The Ontario New Democratic Party (NDP) does not have a policy position on the province’s educational funding model, but NDP candidate Alex Cullen (Ottawa West Nepean), offered “kudos to the Green Party” for suggesting the Catholic system be merged into the public system and that there be no public funding for faith-based school systems in Ontario.
Cullen and Hervé Ngamby (Ottawa Vanier) were the two Ottawa-area NDP candidates contesting the June 12 Ontario provincial election to attend a meeting, May 29, with the Communications and Community Relations Committee of the Jewish Federation of Ottawa.
Cullen was responding to a question on the inequality inherent in Ontario’s funding of the Catholic school system but not the schools of other religions.
“I’m expecting we will have that conversation within the New Democratic Party; it’s inevitable,” said Cullen. “I can tell you, and Hervé would reinforce this, we need to have this conversation.”
The conversation must be had because the cost of amalgamating the systems would save taxpayers upwards of $1.5 billion, he said.
Cullen said the historic public and Catholic system has become obsolete.
“We now know you don’t have to be Catholic to go to the Catholic school system or francophone to go to the francophone system,” said Cullen.
“If I could recreate the world, it would be not to have funding for confessional schools.”
Cullen did not respond positively when the candidates were asked about the possibility of funding programs for children with special needs attending Jewish schools or schools of other religions.
“It is quite taxing on the tax dollar and it makes more sense from a financial point of view to do that through the public school board,” he said. “As much as I’d like to say there’s an opportunity there, there’s not.”
Cullen said he is very familiar with the situation of ethno-specific social service agencies such as Hillel Lodge, Tamir and Jewish Family Services of Ottawa whose public funding is keeping up with either inflation or the demand for services.
“It’s time for a catch-up on a realistic basis. It makes sense to do a reality check so these people are well cared for… We have an aging population; not only are we dealing with the health care system as a whole, but the home care and long-term care sector.”
Cullen said increased funding for social services are challenges for Ontario’s financial system which, he said, is “not in great shape.
“The NDP has a plan to get there. Once the economy is back on track we can talk about enhancing services.”
Cullen said the NDP believes home care services in Ontario need to be enhanced.
“We have a lot of older people living alone, without the support services to keep them healthy,” he said. “We want to make the investment in home care and the agencies that support home care. That’s why Jewish Family Services is so important. Home care is a good investment because it’s cheaper than the alternative.”
Shortly before the election was called, the government of Ontario announced it would open an office in Israel to promote trade and economic co-operation between Ontario and Israel and the candidates were asked if an NDP government would follow through with the plan.
“We haven’t seen the business case, but if there’s a business case, it makes sense,” said Cullen. “Ontario is a trading province and we’re a financial centre as well.”
Ngamby, who was born in Cameroon, said he planned to visit Israel at the earliest opportunity and added that his father lived there for nine years and was a graduate of Tel Aviv University.
When asked about anti-Semitism, both candidates were unequivocal about where they and their party stand.
“I will stand up and not be quiet in the face of anti-Semitism,” said Ngamby. “I know you have some specific issues. In my culture, we have specific issues too.”
“This is the party of David Lewis and Stephen Lewis,” said Cullen. “We don’t want to be passive about any ‘ism.’ We need to be proactive. You can’t take things for granted. You need to continue to promote the values of a tolerant, liberal society.”