Ever since 1996, the Government of Ontario has used the Supreme Court of Canada decision (Adler v. Ontario) as a pillar to prop up its unfair, discriminatory educational funding policy and to hide behind, away from the moral spotlight.
Some 21 years after the Supreme Court’s decision, it is time for the public to attempt to legally dismantle that pillar, to remove the government’s prop and to force it to stand openly in the remediating light of moral clarity.
Some people correctly ask: what has changed in the intervening 21 years that might yield a different result to the legal question posed to the court in 1996?
The answer is: a great deal. The social climate of the country on the issues underpinning the Adler case – and in Ontario too – has shifted since 1996.
We point out the following recent developments. There are undoubtedly many more of which we are unaware.
a. Quebec has overhauled its educational system by unifying its curriculum. Denominational approaches to teaching the curriculum must conform to provincial standards. The reciprocal denominational teaching arrangements of the two founding cultures (Catholic and Protestant) that were enshrined in the 1867 nation-building document, The British North America Act, are being revised and supplanted.
b. The government of Saskatchewan this year invoked the rarely used “Notwithstanding” clause in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to ensure that its province-wide education policies would be inclusive and not necessarily bound to the strict interpretations imposed by the 1867 agreement.
c. An Ontario grassroots coalition – One Public Education Now (OPEN) – has announced that it will legally challenge Ontario’s separate school funding policy.
d. Individuals, expert in the educational field, are starting to speak out against Ontario’s approach to funding education. For example, – as we noted in an update some weeks ago – Charles Pascal, professor at University of Toronto’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education and a former deputy minister of education who advised former premier Dalton McGuinty on educational matters said separate school funding was “an anachronism.” Despite being enshrined during Confederation, Pascal said it no longer has merit in a multicultural province. A legal challenge, Pascal speculated, will “change the landscape” sufficiently to prod the politicians.
e. Individuals, expert in economic policy, are also starting to speak out against Ontario’s educational funding. As we noted in last week’s update, Ben Eisen, director of the Fraser Institute’s Ontario Prosperity Initiative, advocated that Ontario adopt a more inclusive and not exclusivist funding policy.
“Adopting the B.C. model -[where the province pays a portion of the general studies curriculum of private, independent schools] – would accomplish two important things,” Eisen wrote: “First, it would ease the financial burden on existing independent school families who now pay the full cost of their children’s tuition, plus taxes, to support government schools. Second, it would bring independent education and greater educational choice within the financial reach of more families.”
f. And of course, some two years ago, Grassroots for Affordable Jewish Education was formed to bring the subject of affordability back onto the community’s agenda for discussion and debate and to help actually find answers to the affordability problem.
Helping “change the landscape”, as Charles Pascal suggests, to establish once and for all that the continued discrimination by Ontario in its educational funding is utterly unacceptable, is also part of the way GAJE sees making Jewish education affordable.