October 10th, 2007

[BRIEF NOTE] The 2007 Ontario Elections: Why the Progressive Conservatives Lost

It's quite important to note that the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party, under John Tory, lost the elections because of Tory's promise to extend state funding to faith-based schools, on the long-established model of Roman Catholic schools. He may have been motivated by an honest desire to treat members of relatively new religious denominations fairly; he may have been trying to get votes in immigrant-heavy areas like Toronto. Suffice it to say that the idea spooked potential voters very badly, and that the electorate may respond to the need for equity by stripping state funding from Roman Catholic schools. This, I think, would clearly be the best solution, judging by the example of example of Newfoundland and Labrador, which provided state funding for faith-based schools until recently and in so doing helped cement sectarian divides to the detriment of education standards.

The intense animosity between people of different faiths was bound to spill on to the ice. Parents, fans, they all encouraged it among the hockey players at school.

Such was the violence of Newfoundland winters. "The hockey matches between Protestants and Catholics in Grand Falls where I grew up were legendary," remembers former premier Roger Grimes. "These were wars on ice, and designed to be so. One of the highlights of the winter was to see the bloodbath."

It was a grim fact of life in that province under its historically sectarian education system in which the churches ran the schools with money from the public purse. Besides the rivalries, students and neighbours were divided along religious lines, often driven on half-empty buses across town to schools that were homogenous but under serviced.

By the 1990s, the tensions had eased, but the economic burden of too many groups operating too many schools remained. That is, until a dramatic and complex political move uncoupled schools from the churches, turning the education of Newfoundland youngsters on its head, from one that was entirely denominational, to one that entirely was not.

Ontario Progressive Conservative leader John Tory now wants to do precisely the opposite in this province, extending public funding to all religious schools – provided they follow the provincial curriculum – if he's elected next month.

It's worth noting that attitudes like those in Newfoundland exist in Ontario, and have even managed to reproduce themselves in the current generation of students.

"Even the thought of making Catholic schools (the same as) public is preposterous and outrageous – we really need religion in our lives," says Nora Butris, 13.

Her Grade 8 class watched a recent election commercial on John Tory's vow to fund private faith-based schools, and then discussed the issue of Catholic education.

"Put all students of different religions in one building together?" asked Nora. "It would be like Jerusalem – religious wars.

I leave it to other people to expound on that irony, and simply note that in a very multicultural society like Ontario's, some attitudes and ideologies shouldn't be given credibility by the state.

[BRIEF NOTE] Three election wishes

1. Taking the cack-handed tactics of John Tory out of consideration, I'm not sure that I can say that the prospect of a Progressive Conservative government in Ontario is one I can look only kindly, especially not given the 1990s PC government of Mike Harris, a man whose policies are linked in the popular (read non-PC) imagination with massive cutbacks to public services that endangered the public well-being and a militarization of policing that left dead at least one person, a First Nations protester. Happily, it doesn't look like a repetition of the "Common Sense Revolution" is in the workings; Tory himself might lose his seat.

2. In my riding of Davenport (see the CBC and the Toronto Star for overviews), Liberal incumbent Tony Ruprecht may be facing a strong challenge from the NDP's Peter Ferreira in the light of Ruprecht's comparatively uimpressive record, the longest-serving Liberal MPP without a cabinet position most recently famed for taking five vacations in Cuba in the space of eight months and passing it off as as a way for him to learn Spanish and Portuguese. Uh-huh. In the light of a likely Liberal majority government, I can think of worse things than Davenport's changing hands.

3. Taking place at the same time as the provincial election is an electoral reform referendum that seeks to replace the current legislature, elected via first-past-the-post with 109 members of provincial parliament each representing a different riding, with one comprising 129 members. Of these 129, 90 would be elected from ridings, while 39 would be elected from party list members according to the principles of mixed member proportional representation, so allowing smaller parties like the Greens and the Family Coalition a voice in the provincial legislature that would be proportional to their public support. At first, I favoured MMP, but then I decided against it: Never mind the fact that the political parties themselves have complete control over who they'll appoint to the legislature (yes, those which have been asked have promised to respect the popular will, but really), shrinking the number of ridings by one-fifth doesn't strike me as a good idea. If the referendum had asked whether Ontario should adopt a single transferrable vote system, I would have voted yes, but like many of the commenters at Walrus Magazine I'm unwilling to countenance a change that could harm Ontario's democracy.

[LINK] Is the United States about to recognize the Armenian genocide?

From Reuters:

A U.S. House committee approved on Wednesday a resolution calling the 1915 massacres of Armenians genocide, brushing aside White House warnings that it would do "great harm" to ties with NATO ally Turkey, a key supporter in the Iraq war.

The House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee approved the resolution 27-21. It now goes to the House floor, where Democratic leaders say there will be a vote by mid-November. There is a companion bill in the Senate, but both measures are strictly symbolic, and do not require the president's signature.

Turkey calls the resolution an insult and rejects the Armenian position, backed by many Western historians, that up to 1.5 million Armenians suffered genocide at the hands of Ottoman Turks during World War One.

Turkey has warned of damage to bilateral ties if Congress passes the measure, and President George W. Bush made the same point before the vote Wednesday.

"This resolution is not the right response to these historic mass killings, and its passage would do great harm to our relations with a key ally in NATO and in the global war on terror," Bush said at the White House.

Not withstanding my dislike for Bush and his policies and certain determined ahistorical brands of Turkish nationalism, it is quite true that US Congressional recognition of the Armenian genocide will strain the Turkish-American relationship quite badly and do bad things generally to the heart of the old Ottoman shatterbelt (look to Iraqi Kurdistan and the idea of Turkish military interventions against terrorists there, for starters). Then again, given how there doesn't seem to be much interest in avoiding confrontations and breakdowns, would American recognition of the Armenian genocide by anything more than a simple excuse for mayhem? Or, I hope, am I actually being overly pessimistic in my evaluations?