That’s section 23 of the Constitution Act of 1982 in case you want to google it.

  8. i say one total English system instead of four —teach a french class and that will meet that criteria—the money saved will lower my taxes by HALF

      • We saw how well amalgamations worked at the municipal and hospital levels under Mike Harris. I imagine the that touted savings have been grossly exaggerated. If you want to merge, why not merge Sault boards with neighbouring boards in Sudbury? That is already the case for French boards, why not English ones?

  9. 👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻
    I wonder what other schools the Catholics had…… Residential schools?
    Should be one school board and Ojibwe taught in all schools. Times are changing.

  10. Will Peter Chow ever cease pushing his strong opinions? He’s like a broken record.
    Thankful he isn’t my doctor.

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