False perception: To eliminate the RC separate school system would be political suicide
Reality: All evidence suggests otherwise
When asked an opinion on the abolition of separate-school funding, some have said they thought such a move would be political suicide for any government that tried it. Their reason seemed to be “because there are enough Roman Catholics in the province to throw out a government if one dared to do so.” However, all evidence leads to the opposite conclusion.
1) A recent newspaper article stated that: “…while more than one billion people in the world are Roman Catholics, attendance at Sunday mass is less than 5 per cent in North America.”
2) Having a policy of supporting separate school funding did not get the Liberals or the NDP elected when Bill Davis was premier.
3) After Bill Davis made separate school funding part of the Progressive Conservative platform in 1984, the next election reduced his party to a minority and the next election put the PCs in the political basement until 1995.
4) Going back further, despite intense lobbying by the Roman Catholic church, Wilfred Laurier, a Quebecer and a Roman Catholic, when in opposition, spoke against a remedial bill in the federal Parliament to force Manitoba to reinstate the Roman Catholic separate school system which Manitoba abolished in 1890. The next year Laurier was Prime Minister.
5) Norman Sterling, a PC and the only MPP to speak against the Davis full-funding move was interviewed in August of 1996. His opinion was that if Ontario had a referendum to determine the mood for removing separate-school funding, the results would be 80% for abolition and 20% for the status quo.
6) Despite an intense campaign by the Roman Catholic church in Newfoundland to defeat the proposed school reforms in a referendum, the vote in St. John’s, with a majority of Roman Catholics, was more in favour of the reforms than the provincial average.
7) Despite an intense lobbying campaign by the Roman Catholic church of MPs, and despite a Roman Catholic Prime Minister, and despite a free vote, the constitutional changes for Newfoundland were passed by an overwhelming vote of 171 to 41.
8) With regard to Brian Tobin’s Newfoundland referendum which was 80% in favour of abolishing church control of Newfoundland’s schools, Tobin was asked: “Did you check with the RC church on this?” Tobin’s reply went something like this: “I am a Roman Catholic and so are my two colleagues, but we all supported the reform of the Newfoundland school system.”
9) Our own newspaper poll, completed in 1999, revealed that 80%, or 5,408 of 6,794 respondents, favoured “…a public school system where all children, regardless of their religious affiliation, attend the same schools…”
10) InEssex County statistics show that there are 1,200 students from homes of separate school supporters who attend the public high schools. There are 700 students from public-support homes who attend separate high schools.
11) A Vector Research poll found that 53% of respondents chose a school based on the quality of the teaching staff, 18% on the proximity of the school to the home, and 17 % on the range of courses and programs. Only 6% made a choice on the availability of religious instruction.
12) The vote and the resulting reform of the schools in Newfoundland to reduce the control of the churches was openly feared by many of the Roman Catholic hierarchy, hence the intense lobbying. They know that Newfoundland represents a clear precedent for change.
13) Through submissions to the Estates General in Quebec re abolition of the denominational system, 67% of Quebecois agreed and 88% want community schools notwithstanding the religion of the parents. The Association of Quebec Bishops agree it was time for change.
14) Following other provinces which give more freedom to their citizens, and acceding to a condemnation from the United Nations Human Rights Committee cannot, under any stretch of the imagination, be considered to be “political suicide”.