Top lawyer says Tory private school scheme would cost more than $500 million



    TORONTO, Sept. 26 /CNW/ - A top Ontario lawyer has written to Premier
Dalton McGuinty saying that John Tory's private school scheme would cost at
least $500 million and probably more, as "any other organization with a
private interest and an educational institution might claim entitlement to
public funding."
    The letter from James Morton, Immediate Past President of the Ontario Bar
Association says there is little doubt the funding would be constitutional,
but once that door is open, there is no way to deny funding to anyone.
    "Beyond (the Catholic funding) narrow exception, any government funding
of one kind of religious schooling could violate the Charter guarantee of
equality, by discriminating in favour of one religion, to the exclusion of the
others," says the letter from Morton.
    "Once it chooses to fund a religious school, the government can never say
no. When this is considered, the $500 million cost attributed to the plan
becomes a floor, not a ceiling," the letter says.
    "The constitutional requirement is that, if religious education is to be
funded, every religious group must be entitled to funding. Any religion or
sect, no matter how obscure or problematic, could claim entitlement to Ontario
tax dollars for their schools. This is hardly the basis of sound public
policy. There is no half way in this decision," says the letter.
    Morton's letter goes on to say that the "fundamental flaw" of John Tory's
private school scheme is that it is open ended and that "once the tap is
turned on, the government will have little control over how many students are
impacted, or how many dollars are spent."
    Deputy Premier George Smitherman says this shows John Tory simply has not
thought through his private school scheme.
    "Every day, more and more questions are being raised and John Tory
doesn't have any of the answers," said Smitherman. "His bad judgment puts all
our progress in education at risk."



    September 20, 2007

    The Honourable Dalton McGuinty
    Premier of Ontario
    Legislative Building
    Queen's Park
    Toronto, Ontario
    Canada
    M7A 1A1

    Premier:

    Re: Funding Religious Schools

    Proponents of John Tory's $500-million plan to fund religious schools
    might want to think about where all that money will be going. We need to
    heed the warning of the Supreme Court of Canada on the issue. More than
    10 years ago, the Supreme Court warned that "the Charter could be
    successfully invoked" to challenge public funding of any religious
    education, other than the Catholic education specifically protected by
    the Constitution. The consequences of ignoring this warning could be
    quite serious.

    There is little question that what the Conservatives are proposing can
    survive Charter scrutiny as legitimate state funding that does not
    interfere with the freedom of religion. Rather, the constitutional
    concern is whether, where and how government draws a line. Statistics
    Canada lists over 90 religions in Canada, and new religions and sects
    emerge with regularity from time to time. A secular government simply
    cannot choose between religions. Every group will be equally entitled to
    seek funding.

    The right to Catholic education in Ontario is specifically protected by
    the Constitution, and was a critical part of the compromise of
    Confederation. Beyond this narrow exception, any government funding of
    one kind of religious schooling could violate the Charter guarantee of
    equality, by discriminating in favour of one religion, to the exclusion
    of others.

    The inevitable result is that (Catholicism's special constitutional
    status aside) the government must either fund no religion's education, or
    every religion's education. Once it chooses to fund a religious school,
    the government can never say no. When this is considered, the $500
    million cost attributed to the plan becomes a floor, not a ceiling. Many
    people who today use the public system may well be tempted to send their
    children to religious schools if the costs are paid for by the public as
    a whole.

    Money, however is just the tip of the iceberg. Disregard, for a moment,
    the consequences of taking at least half a billion dollars out of our
    public schools. The constitutional requirement is that, if religious
    education is to be funded, every religious group must be entitled to
    funding. Any religion or sect, no matter how obscure or problematic,
    could claim entitlement to Ontario tax dollars for their schools. This is
    hardly the basis of sound public policy.

    There is no half way in this decision. This is all-or-nothing policy. If
    the government decides to fund private religious schools, there will be
    no way to choose amongst religions. For that matter, why stop at
    religion? Faith based groups could include, at least in some sense,
    humanist or communitarian groups. Communities, languages, political
    groups - any other organization with a private interest and an
    educational institution might claim entitlement to public funding, on the
    basis that not funding a school that promotes their interest is
    discriminatory.

    Proponents of the policy will seek to refute this concern by pointing to
    other jurisdictions where religious school funding has been applied
    without serious consequences. To make this argument, however, is to
    ignore the sheer breadth of Ontario's diversity.

    Back in 1996, Justice Beverly McLaughlin, now Canada's Chief Justice,
    noted the risks inherent in funding private religious schools. She
    described Ontario's public education system as a system in which:

    "Children of all races and religions learn together and play together. No
    religion is touted over any other. The goal is to provide a forum for the
    development of respect for the beliefs and customs of all cultural groups
    and for their ethical and moral values. The strength of the public
    secular school system is its diversity."

    John Tory's proposal ignores the basic reality that the public system as
    we know it fosters the very diversity and tolerance that this province
    depends on.

    In the final analysis, the fundamental flaw of Tory's proposal is that it
    is unavoidably open ended. The Charter guarantee against discrimination,
    coupled with a decision to fund any non-Catholic religious school, means
    that once the tap is turned on, the government will have little control
    over how many students are impacted, or how many dollars are spent. It is
    not possible to predict with any certainty how much money such a program
    will ultimately cost, or which groups exactly will benefit.

    The decision to fund faith based schools generally is not a trivial
    decision. It is a decision with significant consequences for Ontario both
    financial and social. And it is a decision which, once made, cannot be
    easily turned back. Changes of this importance should not be made quickly
    or for temporary political gain. Ontario's children and the Ontario they
    will inherit deserve more.

    Yours respectfully,

    James C. Morton





For further information:

For further information: Ben Chin, (416) 961-3800 ext. 412,
ben_chin@ontarioliberal.ca

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