2012/02/22 Leave a comment
By: Robert C. Henry
Don Drummond presented a massive list of cost saving measures to Premier Dalton McGuinty’s Liberal government while stepping around a political minefield.
Drummond ignored an obvious savings when he failed to recommend the amalgamation of Ontario’s public and separate schools. This omission not only diminished the overall credibility of his entire report but also left the distinct impression that in Ontario politics trumps pragmatic reasoning.
Ontario’s Liberal government is facing a $16 billion annual deficit. In past years it has been forcefully argued by some that elimination of public funding for separate schools could save taxpayers $1 billion a year – a difficult number for any objective economist to disregard.
Whether it’s a savings of $1 billion or half that amount it’s a figure too big to be ignored and the only logical reason why it received no attention from Drummond has to be political. There is no other explanation. McGuinty simply does not want to alienate Ontario’s Catholics.
In Muskoka we’re certainly not immune to the insanity of the current system. On any given school day one can watch the procession of school buses with different destinations – many of which are half empty – travelling the same route a minimum of twice a day.
And that’s just part of the expensive story. There are obvious duplication costs in administration, support personnel, excess capacity and capital costs.
And all of this wasteful duplication falls on the taxpayer’s shoulders. Logic doesn’t enter the picture. Why pay once for a school system when twice makes infinitely less sense?
It’s bad enough that Muskoka’s taxpayer’s are burdened with the inherent duplication associated with a seven-silo municipal system of governance. Local residents get the double-whammy – two school systems and paying twice for many municipal services. The overlap in both is little more than financial lunacy.
Former premier Bill Davis initiated public funding for separate schools in Ontario. That 1985 decision will probably remain as his most noteworthy legacy. It left Ontario’s taxpayers to foot the bill ever since.
In fairness it’s the McGuinty Liberals that have consistently refused to allow a study of these duplication costs. The obvious reason: The outrage from a select group of voters the finding of such a study would create.
Drummond and the Premier must truly believe Ontario’s voters have IQ’s that match their shoe size. It’s insulting. The same can be said for Muskoka’s municipal mayors and District Chairman John Klinck. These local politicians all know the problem of municipal duplication, see the problem but refuse to budge from the status quo.
Municipal and provincial leadership is a scarce commodity.
Drummond failed to note that Ontario is the only province that publicly funds one type of religious (catholic) school to the exclusion of all others. The hypocrisy of this policy has often been angrily denounced by other religious groups, who seek the same privileged status or the elimination of the existing discriminatory system.
The reality is that public funding of a two-school system has been widely condemned as little more than religious bigotry.
Proponents of publicly funded separate schools still hang onto the disproven, fatuous argument that the Constitution Act of 1867, originally intended to protect minority religious rights, validates Ontario’s position.
But the constitutional argument has fallen by the wayside. In 1997 Quebec secured a constitutional amendment to eliminate religious divisions within publicly funded schools. Further, Newfoundland and Labrador merged their school boards into one non-denominational system in 1998.
Canada, a country with a reputation for religious tolerance, has drawn fire from even the United Nations Human Rights Committee. That committee urged Canada to “adopt steps in order to eliminate discrimination on the basis of religion in funding of schools in Ontario.”
Ontario almost went in exactly the opposite direction in 2007. Ontario’s Progressive Conservative leader John Tory campaigned on a promise to fund all religious schools. He was widely ridiculed for his position and was subsequently defeated at the polls.
Both the Province of Ontario and Muskoka’s 51 politicians are stumbling along dragging the unworkable, the cumbersome and the expensive into tomorrow. We all pay the price.
That won’t change until the electorate says enough is enough.