Health Care is likely the most sacred, linked as it is with the Canadian national identity and as a primary way to distinguish Canadians from Americans. According to the division of powers, both healthcare and education are provincial jurisdictions, yet the Federal government has successfully bought into national health standards through the process of federal transfers to provincial budgets. At the provincial level, health and education are the two biggest government expenditures, with health costs typically absorbing about one third of provincial expenditures, and education costs (excluding advanced education) “Thinking Ahead: Trends affecting public education in the Future”, Ottawa: Canadian Council on Social Development, 1999. http://www.ccsd.ca/pubs/gordon/part2.htm.
about 15%. Public education is provided free to all Canadian citizens and permanent residents until the end of secondary school – usually achieved by age 18. Education is considered more than a private affair, and is charged with transmitting core knowledge and developing good citizens. It socializes children to accept and promote Canadian values.
Public education is considered an important vehicle for the promotion of equality, and also provides an important economic function, preparing youth to enter the work force as productive laborers and con tributors to the national economy. Education also serves to provide supervision of children, allowing parents to engage in the labor force.
Lastly, education is big business: there are more than 15,500 schools in Canada, with an average of 350 students per school, employing 310,000 educators (about 2% of the total labor force). At least 42 bln public dollars are spent annually on public education. At least that much again is spent on private and higher education.
Recent trends in Canadian society have strained the status quo in public education. Declining trust in public institutions means there is growing interest in public participation in schools and administration of education. Technological change and the free flow of information have created opportunity and interest for independent learning. Declining birth rates and economic prosperity mean that smaller families with one or two children may seek educational opportunities outside the public sector – indeed, the share of students in Canada enrolled in private schools has increased from 3% to 6% in the last thirty years14. Urban development and demography no longer ensures that the local school will be in walking distance of the home, increasing pressure for choice in public schools. Religious and ethnic communities in a multicultural Canada create greater interest in schools that promote culture, lan guage, and faith. Additionally, the costs of education continue to rise while the number of students enrolled in public education has begun to decline (see Fig. 1). Sacred trust or not, such factors invite discussions of renovation and reform.
Fig. 1. Enrollment vs Expenditures in Canadian Public Schools This paper reviews many of the challenges and issues in the public administration of education. Because education falls under provincial jurisdiction in Canada, much of the focus here will be on the hyper fractionalized administration of education at the provincial level, as well as the ways in which this policy arena reflect current dynamics towards intergovernmental collaboration in Canadian federalism. After reviewing the Canadian context and historical development of the administration of education, this study then focuses on the province of British Colum bia. This focus on one province allows us to address in greater detail specific questions concerning public financing, the role of independent schools, the prospects for public private partnerships in education, and other issues that animate the administration of education in Canada and the degree to which reforms and innovation are found in education. Be cause the institutions of governance over education are so well devel oped, and because public education is occasionally characterized as a centralized, bureaucratic, even sclerotic enterprise, it is easy to leap to the conclusion that there are institutional barriers to reform. Yet as we examine the field more closely, we find that although the constitutional framework for the administration of education is similar across Canada, there are wide discrepancies in the levels of innovation and delivery of education services across provinces. This study will conclude with some explanation as why such differences exist.
3.1. Constitutional Context The Dominion of Canada was created by the British North America Act (1867). This Act granted provinces exclusive power over legislation in relation to education, and there is neither a federal department of education nor an integrated national system of education. The primary reason for this decision was to protect the rights of religious and lin guistic minorities, especially French Canadians in Quebec, and the per ceived need for protection was a major contention in negotiations lead ing to confederation. Section 93 of the Act also preserves denomina tional school rights existing at the time of Confederation, ensuring that Catholic schools in Ontario and Protestant schools in Quebec would continue. Since the confederation of four provinces in 1867 and the subsequent inclusion of additional provinces, arrangements for the pro tection of rights for denominational schools were achieved through ne gotiation. This means that the constitutional basis for denominational schools varies across provinces. Thus, there is no uniform administra tion of education consistent throughout Canada, although there are similar challenges and issues. Of particular interest is the history behind the controversy of the Manitoba School Act, which, while now a histori cal curiosity, also illustrates the manner in which education captures important dynamics in intergovernmental relations.
Manitoba was the fifth province to join Canada in 1870. The Mani toba Act, which enumerated the authority of the provincial government, established a system of denominational schools respecting equal rights to English language, Protestant schools, and to French language, Catholic schools, not unlike the system then current in Quebec. Immi gration to Manitoba, however, was dominated by English speaking set tlers, and the education question in Manitoba turned on the viability of equal status for French schools. By 1890, the provincial government in Manitoba abolished French as an official language of the province and ended public funding for Catholic schools, a violation of the Manitoba Act. This provincial legislation was first upheld by the provincial Su preme Court, then overturned by the Supreme Court of Canada, and finally upheld again by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in Great Britain. This meant that the federal government of Canada be came the final arbiter of the dispute. Although the Manitoba legislation dealt exclusively with provincial jurisdiction, the politics of the dispute permeated throughout Canada, led to the division of the ruling Conser vative Party in Ottawa, and the election of a Liberal government led by Prime Minister Laurier (a French Canadian Catholic) in 1896. Laurier worked out a compromise with the provincial government of Manitoba, which allowed for both Catholic and French education in public schools where enough students warranted such instruction. A separate Catho lic school board was also established, but without government funding.
