Supporters of One Public School System Launch New Website
Ontario has four public school systems; English Public; English Catholic; French Public and French Catholic. On the face of it, it seems to many, especially to non-Catholic or the increasing non-religious Ontarians, to be an anachronism. It was part of a deal hatched at the time of Confederation to ensure the support of the Roman Catholic Church for the MacDonald Cartier project of Confederation. Since it is in the Constitution, it is not easy to remove but consequently, a similar system was reformed into a simple, non-religious English-French system in Quebec.
Why then do all three major parties in the legislature support the continuation of Catholic funding? Two reasons are usually given. First, politicians believe intensity is on the Catholic side of the argument meaning Catholics want to retain the system far more strongly than non-Catholics want to abolish it. The Green Party (GPO) opposes funding. Secondly, politicians of all three parties believe it would ignite a religious political war in the province and push all other issues off the agenda for a long time.
The truth of the matter is that this report has always supported a solution similar to the Quebec solution, a two system, secular English-French solution.
This debate has raged since Confederation but, in the opinion of this report, has transformed in recent years. The old debate sadly contained a form of anti-Catholic bigotry stemming from the Orange Lodge, the Masons and various anti-immigrant formations.
There is however, a new debate that has eclipsed the older one. Atheists, Agnostics and Free Thinkers who are generally aligned against all religions, are growing at an incredible rate. For many decades the mainline Protestant churches took the largest hit on the decline in church attendance and membership. The Roman Catholic Church was a bulwark against this trend as were Evangelicals. This has changed. Both of these have also begun to see a precipitous decline.
This report does have an ideological beef with the church leadership and, as fallout, Catholic school funding. Religions everywhere have played a profoundly counter modernization role. We need not site the long lists of the Inquisition, the Witch Burnings, Galileo, the Crusades, and church support of Imperialism and colonization. One might be able to ‘let it go’ if it were not the recent ‘in our lifetime’ crimes of Residential Schools and the extensive, well documented crimes by priests featured in movies like Spotlight.
All religions, not just Christians or Catholics, have taken the subjugation of women as a central tenant but many religions have attempted reforms in the modern era. The Roman Catholic Church clings to deeply misogynist policies on all aspects of women’s control of their own reproductive choices. The worst public relations fiasco one can imagine for Catholic funding is the annual Pro Life protests on parliament hill where uniformed Catholic students are taken out of school to buttress the demonstrations.
Progressive ‘cafeteria Catholics’ have a tendency to turn a deaf ear to the misogynist and homophobic elements of church’s positions and pivot to the Sermon on the Mount – Beatitudes teachings instead. This is fine for North America and Europe but it is not fine in Latin America, the Philippines and throughout the developing world.
In Ontario, resistance of the church and some Catholic school spokespeople to the Sex Ed curriculum changes and resistance to LGBTQ committees within schools belie any modernization tendencies within the religion. I am sure progressive Catholics cringe at the anti-LGBTQ and anti-woman elements of the church but cringing is simply not enough. Ironically the more Catholic trustees demand that a reactionary interpretation of dogma permeate Catholic schools, the more they hasten their own demise as non-Catholics and progressive Catholics recoil in horror.
There are progressive elements in the RC church. Liberation Theology is not dead and the present Pope is ‘about as good as it gets’ in the hierarchy but a church in 2016 that refuses a role for women in the priesthood and higher, leaves opponents and I am sure, many progressive Catholics slack-jawed in disbelief. Any teacher in any public system understands the need to ‘model’ good behavior. A teachers totally lacks any credibility when their own behavior is inconsistent with the behavior they hope to instill. What then of the church? Their all male hierarchy speaks far louder to young women than any homily they might deliver on the role of Mary.
And what if there was a merger of the systems into a duel English-French formation? No Catholic teachers, support staff nor administration need lose their jobs or their positions. Seniority lists can be merged on the basis of hiring date. All present workers can be ‘red circled’ and problems can be dealt with on an attrition basis.
I am familiar with many proud OECTA members and they are every bit as dedicated to trade unionism as their federation counterparts. A union merger of OECTA with ETFO and OSSTF need not be a ‘take over’ but like the creation of ETFO, lead to the formation of a two new, or dare I say one union of teachers and support staff.
It has always been the position of this report that, if the Catholic school system ever disappears it will be due to relentless contraction and lack of interest leading to a logical collapse and eventual merger. If the system dies it will be with a whimper, not a bang. The fact that activists supported by the majority of Ontario voters are unlikely to dislodge the entrenched funding system does not make them wrong. It only means that they are likely involved in a struggle that will be measured in decades at a minimum.
The supporters of one school system have launched a new website at
They encourage supporters to sign their petition.
The organizers of the website concentrate overwhelmingly on the economics of having four boards of education. The estimated cost of the duplication is in the order of $1 Billion per year. They show all the improvements that could be made to the system if that billion was spent on students rather than on duplication.
Polling on the matter shows roughly 70% of Ontario voters oppose Catholic funding (Vector). This roughly mirrors the Catholic/non-Catholic demographics of the province. 12% of Catholics would abolish the system balanced by a similar number of non-Catholics who would retain it.