Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Remember, Remember, the Theft of December

As Dalton McGuinty’s government presents its 8th budget since taking power in 2003, it is important to consider Mr. McGuinty’s track record over that period. I will leave it to others wiser than me to write about the E-Health scandal, or the ‘it’s not a tax” health tax, or the litany of broken promises littering the political landscape in Ontario. No, I want to remind you who is once again asking for your vote.

Dalton McGuinty is soon to be in a race once again for the Premiership of our province. He took a strong position against tax credits for parents with children in denominational schools. He reversed the Equity in Education Tax Credit. He used reprehensible scare tactics to malign John Tory on the issue in 2007. Many of us were puzzled by this. Why? Not because of his ideology. Not because he should have had a commitment to fairness and equality, and not because we expected his policies to avoid the abuse and violation of the human rights of any resident of Ontario. No. Though all of these ideas were rationale enough for him to have supported fair funding, or the Equity in Education Tax Credit, one fact stood out more clearly.

Our puzzlement stemmed from the fact that Mr. McGuinty decided to avail himself of the public purse in securing a religious education for his children, while emphatically denying that right to even a fraction of public funding for children in other faith based schools. Yes, Mr. McGuinty's children attended one of our province's separate Catholic schools. I am sure that Mr. McGuinty's children received an excellent education. I am sure that they built a strong base of knowledge in their faith, enabling them to maintain their Catholicism, and become valuable and contributing members of their faith community.  I would not have had it any other way. And yet…

Many children were not able to get that excellent faith based education that our taxes paid for. Many others did, but at an incredibly high cost. The strain of paying for a parochial education such as the one the McGuinty children got for free has impacted families, ruined marriages, and strained the resources of faith communities beyond their capabilities. The education these children received will certainly build a strong base of knowledge in their faith, and perhaps reinforce the lesson of sacrifice. And they will learn, despite the abuse of their human rights Mr. McGuinty's policy has perpetuated, to become valuable and contributing members of their faith community, as well as of the broader Canadian community.

Our children have learned other things, though, that no child in Ontario should have to learn. Our children have learned that elected representatives of some of Ontario's political parties have viewed their needs as less important than those of Ontario's vibrant and well-respected Catholic community. Our children have learned that the leaders of the teachers unions that so vociferously opposed tax credits consider their schools, schools that have always found ways to accommodate and support those who couldn't afford full tuition, to be hotbeds of elitism.

Our children have read newspapers that criticized the tax credits and the parochial schools themselves as a matter of dogma. These same newspapers, while covering their front pages with alleged human rights abuses in other parts of the world, studiously ignore such abuse, labeled thus by the United Nations Human Rights Commission, in their own province. Our children have learned that hypocrisy in some media is the accepted norm, instead of a trait to be shunned.

Our children have learned that equality does not mean equality, in some Orwellian take on who counts in this province and who does not.  When they studied Animal Farm in grade 8, they truly understood what George Orwell meant when he wrote that some animals are more equal than others.

Our children learned that some Ontario politicians did not take the United Nations Human Rights Committee seriously, and showed its decisions no respect. In short, our children learned that discrimination on the basis of faith is alive and well in Ontario, so that when they studied such things in their provincially approved history curriculum, they had examples to point to down the road at Queens Park. 

Did Mr. McGuinty's children learn lessons like this in their publicly funded religious schooling? I hope not. They had every right to receive a faith-based education. Our children were no less deserving of that right.

Years ago, many argued that Dalton McGuinty was undoubtedly an honourable man. As parents, like him, we issued a challenge to him, and to every honourable politician in Ontario.

 If you didn’t like the Equity in Education Tax Credit, we told Mr. McGuinty, then come up with your own solution. Do not perpetuate a violation of human rights by repealing the tax credit; Instead, perpetuate the ideals of equality and religious freedom by making an equitable solution part of your next election platform. If tax credits bothered you, you could have instituted direct funding. If accountability concerned you, you could have set policies that would have moved independent and religious schools (most of which meet or exceed provincial standards for professionalism and curriculum) on the way to meeting realistic standards as a function of their funding. Perhaps you would have decided to offer to qualifying schools the full funding that your children's schools enjoyed.

Perhaps you would have wished to emulate or adapt the policies of other Canadian provinces like British Columbia, Manitoba, Quebec, Alberta, and even Saskatchewan that have, in various ways, provided funding for independent and religious schools. England and Australia provided examples of school funding equity in the anglophone world. The Netherlands is another jurisdiction where respect for human rights has guided their education funding policy. It would have been the honourable thing to do to propose something. Anything.

What you offered instead to members of faith communities who wished to avail themselves of what you took for granted was worse than nothing. It was a slap in the face. And after the slap in the face, it was a rough hand in the pocket, taking money budgeted for in the previous year, in accordance with existing government regulations. The clawback of the Equity in Education Tax Credit on December 18, 2003 back to January 1st 2003 can only be construed as larceny writ large and sanctioned by hypocrites.

It is ironic that in these troubled times, when all Canadians are asked to adhere to Canadian values like tolerance, mutual respect, cultural sensitivity, and the supremacy of human rights, Ontarians must challenge their political leaders to apply those values, instead of looking to them as exemplars of Canadian virtues. The world has changed, but some things, sadly, remain the same. So when you read this budget, and when you consider your vote in the fall, remember, remember, the theft of December.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Let us not forget the fact that he not only took adavntage of the system, but profited from it. His wife was on the Catholic School payroll for many years. Understanably, he concluded that the system was fair enough.