Here in Ontario we have an election coming up that really shouldn't be a big deal. After all, the leading two contenders, Liberal Dalton McGuinty and Conservative John Tory, are running on pretty much identical platforms - more government, more spending, more taxes, more waste of public resources.
In fact, there's only one thing that sets the two of them apart. John Tory, in his wisdom (?) has made the funding of faith-based schooling a major issue in this campaign. Under a Tory gvoernment, religious schools would receive some funding from the Ministry of Education, at least in terms of their secular studies. Dalton McGuinty opposes this, despite having attended a Catholic separate school (oh, and his kids go to one too). He's worried that faith-based schooling will result in a fragmentation of Ontario society. He may be a proven liar and a hypocrite but at least he's consistent. After all, he's the premier who shut down the parallel Jewish and Christian legal systems when the Muslim community wanted to impose shariah on its members.
This has always been a relevant issue for the Ontario Jewish community. As is the case elsewhere, schools are expensive institutions to run well. What Jewish school administrator wouldn't want help from the government to be able to hire a full set of qualified teachers and divert the money he already has into the Judaic studies department?
By the way, don't use the argument that with government support, tuitions will go down. They won't drop one shekel. Instead we'll be told how great it is that our money can now go entirely to funding the religious department (and the new park next to the school).
There's also the perceived issue of fairness. When Ontario became part of Canada, there were essentially two public systems - Protestant and Catholic. While the Protestant system evolved into the public one, the Catholics have managed to maintain a modicum of disinctiveness. However, one has to ask what the relevance of an arrangement made in 1867 has on the far more diverse society of today?
Here's the problem - John Tory is playing to our worst instinct. He's offering to help us pay for our children's education while leaving them in Hebrew school. He's appealing directly to what Jewish leadership in this province has been whining about for decades. McGuinty, on the other hand, is against faith-based schools, unless the faith happens to be Catholicism.
I wonder though: Has anyone thought about the consequences of government funding? Think about this. The government of Canada already has a policy forbidding Canadian citizens born in Jerusalem from listing Israel as their country of birth. Do we want the government to have a say about what goes on in our schools? And given the track record Western society has towards different ethnic groups and tolerating their cute ethnic foibles, do we want the government paying for another school down the street to teach its kids about jihad?
Finally, as a taxpayer, I have to ask: How much is Tory's idea going to cost? We already spend billions on education and turn out an unacceptably high number of functional illiterates. How much more will this cost me in April?
In there end, the government should pay for one educational system alone: the public one. If Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Hindus or Jedi want to educate their kids differently, let them pay for it. This issue is a red herring distracting us from the fact that we have no real choice to vote for in October (Howard Hampton? Please, pass me the Gravol). If McGuinty and Tory are the best this province can do for potential leaders, that's pathetic.