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Religious school funding divides community groups
The issue of public funding for faith-based schools has dominated Ontario's election campaign, causing a deep split among voters and religious groups alike.
Speaking on Canada AM Tuesday, representatives for Catholic, Jewish and Muslim groups spoke out about the funding issue, agreeing on one thing -- the idea is a good one in theory.
Raheel Raza, director of interfaith affairs for the Muslim Canadian Congress, said the Muslim community is not "mature" enough to benefit from religious-based schools. She said Muslims have some divisive religious issues in their community that they need to resolve first.
"The Muslim community is a community in transition. It's not mature enough yet to go into something like funding for faith-based schools," she said.
"Fairness ideologically is a wonderful idea but to put it into practice and to actually look down the road five years from now, 40 denominations of the Muslim community are going to have their different schools," she continued.
"I can tell you that they don't agree on what needs to be taught from one mosque to another, so how are they going to come to terms about what's going to be taught in the schools?"
However, reps for the other organizations were reluctant to agree with Raza, pointing out how well the Catholic school system has worked.
"The Catholic community in Ontario is a very fair and wise community and when you have struggled and worked as consistently as we have over the years to have Catholic education in the province, we certainly understand the fairness language," said Joan Cronin, executive director of the Institure for Catholic Education.
Steven Shulman, regional director and general counsel for the Canadian Jewish Congress, suggested the Catholic school model might be a good one to follow.
"Let us use that as a model and let's be fair," he said. "Let's bring other faith-based schools into the system within public regulation."
Shulman also dismissed the notion that bringing in faith-based schools under the public umbrella would rob existing public school of some much-needed funds.
"We're talking about building public education, were not talking about giving money outside," he said. "All of these kids' parents are taxpayers. If tomorrow, all of these 53,000 kids decided to go into the public system, there would be money for them.
"It's not a money issue, it's a fairness issue," he said.
Progressive Conservative leader John Tory first promised equal funding for religious schools early on in his campaign. It was a decision he soon came to regret as it haunted him throughout his campaign, overshadowing the rest of his platform.
Liberal leader and election frontrunner Dalton McGuinty and other critics argued the move would divide communities rather than unite them. Tory said the move would ensure those students enrolled in religious institutions would receive an education up to provincial standards. He also pointed out the current public system already funds Catholic schools, including those McGuinty's children attend.
The issue aroused so much of a heated debate that a week before the election, Tory softened up on his stance, promising voters he would allow a free vote in parliament.
Nonetheless, he continued to slip in the polls as people began questioning his credibility.