It’s doubtful whether a central plank in the platform of the Green Party of Ontario will appeal to many parents with children in Jewish day schools.
If the Greens take power – and all the polls show them well back of the Liberal and Conservative front-runners – they would bring an end to the Roman Catholic School Board and merge it with public boards. They’d do the same with French and English boards.
Not much hope there for supporters of public funding for religious schools. Of course, none of the other parties are making that an issue. According to most political analysts, school funding has proven to be the fatal third rail of Ontario politics and spelled doom for former Tory leader John Tory.
Mike Schreiner, an entrepreneur who operates his own small business specializing in local foods, said support for religious education “was soundly rejected by Ontario voters.”
But referring to the education file in general, Schreiner asked: “Is it fair in Ontario that one religion receives public funding [Roman Catholic], and no other religion does? I don’t think that is fair.”
Jews should rightly wonder why their Catholic neighbours receive that benefit when they don’t, he said.
His solution, however, is not to extend funding to other groups.
“Let’s go the opposite direction that Mr. Tory proposed. The prescription we’re putting forward is let’s just have one public system, in French and English, and that will create fairness, it will address human rights concerns around discrimination, access and hiring based on religion and sexual orientation, and we will have savings of between $1 billion and $1.6 billion that can be reinvested in our children’s classrooms. That benefits any child in a public system.”
“That’s just creating a system that is fair, fiscally responsible and addresses human rights concerns,” Schreiner said.
Would the Greens’ approach to education – favouring a single publicly-funded service provider – be applicable to other services delivered by community agencies, such as family services, immigration aid and the like?
No, Schreiner explained. “We’re only talking about education.”
But in “re-imagining government for the 21st century,” Schreiner said government might not always be the best organization to deliver public services. Sometimes it ought to partner with the non-profit and charitable sectors to come up with innovative ways of offering services at a more effective cost.
“That I would be very supportive of,” he said.
Asked whether ancillary health services delivered to children in schools through the Ministry of Education, such as occupational therapy and pyschological assessments, should also be available to religious schools, Schreiner said he was not familiar with the issue.
“I’m definitely open to look at that.” The Green Party is all about integrity and openness. The key issue for me is what is fair to our students and how can we maximize services to people in the most cost effective way.”
Asked about “green issues” per se, such as the Green Energy Act and its affect on the cost of electricity, Schreiner cited Ontario Energy Board reports. According to those documents, “over the last five years the biggest contributor to the increased prices in electricity is actually nuclear cost overruns, not green energy. So about 46 per cent of the increase is due to nuclear cost overruns and contracts and about six to nine per cent due to green energy. So there’s a lot of misunderstanding about what’s driving up electricity and energy costs.
“The Liberals have made two mistakes. The first one is they prioritized new generation over conservation. The cheapest and greenest solution to our energy needs is helping people save money by saving energy,” he said.
The Greens would create a fund to help Ontarians make their homes more energy efficient, he continued.
Schreiner said nuclear power should be replaced by cheaper hydro power from Quebec at a savings of $1 billion a year. And the government would invest that billion by providing grants to retrofit homes to better conserve energy and reduce costs.
Addressing the issue of poverty, Schreiner said the Green Party would double the child benefit to help lift 400,000 kids out of poverty.
It would be paid for by cancelling “the Liberal’s 10 per cent hydro handout, which primarily benefits the wealthy and costs $1.1 billion.”
The Green Party would tackle unemployment – 500,000 Ontarians are currently out of work – by lowering payroll taxes for small businesses by doubling the exemption from $450,000 to $900,000 for companies with payrolls under $5 million.
People are sick of the scandals, “magic math” and “political games” at Queen’s Park, he said.
“The Green Party is on a mission to bring honesty, integrity and good public policy to Queen’s Park. I think we need more honesty in politics.”