Province to use not­with­stand­ing clause

Sask. Party sides with Catholic schools in fund­ing de­bate

Prince Albert Daily Herald - - OPINION - PETER LOZINSKI

The pro­vin­cial govern­ment has con­firmed its in­ten­tion to wade into into the Catholic school fund­ing de­bate in a big way, and not ev­ery­one is happy.

Dur­ing the Throne Speech Wed­nes­day, Brad Wall’s govern­ment an­nounced it would be in­vok­ing the not­with­stand­ing clause of the Cana­dian Char­ter of Rights and Free­doms to en­sure pub­lic fund­ing would be main­tained for non-Catholic stu­dents en­rolled in Catholic Schools.

The is­sue dates back to an April ruling by Jus­tice Don­ald Layh find­ing that pub­lic fund­ing for non-re­li­gious mi­nori­ties in schools de­signed for re­li­gious mi­nori­ties, such as the Catholic school sys­tem, is a vi­o­la­tion of the Cana­dian Char­ter of Rights and Free­doms not pro­tected in the con­sti­tu­tion act.

The fund­ing of Catholic stu­dents in Catholic schools is pro­tected by the con­sti­tu­tion. Layh’s de­ci­sion that the pro­tec­tion doesn’t ex­tend to non-faith mi­nor­ity stu­dents gave the govern­ment a year to fa­cil­i­tate the change.

Layh’s de­ci­sion, how­ever, has been put on hold as the province. They also in­di­cated they would use the not­with­stand­ing clause, which ex­empts provinces from cer­tain clauses in the char­ter, to con­tinue pub­lic fund­ing for non-Catholic stu­dents in Catholic schools.

Pub­lic Schools of Saskatchewan was aware of the govern­ment’s po­si­tion, but its in­clu­sion in the throne speech caught them off-guard.

“We were not ex­pect­ing it to be in the throne speech,” said Norm Dray, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the pub­lic sec­tion.

“The pub­lic sec­tion is dis­ap­pointed in the de­ci­sion of the govern­ment to in­tro­duce leg­is­la­tion to in­voke the not­with­stand­ing clause. There is an ap­peals process go­ing on now and we be­lieve the pre­vi­ous de­ci­sion will be up­held and the govern­ment should be help­ing to fa­cil­i­tate a tran­si­tion. We be­lieve Jus­tice Layh’s de­ci­sion was very thor­ough and thought­ful … and it should be en­acted as he in­di­cated.”

The NDP were also wary of the news. They didn’t take a po­si­tion on whether the stu­dents should be funded, ar­gu­ing only that the process should be al­lowed to pro­ceed through the courts be­fore the not­with­stand­ing clause is in­voked.

“The ap­peal has been filed, that’s go­ing to take quite awhile, years per­haps. It is pos­si­ble it will then move to the Supreme Court, which will also take quite awhile. We have to let the process hap­pen, and let the courts work through that,” in­terim leader Ni­cole Sa­rauer said.

She ac­cused the pro­vin­cial govern­ment of play­ing po­lit­i­cal games with chil­dren.

“The not­with­stand­ing clause is a very se­ri­ous tool to use. It’s not some­thing that should be taken lightly. It’s a tool in the tool­box that could be con­sid­ered later on. But we need to make sure the ap­peal process works through its process first.”

When pressed, Sa­rauer did not elab­o­rate fur­ther. She said out that while the case goes through ap­peals, Layh’s de­ci­sion is stayed, and in­vok­ing the clause would be pre-emp­tive of the court’s de­ci­sion.

The pro­vin­cial govern­ment, on the other hand, ar­gued its use of the clause would be a proac­tive way to pro­tect school choice.

The Saskatchewan Catholic School Boards As­so­ci­a­tion (SCSBA) also ar­gued the is­sue is about school choice.

“SCSBA is very pleased that the govern­ment con­firmed its com­mit­ment … to in­voke the not­with­stand­ing clause,” said pres­i­dent Vicky Bon­nell in a writ­ten state­ment.

“In­vok­ing the not­with­stand­ing clause will give as­sur­ance to par­ents that they can choose to send their chil­dren to fully-funded Catholic schools in our province.”

Ad­vo­cacy groups wel­come in­creased math, French sup­ports

Nei­ther the Pub­lic Sec­tion nor the SCSBA were par­tic­u­larly forth­com­ing about other ed­u­ca­tion-re­lated poli­cies an­nounced in the throne speech, as they heard about the poli­cies for the first time Wed­nes­day. Both the Catholic and pub­lic school board ad­vo­cacy groups, how­ever, did laud any sup­ports that will pro­vide fur­ther as­sis­tance in the class­room.

The pro­vin­cial govern­ment an­nounced plans to en­hance math sup­ports and im­prove the quality of French ed­u­ca­tion. It also in­di­cated it would restart cur­ricu­lum de­vel­op­ment and in­tro­duce cur­ricu­lum for cod­ing.

“These sup­ports were heard for the first time (Wed­nes­day)”, Bon­nell said.

“Our di­rec­tors and school di­vi­sions will need time to de­ter­mine what this means for their di­vi­sions. We al­ways wel­come sup­ports for our cur­ricu­lum and its im­ple­men­ta­tion.”

Dray had sim­i­lar com­ments about the an­nounce­ment.

“Any­thing the govern­ment puts for­ward to as­sist boards is a good thing,” he said.

“There’s a strate­gic plan the min­istry is work­ing on with school divi­sion and school divi­sion lead­ers. If the sup­ports put in place sup­port that strate­gic plan, that’s very pos­i­tive.”

The NDP were also fans of the in­creased sup­ports. Though, Sa­rauer cau­tioned, the Sask. Party has a long way to go to make up for pre­vi­ous bud­get cuts.

“There are some very se­ri­ous chal­lenges in our class­rooms be­yond (math and French), Sa­rauer said.

“Be­cause of the bud­get cuts, many sup­ports in class­rooms have been re­moved. It’s cre­ated a very dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tion for many of our teach­ers.”

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