School funding issue brings essentially spiritless election campaign to life

The separation of the church from the state—a principle approvingly cited by our liberal set, though rejected in our Constitution—is becoming the major issue in next month’s Ontario provincial election.

Much to the disgust of the Liberal Toronto Star and to the horror of the atheist Globe and Mail, Conservative leader John Tory has proposed that state funds be made available to non-Catholic religious schools.

Since not much else distinguishes the views of the four-year-old government of Liberal Dalton McGuinty from those of the opposition Conservatives, the issue is dominant.

It’s rooted in the Canadian past. Our Constitution originates as a statute passed by the British Parliament in 1867, establishing Canada as a largely self-governing “dominion” within what was then called the British Empire.

To secure the allegiance of Catholic Quebec to the new dominion, the statute guaranteed state-supported Catholic schools, thereby linking state with church, and Ontario Catholics were able to develop a state-supported independent system.

The public schools were assumed to be Protestant Christian, which in fact they mainly were through the late 19th century and the first half of the 20th.

But as theories of education alien to all major religions began to take hold of the public system, Protestant Christians began creating their own schools to rescue their children from the secularist indoctrination increasingly practised in the public ones.

These, however, received no state support. Why not, they reasonably demanded.

Jews, who had long run their own schools and paid for them, joined in the demand.

John Tory has adopted their cause and injected it into the election campaign.

The McGuinty government says no. In fact, its education minister, Kathleen Wynne, once suggested the solution was not to extend state support to other religious schools, but to de-fund the Catholic ones. Thus an otherwise spiritless campaign is rapidly centring on a religious issue.

All of which is very painful and problematic to Canadian liberaldom.

The most telling argument against Tory’s proposal—that this would mean publicly subsidizing Muslim schools where wild-eyed imams could urge young males to donate their lives to Allah by blowing up buildings and murdering their fellow Canadians—could not, alas, be invoked. How bigoted this would sound. How intolerant, how insensitive, how illiberal—even if true.

So if you can’t call attention to the Muslim peril, even if there is one, then what peril can you call attention to?

Obviously, to the Christian peril, even if there isn’t.

For the liberals, whether of the capital or lower-case variety, this posed difficulties.

Non-Catholic Christian schools have been receiving state subsidies in Alberta and Saskatchewan for nearly 20 years with none but positive results.

Any mention of this disconcerting western reality Ontario’s liberaldom must obviously avoid. So what could be cited against the Conservative proposal?

One liberal newspaper had an answer. For three consecutive days, it emblazoned the story of a cult school near Brockville, Ont., established by two fervid Anglican nuns.

It had closed this year due to under-registration. Ex-students said they had been made to get up in the night to be berated for their “sins.”

There had also been “physical abuse.” (Little detail given.) And “sexual abuse.” (No detail given.)

The hoped-for public outrage was distinctly underwhelming. On the fourth day, perhaps realizing that nobody seemed to give a damn and their newspaper was beginning to look more rabid than the two nuns, the editors finally appeared to give up.

All of which proved what, one wonders. That this is the kind of thing the state would be subsidizing if it funded Christian schools, that’s what.

This was, in other words, another instance of a recurring theme. If the Muslims are dangerous, then let’s get the Christians! And why not? They all believe in God, don’t they? Such is the reasoning.

Yet in a way, the Ontario experience is proving something else. Church and state can remain separated only in a society where the general populace is adequately united in its beliefs and moral principles. But if that essential unity is fragmented, then the educational system cannot function. Parents will not send their children to schools that advocate lifestyles and values utterly at odds with their own.

This has happened in Canada, and it was our liberals who made it happen. They now face the consequences.