Ottawa Centre Liberal incumbent MPP Yasir Naqvi pledged to work with the Jewish community and the Jewish Federation of Ottawa to see what can be done to ensure that students with special needs attending Jewish day schools become eligible to receive the types of services offered to students with special needs in the public and Catholic school systems.
Naqvi, the current minister of community safety and correctional services, was one of three Ottawa-area Liberal Party candidates in the June 12 Ontario provincial election to attend a meeting with the Communications and Community Relations Committee of the Jewish Federation of Ottawa on May 29.
The other Liberal candidates in attendance were Ottawa West Nepean incumbent Bob Chiarelli, the current minister of energy, and Ottawa Orleans candidate Marie France Lalonde.
Naqvi made the pledge as part of an overall discussion that encompassed issues pertaining to funding for education, ethno-specific social services, the proposed Ontario trade office in Israel, and anti-Semitism.
While Naqvi acknowledged that he and the other candidates in attendance did not know what the official Liberal Party policy would be on funding support services for students attending private schools who had such special needs as language and speech therapy, he said “We would undertake to work with you after the election and see if there are opportunities to provide some assistance.”
Chiarelli added that finding a formula for such assistance could be part of a strategy of “incrementalism” that might be more successful than demands for overall private religious school funding for which, he said, there was a consensus among all three parties in the legislature to maintain the status quo.
When it was pointed out that Ontario is the only jurisdiction in Canada which funds the school system of one religious group to the exclusion of all others, Chiarelli admitted there are rational arguments to be made on the issue of extending some sort of funding to private religious schools, but pointed to a lack of public consensus on the issue.
“As an elected official, if I raise that issue, I’m going to be defeated, or our party will be defeated,” said Chiarelli.
“Part of the problem is the question of funding for private religious schools only comes up during election campaigns,” said Naqvi. “The community needs to have this conversation outside of the election context.”
Chiarelli suggested meetings of MPPs with representatives of the Jewish community to discuss such issues should take place at least a couple of times per year.
When the questions turned to issues regarding funding for ethno-specific social service agencies – including Hillel Lodge, Jewish Family Services of Ottawa and Tamir – which has fallen behind demand over the past several years, the Liberal candidates pointed to the defeat of their budget which triggered the current election campaign.
Naqvi noted that he’d worked closely with Tamir executive director Mark Palmer on finding solutions for problems relating to such funding.
“That advocacy has resulted in funding of $810 million over three years in our budget focussed and targeted at the developmental sector,” he said.
That funding, according to Naqvi, was “probably the largest infusion of dollars we’ve seen in that sector [and that] if the Liberal Party is re-elected it will be part of the budget again. It is clearly outlined in our platform and as soon as the budget is passed we will move those dollars to agencies like Tamir.”
Naqvi and Chiarelli also said that the chronically-low wages for personal support workers employed by agencies such as Tamir would rise by 35 per cent over three years if the Liberal budget is approved.
They also said the Liberals were committed to a 10-year anti-poverty plan for Ontario.
Noting that Eric Hoskins, the Ontario trade minister, had recently visited Israel, Naqvi and Chiarelli said the Ontario trade office in Israel, announced just before the election was called, would proceed as scheduled if their party is re-elected.
As well, both Chiarelli and Naqvi pledged to remain vigilant about anti-Semitism.
“Assume that we’re there and we’re going to respond” when there are anti-Semitic incidents, said Chiarelli.