I knew when I heard about this that it was bound to blow up in someone’s face. And of course, it has: Jean Charest’s plan to boost subsidies to private Jewish day schools – like the ones I attended – has become the latest political controversy seemingly overnight.
The plan is simple, on the face of it. Jewish schools, previously getting 60% of their funding from the government, will now get 100%. In exchange, they sign a deal promising “cultural exchanges” with public schools, in order to foster better community relations and understanding.
But Charest’s government would never escape scrutiny for this move. Any sympathy for the Jewish community’s added financial burden of providing security for schools in the wake of the UTT firebombing has long faded. Reverting to type, the Quebec public sees a potential scandal involving Liberals, Jews, and money… and smells blood.
This from the Gazette’s Don Macpherson:
But, as everyone but apparently the government could have predicted, the increase is likely to worsen relations between Jews and non-Jews.
Other than the government, Jews and other religious groups using it as a precedent, nobody supports the decision. As the chief editorialist for the usually Liberal-friendly La Presse, Andre Pratte wrote yesterday the government managed to fan not one controversy but three: public funding of private schools, public funding of ethnic schools and the place of religion in publicly funded schools. And it awoke “the old demon” of anti-Semitism. The title of the editorial was an incredulous single word:”Incomprehensible!”
In other words, it’s bad policy because it gives fodder to the antisemites.
Now, Charest’s government is being attacked by the PQ for supposedly granting this extra money as a payout for the Jewish community’s support of his party:
Quebec Opposition leader Bernard Landry demanded Tuesday that Premier Jean Charest reconsider his decision to increase the funding of private Jewish schools from 60 to 100 per cent, which is the same as public schools.
Landry and Parti Québécois education critic, Pauline Marois, also called for Education Minister Pierre Reid to step down from cabinet because of his poor management of the education portfolio.
Landry said that Charest must make public his reasoning behind the decision in order to eliminate any appearance of a conflict of interest linking major contributions from the Jewish community to the Quebec Liberal Party.
Bernard Landry went on camera and called for Pierre Ried’s resignation. Never mind that there’s zero foundation. Never mind that the PQ has a long history of taking care of its friends (metro to Laval, anyone?) or that the Jewish community has its own reasons for supporting the Liberals and doesn’t require a cash incentive. Never mind that there are no ways to prove the allegations.
The Societe St Jean Baptiste is calling for an inquiry into the matter because it may have been “politically motivated”. Anyone who knows the SSJB knows how ridiculous that is.
Personally, I think an increase in public education funding should have been a higher priority. But I also know from experience that most of the Jewish day schools are desperately cash-strapped. Far from the stereotypical “posh” private schools, most of the buildings are falling apart, the facilities are in urgent need of replacement, and the textbooks are so old that my grade 10 history book had only 9 provinces listed in Canada. Ok, maybe I’m exaggerating… but not by much.
Many families who send their kids to Jewish school can’t afford the tuition, and the schools work out financial aid for any family who needs it. Given all that, I can’t imagine any of the Jewish schools turning up their nose at more money.
The problem isn’t the added cash. It’s the fact that the government can pour money into union coffers, other ethnic communities, rural communties and just about anyone else’s pockets without people batting an eyelash. After all, we’re the most heavily-taxed province in Canada and there’s no shortage of people getting handouts. But the minute a dime goes to the Jewish community, it’s an “appearance of conflict”.