The reverse wedge: Not an esoteric football formation

By: Sandford BorinsReligion is the third rail of Ontario politics, and the PC Party's proposal to support all faith-based schools with public funds is making sparks fly. In Ontario, Protestants tend to vote Conservative; Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists – in effect, people of all other religions – tend to vote Liberal.The PC Party's proposal to support faith-based schools is an attempt to win votes that traditionally go to the Liberals, especially in urban ethnic areas. It will also greatly affect the political fortunes of party leader John Tory, who is attempting to take Don Valley West, a diverse urban seat, from the Liberals. He already has the Bridle Path vote locked up (Con and Babs at 26 Park Lane will vote by absentee ballot). To win, he must make inroads in the ethnic high rises up and down Don Mills Road.Support for faith-based schools is a classic wedge issue because it divides the religious communities that traditionally support the Liberals. Among the Jewish community, with which I'm familiar, the establishment – the leaders of organizations, the rabbis, and those involved with what were long called the parochial schools – are all for it. But there are many secular Jews who oppose it.Jim Coutts, Pierre Trudeau's one-time principal secretary, had a saying: “If they say you're bald, you say they're fat.” The best response to a wedge issue is to turn it back on your opponent.So Dalton McGuinty has responded with a strong defence of the public schools, arguing that John Tory's support for faith-based schools undercuts public education, and would inevitably draw funding out of the public system.The attack is intended to get traditional Conservatives who support public education to switch to the Liberals. In terms of the electoral calculus, the question becomes whether the wedge or the reverse wedge induces a bigger shift. The early polls seem to suggest that the reverse wedge is winning more votes than the wedge itself.What's my own view? For me, the essential virtue of the public school system is that it is more likely than the religious school system to incorporate in microcosm the diversity of our society, and thus better prepares children for life in that diverse society.I think extending public support to the Catholic schools was a bad idea, and I don't accept the argument that fairness demands that a bad policy be extended even further. Faith-based schools already benefit from public funding in that tuition fees are tax-creditable.Political positions often emerge from personal experience. I attended Vaughan Road Collegiate, a Toronto high school that then had a mix of Jews, Italians, and working class WASPs. I learned some important lessons there about diversity. Today, with children no longer obligated to attend their neighbourhood school, any good public school will attract a diverse student body and thus allow students to experience diversity.As this issue heats up, so does its online presence. The Ontario PC Party has posted its position prominently on its Web site, though the Liberals haven't posted their counterattack on theirs. The Equal School Network speaks for supporters of funding faith-based schools, and the One School System Network for opponents. And the Canadian Jewish Congress is running ads, which are also posted on its Web site.A week is an eternity in politics, especially during an election campaign, but next week I expect to discuss the referendum on electoral reform.

Related Download
CanadianCIO Census 2016 Mapping Out the Innovation Agenda Sponsor: Cogeco Peer 1
CanadianCIO Census 2016 Mapping Out the Innovation Agenda
The CanadianCIO 2016 census will help you answer those questions and more. Based on detailed survey results from more than 100 senior technology leaders, the new report offers insights on issues ranging from stature and spend to challenges and the opportunities ahead.
Register Now