Heading down the road of constitutional warfare on education

TORONTO – May I, the start of Mental health month. Last week – it seems like yesterday – the minister for Education held a “back to basics” and “meritocracy” press conference to tout the Ontario government’s “new priorities”. The “old ones” that overlooked accountability, performance and teaching as a vocation have a litany of verifiable failures. 

Yesterday, Minister Lecce and colleagues announced some finance allocations in Education targeting Mental Health issues and students who suffer from them.

In York Catholic District School Board (YCDSB), for example, Grants for “Mental Health and Well-being” increased from $914,750 (in 2018-19) to $2,321,1622 (in 2022-23). In Toronto’s two English language school boards the respective totals were $10,881,483 and $17,671,864.

So, yes it was a bizarre conference to say the least. What did those three boards do with the twenty million allocated to them last year for the specific purpose of helping children cope with the psychological and physiological stresses of living with others in an educational environment?

There were no facts, no figures, no references to credible studies purporting to measure outcomes of strategies and to offer solutions. Corriere sent emails to the Minister’s office and to his department for clarification. It did the same to the YCDSB, since it was mentioned in the Q and A following the presentations. No answer was forthcoming from either at time of printing.

The Press and Media present seemed completely disinterested. In fact, the first question (which had all the markings of a “set up question”) was singularly about the YCDSB and whether Lecce would compel it to fly the rainbow flag. He attempted to deflect by cloaking his response with references to dying and bullied non-binary students. But he had no numbers to justify his assertions. He is now backtracking.

One could argue that Lecce had just told Catholic school boards to embrace the pride flag as a symbol of a policy of gender ideology. That ideology runs counter to the Catholic values espoused by the magisterium, which has the singular constitutional authority to make decisions on denominational rights.

It should be noted that the Pope issued a clear statement last week: “Gender ideology, today, is one of the most dangerous ideological colonization”.  

Lecce’s statement would fly in the face of the premier’s assurances of last week to Archbishop Leo. The Premier accepted the Church’s constitutional rights to determine its own position with regard to gender issues, and, with that determination, define what is or is not “religiously” acceptable in Catholic schools. 

Whether one accepts Catholicism as a viable faith group or not, the adherents to its ethic have a Constitutionally mandated right to their fully funded schools. Those who do not identify as Catholic have an alternative choice which has historically (and questionably) been better funded.

Lecce as Minister in the Legislature is obliged to respect the Law. It is of no concern to anyone what his personal sexual orientation may be or how they manifest themselves. He cannot make statements that imply that he will make decisions for Catholic schools because they are “publicly funded”.

The “litmus test” for Catholicity in separate schools is not the opinion of a singular Minister of Education even if he/she believes in another religion – recognized or not. Even boards of trustees duly elected to safeguard the interests of the parents they serve are responsible enough to establish the procedures limiting their ability to unilaterally challenge the Constitutional imperative that justifies their existence.

Some Directors hired by those trustees are operating as if their control over “the operations of the board” allows them to circumvent the rules.

Unsurprisingly, the Globe and Mail, as woke as a newspaper can be, felt the need to clarify in its headline [yesterday] that “Ontario education minister supports raising pride flag but won’t intervene in Catholic school board decision”.

It is not in his power. Were he to have done so, he would have been accused of lying to the Archbishop of Toronto, the Catholic faithful and implicating the Premier.

Maybe he is more rational than he appears, nonetheless Lecce, with his irresponsible musings is helping those who seem determined to paint Catholics as “haters”. That would include his personal family members.

Lecce with premier Doug Ford and Archbishop Leo in a pic published by the Minister on his Twitter page (@Sflecce)