Oh, how I wish our neighbors to the south were taking notes right now. This, folks, is an example of how NOT to mix religion and politics.
Did John Tory lose the Ontario election away back in June when he announced that a Progressive Conservative government would extend to all religious schools the same public funding that Catholic schools have long enjoyed?
Looking back, I think he did.
Tory had his reasons, back then. He had made a commitment during the 2004 Conservative leadership campaign to extend funding to non-Catholic religious schools. He felt bound to honour that commitment. How could he attack Premier Dalton McGuinty’s record of broken promises if he did not keep his own word?
He undoubtedly felt, as he has said many times, that fairness and equity demanded that other faith-based schools receive equal financial treatment with Ontario’s constitutionally-protected Catholic schools.
Tory had been principal secretary to Premier William Davis in the early 1980s, when funding was extended to grades 11-13 in the Catholic system, and he had lived through the outcry then (an outcry that may or may not have contributed to the Conservatives’ defeat in the 1985 election). He had to anticipate that there would be a fuss this time, too.
He may have assumed that an announcement made in June would fade from voters’ consciousness by the time they tuned into the campaign after Labour Day. If so, he was sadly mistaken. An Environics poll on Friday found that that opposition to faith-based funding had increased from 44 percent to 58 percent between Labour Day weekend and last week.
Finally, he may have calculated that opposition to his policy would be offset by new support among Muslim and Jewish voters in and around Toronto. We won’t know for sure until election night, October 10, but that, too, appears to have been a miscalculation.
According to the opinion polls, Conservative support is weakening across the province. The two major parties were locked in a virtual tie as late as mid-August. Since then, the Liberals have gradually opened a lead — five points in Friday’s Environics poll, 10 points in an Ipsos Reid poll on Saturday.
Maybe someone should clue the Tories in to a very basic notion: that “separate but equal” does NOT constitute fairness. And that funding private religious schools with public money starves the public system and is ultimately divisive.
Is it any wonder that Tory’s faith-based flip-flop…has flopped?