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Time for a Single Public Education System

Remember True Blue and Orange Homes, the Orange Parade? An Ontario where Catholics and Protestants lived in different neighbourhoods and never the twain shall meet? Every Ontario Town had a street that divided the Catholics from the Protestants? In Lindsay, Ontario, where I lived for a time, it was Kent St. As recently as 1971, my father was told by his lawyer that the house he had chosen was in a part of town that “we” don’t live in. In Oakville, the divider was Kerr, or perhaps the Sixteen Mile Creek. I am told there was a time if you wanted a job in the Toronto Fire Department or the Police you had to be Irish or Scots Protestant.

Today, describe this to anyone under 40, and they don’t know what you are talking about. This is the Ontario of today. We have so many religions and different ethnicities that the idea that once two marginally different denominations of Christianity were anathema to each other is virtually beyond credence. Yet is was true in my lifetime. It is an incredible achievement that we have moved beyond this to such a degree that few even remember it, and it is even more remarkable that so many other faiths and even the absence of faith now coexist, share workplaces and neighbourhoods, and feel part of the same Canadian family. It is hard to believe that we were ever divided by something so relatively trivial as a different flavour of Christianity.

We have a vestige of those days in the two publicly funded school systems that persist in Ontario. There is a case to be made that one of the major reasons we have moved beyond this old division and been able to accept so many other cultures into our province is our very strong public education system, where all the newcomers’ children mix and experience working and living together, the crucible in which the powerful alloy that is our multicultural society is formed.

Surely it is time to get rid of this hangover of our past, where the Protestants and Catholics couldn’t go to school together for fear of sectarian bullying?

Every religion but the Roman Catholic religion must find a way outside the school system to pass on its beliefs and traditions, and for those for whom it is important, they are successful in doing so.

The last time government attempted to address this issue, the approach was to provide public funding for every religion. The public rejected this solution, in large part because the public intuitively understood that separating people is not a way to get them to learn to live together. It is time to merge the two publicly funded systems and get rid of this holdover from our divided, sectarian past. Quite apart from the obvious economies and efficiencies, there is simply no place in our egalitarian, free society for this historic anomaly, however justified it might have been in our almost forgotten past.

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