Saturday, July 19, 2008

Prue's gaffe good policy, bad politics

I read with great excitement yesterday the opening line in this story about NDP MPP Michael Prue's campaign launch for the leadership of Ontario's third party.

"New Democrat Michael Prue launched his bid for the leadership of Ontario's NDP today by saying it may be time to review public funding for two school systems."

For a moment, I thought that Prue was finally showing some long missing guts, taking a daring and much-needed policy position on the subject of religious school funding. I have long disagreed with my own party, the Liberals, about the status quo for public school funding in Ontario where the public funds one public school system and one separate Roman Catholic system, while shutting out all other religions.

The status quo is discriminatory, unfair and should be fixed as soon as we get a leader who has the guts to do the right thing. PC Leader John Tory recognized the current injustice, but was dumb enough to propose the wrong option in last year's provincial election. In this day and age, giving Catholics special rights, while refusing to provide the same rights to other religions, is simply wrong. The public doesn't want to provide public funding to all faiths, so the only just option remains shutting down the Catholic system.

The NDP decided to support full funding for the Catholic system in the 1980s, as did the other two major Ontario parties, ignoring the discriminatory aspects of such a policy.

So when Prue started to muse on this issue yesterday, I got excited. I figured Prue was not going to be a leading contender for his party, so this kind of bold statement promising to spearhead a tough issue might change that. Unfortunately for Prue, he backtracked as soon as the words accidentally bounced out of his mouth:

"The NDP policy is there, it says that we support the dual system," he said. "It is time though, I think, that we take a look at that, but we need to leave that to (the) convention. It cannot be my position or an individual's position."

As handlers tried to end the news conference, Mr. Prue insisted he wasn't trying to re-open the debate about religion and schools that caused so much trouble for Conservative Leader John Tory in last year's election and accused reporters of trying to put words in his mouth.

"I think Tory ran a very poor campaign in the last election in terms of faith-based schools . . . and he suffered the consequences and dragged us down a little with it," he said. "I think the NDP policy is quite clear and it is there until such time as the convention reviews it."

Prue's message: "I want to be leader, we need to reconsider this issue and that requires leadership, I won't be providing that leadership."

Had he come out and promised to lead the charge to change the NDP's policy to promote ONE SYSTEM for all, a change that would be supported by 70% of Ontarians (in my estimation), he'd have transformed the NDP leadership race and perhaps made himself a leading contender.

But after yesterday's gaffe, up against colleagues Gilles Bisson, Peter Tabuns and Andrea Horwath, Prue can probably look forward to finishing at the end of the pack. As many of us who know a bit about Prue and his weasel-like instincts, yesterday's stupidity is unsurprising.


Gila said...

All schools provide a public service regardless of funding or type of school. Let's face it, the government is not SPENDING money if they throw independent schools some funding, rather they are SAVING millions by not funding them in the first place since each of these students is entitled to a funded public school education.

I am wondering if there is room for compromise as is done in most other provinces in Canada.

In Quebec all independent schools, including faith-based, receive 60% of the cost of a public education provided the government curriculum is followed.

Alberta has a sliding scale for all independent schools: 50% funding for following the curriculum with additional funding for following the government sex-ed program. If the independent schools offer open enrollment they can receive as much as 80% of the the public school funding.

Manitoba, Saskatchewan and BC offer significant funding to most faith-based schools.

The issue here should be SCHOOL CHOICE. Do we have it in Ontario or don't we?! We presently fund Catholic schools (one third of the province's students), 5 Ukrainian Heritage/Byzantine, Arts-based, sports-based, French, a Gay-Lesbian High School, a couple of Native schools, behavior modification, alternative hours/days/full year schools, etc.

It is unfair to fully fund so many choices while denying others even partial funding for their choice in education.

I support a strong public school system. School Choice should be supported with partial funding by the government while the parents and donors contribute the rest. Most families will choose the free public system unless they have a particularly strong interest or need. Fair and reasonable!

Matt Guerin said...

I disagree with you, but respect your position.

The examples you list all exist within the public system, which shows the public system can be flexible and accommodating of different needs. The issue here is whether we fund separate, parallel religious systems. We do so for Catholics now in Ontario, but not for any other religions. I agree this is wrong - it should be for all or none.

Ontarians pretty clearly expressed an unwillingness to extend similar funding to other religions in last fall's election. The only other option is to therefore dismantle public funding for the Catholic system and integrate that existing infrastructure into the larger public system (preferably with the least amount of disruption possible for students, teaching and other staff, etc.)

Gila said...

Matt, was the policy to make available a Gay/Lesbian/Transgender High School put to a public vote?! Imagine what the results would have been if it had!

Actually, the problem with a democracy is that the minorities never win open votes on their issues. We need strong leadership to choose a fair option:

A faith-based parallel school system open to all faiths (not just Catholic)

No funding for faith-based schools.

Or, follow the lead of six of the largest provinces and partially fund the general studies for all independent schools no matter what their school focus so long as government guidelines are met.

The previous election did not only show a lack of support for including other faith-based schools in the public system. All the polls indicated that there is LESS support for continuing the present system of funding for only Catholic schools than for funding ALL faiths!

Unfortunately, we have a Premier who attended funded Catholic schools with his siblings, whose kids attended funded Catholic schools and whose wife continues to teach at a Catholic school. This same Premier stood in a funded Catholic school and insulted parents who choose a faith-based education for their children. His hypocrisy was pointed out by one of the Catholic students - which shows what a great education it is!