So the crowd that for 20 years has been pushing for an end to taxpayer funding of Catholic schools finally has a political champion. Too bad for them it's the Green party.
Rest assured that the electorate will as usual be denied a meaningful chance to vote in the October 10 provincial election on whether one religious group should receive a financial benefit no other faith gets.
Alas, politicians see no mileage in challenging this cornerstone of Ontario education. You only have to look at poor John Tory to see how perilous an issue this is. The PC leader figured he could ingratiate himself with the religious lobby by funding a slew of other faith-based schools read Jewish and Muslim.
But Tory's holy handout has proven quite unpopular, even with some of his own candidates. Word is that some of them are pushing him to disown it.
Even the Greens, who aren't expected to elect an MPP but see a ticket to win some profile in the Tory-created controversy, have built a safety valve into their position. Ontario leader Frank de Jong tells me the Greens would hold a referendum on Catholic funding or appoint a citizens assembly to deal with the issue.
I ask him if he's not playing chicken. "It's a big decision. People feel very strongly about the school system,' he tells me.
That they do. But it's puzzling that funding of Catholic schools, which has been condemned by the UN Human Rights Committee as discriminatory and in contravention of international laws to which Canada is a signatory, has had such a free ride since it was extended to high schools in 1984.
For one thing, the majority of Ontarians (60 per cent, according to most polls) support a unified public system. Consider also that Quebec and Newfoundland two provinces in whose history the Catholic Church has been prominent have ditched denominational education.
For all that, Paul Seccaspina of Oraclepoll doubts whether demanding to end Catholics' special status will do anything more than "unleash a whole bunch of bitter fighting. Does any party want to do that? I don't think so.' He points out that after the havoc unleashed by the previous PC regime, there's a fatigue about education issues in general.
It's precisely the importance of maintaining system stability that Education Minister Kathleen Wynne points to as the best reason not to do what John Tory proposes. "We've spent the last four years rebuilding the publicly funded school system,' Wynne tells NOW. "There's a lot more to do."
For the NDP, Tory's attempt to sidle up to his party's social conservatives is a double downer. First of all, it takes the heat off the Liberals. Perhaps more seriously, it threatens to blow open an internal NDP debate on funding that has been simmering for years.
When I track down education critic Rosario Marchese, he's anxious to talk about the way the Grits are shortchanging ESL and special-needs students. But both the PC and Green party religious proposals, he says, are a "distraction.'
"I don't dismiss the argument [in favour of unifying public education],' Marchese says, "but that's not what voters want to talk about right now.'
That's the same line party honchos used at the most recent NDP convention when some delegates tried to get a resolution on the floor ending Catholic funding. As usual, it didn't make it. The NDP brain trust looks across the electoral map and sees that the areas where the party might make gains west-end Toronto, northern Ontario, Hamilton are the same places where pushing the issue would be the kiss of death.
Among the many NDPers who have been on the losing side of the funding issue is Malcolm Buchanan, the former head of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation, an NDP member and a foe of Catholic funding since the day it was extended to high schools 23 years ago.
As Buchanan points out, Ontario would not have its current system were it not for the NDP, whose then leader, Bob Rae, worked with the Libs in a coalition government from 1985 to 1987 to implement the plan.
"The public has never been given a chance to vote on an issue of fundamental justice,' Buchanan complains. Whenever he raises the issue with Marchese, he says, he always gets the same answer. ""Now is not the time.' But when will it be the time?'
The answer may be whenever declining enrolment across the province makes it too expensive to operate parallel school systems. Keeping the lights on in two half empty-schools may be just too much to tolerate.