(If you would like to hear David on the Polticoast Podcast please skip 18 min in to hear his interview:
Separate school education inflicts a financial cost we can no longer afford and an social injustice we should no longer tolerate. Here are my six objections:
1. The very being of separate school education is contrary to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Separate school education would not exist post-Charter except for the saving provision of section 29. It is contrary to the spirit of our human rights consciousness in two ways. First, it violates the idea of State neutrality about the institutional Churches. Second, because it is not neutral it should be talked about as a privilege more than as a right. There was a time when men had the right to vote and women did not. Eventually, women said, ‘let’s stop talking about men’s rights and start talking about their privilege.’
2. From that objection, there are practical aspects that are objectionable to me.
• I object to an educational system that is fully funded by all Albertans and yet retains the right to deny enrollment to students on their basis that the students’ (or their parents’) are not of the right faith.
• I object to an educational system that will enroll students and refuse to allow their parents to participate in the governance of the system.
• I am a democrat, and I believe that publicly funded education should be inclusive and operate as a deliberate model of a democratic community. I object to a system that is exclusive and paternalistic and tells students they can’t organize a club in one school that they could easily and properly organize in another school. The governance model of the Roman Catholic Church is subsidiarity, and that is anti-democratic.
3. I object to the influence of the Church in the operations of separate school systems. In Alberta the separate schools are often, and properly, referred to as Roman Catholic separate schools. The problem is that many Albertans read more into the label than is there, and the misreading is encouraged by some agents, such as the ACSTA. Separate schools are civil institutions. They are created by the law of the land, not the Roman Catholic Church. Their governance is determined by provincial legislation, nor the Roman Catholic Church. These schools are funded entirely by Albertans, all Albertans: they are not funded by the Roman Catholic Church and they are not funded by Roman Catholic Albertans alone. Every separate school building and every separate school bus is owned by all Albertans.
Yet we hear it said that Canon Law applies to separate schools. It does not.
We hear it said that the separate school system has some constitutional right to ‘permeate’ Roman Catholicism. That is certainly not in the law and I don’t know of a single judicial decision applicable in Alberta that supports such a proposition.
The only meaning one should attach to the phrase “Roman Catholic separate school education” is that all the electors are Roman Catholics and people who are not Roman Catholics cannot vote for separate school trustees, even if their children attend a separate school.
4. There are considerable direct and indirect costs of separate school education, and these costs are covered with money that I would prefer to see directed away from duplication, and the maintenance and extension of fragmentation. I would prefer to see the money used to enrich and diversity programs and services. Currently, we pay to duplicate administrative, transportation and other costs. We fragment the student population and lose the opportunity to realize economies of scale. We fragment communities. We operate two under-utilized schools where we could concentrate on excellence in one well-utilized school with a more full and rounded program.
5. I object to some arguments in favour of continuing separate school education because, in my view the arguments misrepresent our history and our political responsibility.
• For example, we have separate school education because the British won the Battle of the Plains of Abraham in 1759. We are told we have to be faithful to our history. We need to remember it, and learn lessons from it, but we don’t need to be bound by it forever. I see no reason why Alberta in the 21st century should be bound by the outcome of a battle, more than 250 years ago, more than 2,000 miles away, between two European Empires.
• We are told that we are honour bound to continue separate school education because it is the very basis of the Confederation compact. We are told that if we do away with separate school education we will fatally undermine the Confederation compact. The fact of the matter is that separate school education was vitally important to Quebec in 1867 and by 1997 Quebec itself did away with separate school education. If separate school education is no longer vital in Quebec it is hard to imagine that Confederation would fall apart if we did away with it.
• By 1905, when Alberta became a province, there was considerable settlement and there was a local government in place. The Territorial Assembly was opposed to continuing separate school education and petitioned the federal government to bring Alberta into province-hood with a single public school system. The Laurier government rejected this and imposed separate school education, which caused the resignation of Laurier’s western lieutenant, Sir Clifford Sifton. I don’t feel bound to continue something that was imposed on us in 1905 by politicians from central Canada over the objections of the then Territorial Assembly.
• The argument is made that we shouldn’t even have the conversation because a constitutional amendment would be difficult if not impossible. In the last 20 years two other Canadian provinces have done away with denominational education – Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador. From a procedural point of view the amendment is simple, and those who suggest otherwise are creating a false obstacle. The Government of Canada has adopted the position that education is a provincial responsibility and it – the Government of Canada – will do whatever the province asks.
• The argument is made that the end of separate school education would mark a significant diminution of religious freedom. Presumably that means that Lutherans and Jews and people of other faiths are less free in Alberta than Roman Catholics are, and that to put Roman Catholics on the same footing as everyone else would represent a loss of freedom. According to this argument, Roman Catholics in B.C., Manitoba, Quebec and Atlantic Canada are less free than Catholics in Ontario, Saskatchewan and Alberta.
• the argument is made that Catholics would be discriminated against. I see no evidence that such an outcome would result from the unification of public and separate school boards.
6. The argument is made that the unification of public and separate school boards would be an assault on ‘choice’. The maintenance of the separate school system is simply a way of maintaining an artificial preference for one of many choices. All the others are at a disadvantage compared to the one.
If you agree I urge you to sign the petition and make a donation to our campaign.