Lesson from Ontario: Politics matter

14 Oct

John Tory ran his campaign to become Premier of Ontario under the motto “Leadership Matters”. The lesson to be drawn from that disastrous campaign? Politics matter.

Tory’s campaign crashed and splintered on the shoals of his promise to extend public funding to non-Catholic faith-based schools. It was a policy born of conviction and principles, he repeatedly said.

He said it even after he reversed course late in the campaign and – in an attempt to quash a rebellion over the issue within the Progressive Conservative base itself – announced he would subject the policy to a free vote, which likely would have killed it before it could be implemented.

Conviction does matter, of course. And yes, principles and policies also matter. But in the absence of politics – the process by which those-who-would-lead persuade those-who-would-be-led to follow them down any particular path – conviction and policies can be as hollow as… well… as hollow as John Tory’s campaign turned out to be.

Even with all the personal conviction in the world, you cannot lead a team of people without first convincing them to go in the same direction as you.

In the wake of the campaign results, there are even stories emerging that the very groups to whom this policy should have most appealed – religious and cultural groups who have been lobbying for funding for many years – were not completely onside.

They were supportive of the policy, but uncomfortable both with the way it was handled by Tory, and also with his apparent inability to foresee and quell the backlash it provoked.

Indeed, the Progressive Conservatives may have hoped the faith-based school funding issue would help them make electoral gains among different minority communities, but there was little evidence of that on voting day.

They won back the riding of Thornhill, with its large Jewish population, but failed to make any other inroads in Ontario’s many multicultural suburban and urban ridings. John Tory himself failed to win a seat in Don Valley West, exactly that sort of riding.

On the other side of the coin, Dalton McGuinty made history this election by becoming the first Liberal Premier of Ontario in seven decades to win back-to-back majorities. But insomuch as he accomplished this feat by exploiting Tory’s mishandling of the faith-based school funding issue, it is worth noting that his party’s election strategy did little to promote the “social cohesion” he said he was defending.

By explicitly connecting faith-based schools to the “strife, struggle and controversy” found on the streets of Western Europe, where debates over multiculturalism have occasionally turned violent in recent years, McGuinty turned up the heat and emotions on the issue. He has credibly been accused of using coded language to appeal to majority fears of minority groups. Especially Muslims.

At the same time, the Liberal leader never clearly answered questions about his own contradictory position against religious school funding, except when it comes to Roman Catholic schools – a defense of the Ontario public education status quo, which has been condemned by a committee of the United Nations.

It served the Liberals well as a short-term strategy. By obfuscating their own contradictions, they may have attracted voters who were opposed to funding any faith-based schools, including Roman Catholic.

In the wake of John Tory’s experience, it is unlikely any mainstream political party will want to touch this issue again for many years. But they may not have a choice.

Opinion polls show a rising backlash not only against extending funding to non-Catholic schools, but also against perpetuating the Catholic separate school system itself.

So far, the only political party in agreement with that sentiment is the Green Party of Ontario, which did not win any seats this election, but did increase its vote more than any other party.

As long as one faith’s schools are funded to the exclusion of others, the issue will remain on the table. And so long as it does remain, the future status of all religious schools – including Catholic separate schools – is uncertain.

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6 Responses to “Lesson from Ontario: Politics matter”

  1. Mark Dopnovan October 16, 2007 at 12:13 am #

    (BLOGGERS NOTE: Edited)

    Too many Catholic student families do not attend mass or take the sacraments. Many separate schools have a high population of non-catholics as well. Which may seem as a very valid arguement to halt funding to the Catholic school system in favour of one system. But what will change? You can only effectively teach so many students at a time for each teacher. So there really is little to save since salaries and physical plant make up over 90% of education expenditures.

    Having one school board may seem like a great idea now. But how do we know what our views on spiritually and education will be 15 to 20 years from now? Should we wait or constantly change the education system with the surrounding controversy.

    Perhaps we dont fund all faiths NOW. But that does not exclude extending funding at a later date. In the future I would fully support extending the funding to these faiths as per the Rozanski Report(standard curriculum, certified teachers, were sufficient numbers exist to support a school.etc)

    Faith and spirituality are an important element of human beings. Separating that from education creates a divide that does not need to exist. We should be free to, if we choose to have a faith that we can disclose in public without ridicule from the politically correct secularists.

  2. Rollie Renaud October 16, 2007 at 3:02 pm #

    I was personally disappointed to see Mr. De Jong “shoot himself in both feet” in his display of hypocracy regarding Separate School funding or the suggestion of cancelling it. Firstly, how many Separate School supporters that voted “green” based on environmental issues will ever vote Green again? Secondly, having admittedly come from the Separate School system himself , he either denies or is unaware that the comparison figures arrived at by the Frazer Institute have been the same for the past 50 or so years. Why else would non catholic parents continue to enroll the children in Separate scools when they can? Mr. De Jong is bound to go the same route as John Tory. How many versions of Chistianity ( Protestantism ) would he be willing to fund?…or don’t try to fix what isn’t broke . The parallel sytems in place are doing quite nicely. Stick to an environmental platform or the “Greens” will become like any other group of “trough dwellers”

  3. thegtapatriot October 29, 2007 at 2:08 am #

    This has been a “Pandora’s Box”, issue in Ontario (rightly or wrongly). At least John Tory tried to get us to deal with the issue. We cannot continue to fund only Catholic based education with public dollars. The status-quo is not good enough anymore in the ever changing Canadian makeup. I would have favoured that a straight-forward question or bill be brought to the legislature as an open vote, within parliament. A straight-forward question, which would have required all MPP’s to vote on the issue with a simple ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ option, would have settled this issue.

    Will Ontarians fund all religious schools, under public scrutiny (like Catholic Schools), or remove funding from ALL religious schools?

    John Tory was resolute in supporting the fund all option. The other option would have been political suicide! A fund ‘none’ option would have brought out the majority of Catholics to challenge their rights under the constitution of Canada (whether they go to mass or not). Lets be honest, all political parties would have faced difficulties if they decided to deal with the issue. Which is why we have continued to have our heads in the sand, hoping the issue will just disappear? We do need to grow up in Ontario! At least this issue has been brought into the limelight. What’s ironic is now that it is out there it actually may be dealt with in Parliament, with the removal of funding of Catholic schools. So I will be interesting to see who will push this? Will we have another election, in 2011, dominated by another issue?

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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    […] The panel response ranged from maintaining full public funding for Catholic school boards across the province and the introduction of public funding (not full, however) to other faith-based school systems, to creating a single educational school system for Ontario. No chance for total agreement. However, it appears that this debate will not be swept under the carpet. Read other people’s opinions here: Michal Valpy (The Globe and Mail) and Allen Echenberg […]

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