The inequity inherent in funding the Catholic school system in Ontario to the exclusion of all other religious groups is not addressed in the 2014 election platform of the Progressive Conservative (PC) Party, said Randall Denley, the party’s candidate in Ottawa West Nepean in the June 12 provincial candidate.
Denley was one of five PC candidates to meet, June 2, with the Communications and Community Relations Committee of the Jewish Federation of Ottawa. Others in attendance were Robb Dekker (Ottawa Centre), Martin Forget (Ottawa Vanier), Andrew Lister (Ottawa Orleans) and incumbent MPP Lisa McLeod (Nepean Carleton).
Denley said that while his own preference would be for Ontario to adopt the model in practice in Edmonton, Alberta, where all schools following the mandated curriculum, including religious day schools such as the Talmud Torah, receive funding through the Edmonton Public School Board, the PC party remembers the 2007 election when funding for religious private schools, which the party then advocated, led to their defeat at the polls.
The party, suggested McLeod, would be unwilling to address the inequity if it forms the government after the election.
“We ran in the 2003 and 2007 elections on that inequality and the voters in the province spoke very loudly and clearly,” said McLeod.
“I think we all recognize there are challenges within the education system as pertains to fairness,” added McLeod, “but we’re very clear about what the next four years will look like under a Tim Hudak government.
“In terms of the educational components, we’re going to fix things that we’ll be able to do and that primarily is going to be around the math curriculum, lead in schools, and ensuring that kids with special needs have the care they want,” she said.
“I wouldn’t want to lead anybody down the path to thinking [addressing the religious school funding inequity] would be something we’ll discuss in the next four years.”
When asked whether a PC government would extend services available in the public system for children with special needs to children attending Jewish schools or the schools of other religions, McLeod said the party platform was clear in that such assistance would be directed to the public school system.
When the discussion turned to questions about funding for ethno-specific social service agencies such as Jewish Family Services of Ottawa, Hillel Lodge and Tamir, the candidates acknowledged the excellent service such agencies provide to their clienteles but alluded to budgetary constraints.
“One of the things our party has been frustrated with over the past number of years is that the money that has gone into the aging and home strategy hasn’t really worked and that the Local Health Integration Networks are sucking up a lot of money that goes to the bureaucracy and isn’t getting into frontline care,” said McLeod.
McLeod said that money should be spent on agencies like Hillel Lodge rather than on a bureaucracy.
Faith-based organizations, she added, are doing great work and once a PC government balances the budget there would be a better and more consistent flow of funding to such agencies.
The PC candidates all responded positively when asked if a PC government would proceed with the opening of an Ontario trade office in Israel, which was announced by the current government shortly before the election was called.
McLeod said the Ontario PC Party would build on the work of Prime Minister Stephen Harper in its relationship with the State of Israel while Forget, whose background is in the high-tech sector, said trade arrangements with Israel in that area would be to Ontario’s advantage.
Denley added that Israel is an entrepreneurial country and that the PC Party strongly supports entrepreneurialism.
On the question of standing up to anti-Semitism, McLeod pointed to several instances where she and fellow PC MPPs have taken strong stands in response to expressions of anti-Semitism.
Forget, who is gay, added that he and his partner, former Toronto-area MP Mario Silva, have been active in standing up to groups that have used Toronto’s Pride Parade as a platform to attack Israel.