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By John-Henry Westen and Elizabeth O’Brien

  TORONTO, September 6, 2007 ( – Conservative Leader John Tory’s election promise to give public funding to faith-based schools began to unravel at the seams yesterday as he spoke about evolution in the classroom. 

  Asked by a radio interviewer if creation would be permitted to be taught in the classroom, Tory replied, “The Christian-based school would have to teach the Ontario curriculum, which of course has a different explanation. It’s still called the theory of evolution, but they teach evolution in the Ontario curriculum, but they could also mention to children the fact that there are other theories out there that are part of some Christian beliefs.”

  Just after the interview, the Conservative Party issued a clarification on the remarks noting that any teaching of creation, presumably including scientific evidence for it, is not permitted in science class. 

  The John Tory Campaign made the following clarification: “1.) The Ontario curriculum does not allow for creationism (or any other religious theory) to be taught in science classes in Ontario’s public schools.  2.) Mr. Tory clearly stated that any school to be included in the proposal must teach the Ontario curriculum.  3.) Mr. Tory’s proposal would allow creationism to be discussed only as part of religious studies programming, as is now the practice in Ontario’s publicly-funded Catholic schools.”

  Progressive Conservative leader John Tory and Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty have taken opposing sides on the issue of private school funding. Though opposed, the proposals of both politicians are seen by some seasoned political observers as unsatisfactory and potentially harmful to the religious freedom of religiously-based schools, public and private alike.

  At present Ontario is one of the only provinces where parents who wish to educate their children in faith-based schools, other than Catholic, must pay public education taxes and receive no benefit for their children from those mandatory tax payments. The province pays for the costs of education in both the public school system and the Catholic separate system.

  Tory intends to change the situation of private faith-based education funding by pumping up to $400 million into all faith-based schools within the province, including those that have hitherto provided their own funding.
  Private schools that are not faith-based will receive no benefit, a major difference from the previous simple tax credit plan for families attending all independent schools that was implemented by former Ontario Finance Minister Jim Flaherty.

  In order to receive the money, however, privately run schools would have to teach the Ontario curriculum, follow standardized testing and have accredited teachers. While it would be optional at first, Tory’s proposed solution could eventually force all schools to comply with the Ontario curriculum sections that mandate such things as acceptance of feminism and homosexuality, graphic sex education, teaching of evolution as complete fact and other problematic topics for those from religions of traditional moral, family and other core principles.

  While faith-based private schools in Ontario were supportive of the previous Conservative Party plan to offer tax credits to families that chose private schooling, the current plan is worrisome to some.  Some private school officials see Tory’s plan as a first step to forcing all private schools to absorb the full secular curriculum and hire only government certified and indoctrinated teachers, as is the case in Quebec.

  In Quebec last year the government threatened to shut down private Christian schools unless they accepted the province’s required teaching on evolution and sex-education (See ).

  Dalton McGuinty, on the other hand, says he wants to leave the situation stand as it is. As he told a conference of municipal delegates, “You don’t improve a community’s schools, you don’t build community when you take half a billion (dollars) out of publicly funded schools to fund private religious schools as the Conservatives are promising to do.”

  Commenting on the situation, John Pacheco, political activist and former Director of Finance of a private Catholic school told, “Once the Catholic school system accepted money, it made it easier for secular ideology to creep into the schools. As soon as we allow the government to dictate what curriculum to use, they can withdraw funding if we don’t meet the standards.”

  Pacheco, who is also running in the upcoming provincial election in Ottawa West Nepean, will be highlighting the Family Coalition Party’s voucher system proposal as an alternative to John Tory’s plan.  Under the FCP plan the parents’ education tax dollars would follow their child to the school of their choice, which would include homeschooling.