Most teachers in the public education system support secularism, in principle. The majority of Ontario teachers, indeed the majority of the Ontario public (if opinion polls are to be believed) would welcome the end of publicly funded Catholic schools and their integration into one unified, public system. The arguments for this are overwhelming – ethical, human rights, financial – and those arguments don’t need to be repeated here. I would just refer you to one site, One School System Network which provides a wealth of information regarding the history of Catholic education in Ontario, what has happened in other provinces, the facts and figures which show that, annually, $1.5 bn. in savings could be achieved through merging the two systems.
However, there is a problem which we, as rank and file activists in OSSTF and ETFO, must tackle head on. Notwithstanding our disappointment with the OECTA leadership regarding their striking of a deal with the Liberal Government, thus paving the way for the passing of Bill 115, we have the utmost respect for ordinary OECTA members as they come to terms with what their leadership have done. We would like to see rank and file OECTA members join us and work with us in CREW. But is our position for the elimination of publicly funded Catholic schools going to create a barrier to them working with us? In some cases, it might but I think the majority of potential recruits from OECTA ranks would be able to distinguish between the main thrust of our organizing work and one part of our platform or values that does not impinge directly on that organizing work. Where there could be a problem is if we produce literature which explicitly calls for the ending of funding to Catholic schools, using the argument that the $1.5 bn. savings that would accrue from such a move would almost reach the $1.8 bn. target the Liberals have set for cuts in the education budget. In fact, the cost savings is probably the least important part of the argument. I believe we should be upfront and not be afraid to defend this position, even at the expense of driving away some potential OECTA recruits from CREW.
It’s interesting how the discussion inside OSSTF has developed over the years on this issue. I first brought forward a motion at the monthly Council meeting of District 12’s Secondary Teachers’ Bargaining Unit (STBU) in 2005 with the intent of it being adopted as a motion that would go forward to debate at Provincial OSSTF’s Annual Conference (AMPA). The motion’s purpose was to establish OSSTF policy as being in favour of one publicly funded, secular system of education. The motion was defeated. The argument that convinced many was that we were working hard to cultivate alliances with all education unions and that OECTA would be mightily annoyed if OSSTF adopted such a policy. At the time, I wrote an article for the union newsletter, D 12 Voice, called The Case for Secular Education which took up some of the points made in the debate.
Fast forward to January of this year and I brought a similar motion to STBU Council again with the intention of having AMPA debate it. The motion passed, not without some opposition, but it never reached the floor of AMPA as it was low down on the agenda and they ran out of time. My guess is that when it comes up for debate next year, given the anti-OECTA sentiment out there after their MOU, the position of one secular system will be adopted. ETFO, at their annual conference in August, already took that stance.
posted by Tim Heffernan, 14 October 2012