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Grassroots Conservative members support school choice

Written on March 14th, 2008

Yet leader John Tory strikes faith-based schools from agenda

Progressive Conservative Party leader John Tory said the issue of faith-based schools is closed, yet during the education Policy Advisory Council (PAC) workshop school choice was still on the agenda for grassroots supporters.

During the Ontario Conservative convention and annual meeting Feb. 22-24 John Tory confirmed he will continue as leader of the party. “(Faith-based schools) will not be in our Party platform while I am leader, nor will it be pursued under any circumstances when I am elected Premier,” said Tory in his speech.

In the speech he said he will not be satisfied until he can say “that we have the most grassroots driven policy process in our entire history.”

John Vanasselt, communications director for the Ontario Alliance of Christian Schools (OACS), says it will be interesting to see what Tory does with school choice when there is commitment from the grassroots level.

“From the OACS perspective the faith-based (election platform) was always much more narrow than we ever would have contemplated,” says Vanasselt.

Barb Bierman, Parents for Educational Choice (PEC) provincial spokesperson, attended the convention and the education PAC. She says she was surprised that school choice was discussed at all.

“People want to talk about it,” she says. “Members of the Conservative party in attendance at that workshop clearly said school choice is a good thing for Ontario.”

She says there were 15 tables in the education PAC workshop, with 100 to 150 people in the room. Each table was asked to come up with 10 things they think the Conservative party should do or that the opposing party is not doing very well. The tables then presented their lists to the group.

“As we listened to the results around the room, almost every table had school choice — and even vouchers — as something the party should do,” says Bierman.

The Policy Advisory Councils have been used by the Conservative party to consult with grassroots members. There are different PACs for different ministry areas. In the 2007 election the PAC process was not used.

The workshop could be attended by anyone at the convention, which includes delegates who were nominated by their riding, members of the party and observers. Anyone can apply to be on a PAC, and the members are decided by the caucus.

Bierman suggests moving forward the government should avoid isolating independent schools as a policy. Instead they should look overall at what the province’s education system could learn from successful jurisdictions. In other provinces and countries where the government supports school choice studies show all schools benefit from the competition.

“Private schools churn out good citizens just the same way public schools do, and private schools never ever wanted funding at the expense of the public schools,” she says.

In addition to the PACs there are other ways for the public to get involved and voice their opinions to the Conservative Party. Starting this May there is going to be an online survey through the Conservative Party website giving the public the opportunity to submit policy ideas. This fall the party plans to have regional town hall meetings.

“This is a great opportunity for parents of independent schools to get out to those meetings, and to get online and fill in surveys and to continue to keep this subject on the radar of this party because it matches with their values,” says Bierman.

“The tendency would be to think that (independent school support) is done with in Ontario, I think this might just be the beginning,” she says.

“We still believe that any child who receives an education that prepares them for citizenship deserves the support of the government, and that remains the starting point for our organization on this issue,” says Vanasselt.

“As the issue goes forward within the PC party you can expect our organization to continue to maintain that position, that we and a great number of other independent schools do a very good job of educating children for citizenship, and as a result we believe that government should still support that.”