Province to use notwithstanding clause
Sask. Party sides with Catholic schools in funding debate
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.”