Twenty years later, after further decline of French throughout the prov ince, the guarantee of French instruction was officially dropped15.
This historical incident was not the only controversy involving educa tion in Canadian history, but illustrates well the limits of the federal gov ernment in fostering a national standard16. As a consequence of the constitutional framework and of disparate cultural and political forces, there are significant disparities among provinces concerning the fund ing of public education. Table 1 (Overview of School Funding Across Ten Provinces) lists the provincial standard for public education in each of the provinces, and then refers to separate and independent schools.
Separate schools refer to denominational schools (Catholic schools outside Quebec) fully funded by the public purse. Independent schools are private schools that embrace different denominations, cultures, or pedagogical perspectives, and may or may not receive some measure of funding, depending on provincial policy. We see, for example, that the province of Ontario fully funds Catholic schools as a separate school system, but offers no public money for independent schools (al though tax credits are extended to defray tuition costs). British Colum bia, in contrast, does not have a separate school system, but partially funds independent schools, which can include Catholic schools.
See Lovell Clark, ed., The Manitoba School Question: Majority Rule or Minority Rights (1968).
See also Adler v Ontario, discussed below, and Mahe v. Alberta.
Table Overview of School Funding Across Ten Provinces Public Funds Fully funded Funded Separate Province to Independent Public System School System Schools British Columbia Yes No Yes Alberta Yes Yes Yes Saskatchewan Yes Yes Yes Manitoba Yes No Yes Ontario Yes Yes No Quebec Yes Yes Yes New Brunswick Yes No No Nova Scotia Yes No No Prince Edward Island Yes No No Newfoundland Yes No No Source: Larry Johnstone and Susan Swift, “Public Funding of Private and Denominational Schools in Canada”, Toronto: Ontario Legislative Library, 2000.
The incorporation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in the Con stitution in 1982 has also led to court challenges concerning independ ent schools. Relying on section 2 (Fundamental Freedoms) and section 15 (Equality rights) of the Charter, some citizens have appealed to the courts to extend public funding to independent schools. Ontario had full funding for Catholic schools, but only for the first nine years of a thirteen year curriculum. In 1987, the Ontario provincial government extended public funding for Catholic education through to completion.
In the aftermath of this decision came a political battle to gain public funding for other religious groups. Jewish and Christian parents with children in unfunded independent schools launched a suit charging that full funding of Catholic schools discriminated against other religious denominations. The Supreme Court of Canada decided in 1996, however, that the principles behind public and separate school funding were clearly defined by the Constitution and did not fall under the Charter. Provincial governments were welcome to extend funding to private denominational schools, but were under no legal obligation to do so.
Later that year, another claim was made by a Jewish parent to the United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHRC), claiming that the international Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Canada had signed, provided for equal and effective protection against discrimina tion. The UNHRC ruled that Canada was under obligation “to provide an effective remedy that will eliminate this discrimination”17. This ruling im plied that either public funding should be extended to all religious groups, or that public funding for Catholic schools should be termi nated. Yet the Canadian government accepted the status quo with ref erence to the constitutional division of powers between federal and pro vincial governments and the political bargain that protected enumer ated school financing within the Constitution. Eliminating public funding for Catholic schools would require a constitutional amendment, some thing that is a ridiculously difficult challenge in the Canadian context.
Alternatively, extending full funding to other denominational schools would cost an additional 300 to 700 mln dollars per year, and expense best left to political, rather than judicial, decision making18. The UNHRC reaffirmed its concerns in November, 2005, which continue to be ig nored by the governments of Canada and Ontario.
Thus, the constitutional context for education in Canada has created a veritable hodgepodge of principles and regulations from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. The result will likely make little sense for those who ex pect rational and coherent administration in an advanced democracy.
Provincial ministries in the 10 provinces and 3 territories are responsible for the administration, delivery and assessment of education at the pri mary and secondary levels. Advanced education, including universities, colleges, and technical schools are often part of a separate provincial ministry and are co funded by the federal government. We will examine specific funding formulae for education later in this study. At this stage, however, suffice it to say that differences across provinces reflect his torical, cultural, and political factors that represent well the peculiar brand of Canadian federalism19.
17 th United Nations, Human Rights Committee, 67 Session: Communication No. 694/1996, p.13.
Larry Johnston and Susan Swift, “Public Funding of Private and Denominational Schools in Canada”, Toronto: Ontario Legislative Library, 2000, p.3. http://www.ontla.on.ca/ li brary/repository/mon/1000/10286133.htm.
These differences are accentuated by political factors, as different parties pursue con trasting policies. See appendix A: Election results across the federation for a peek at the disparate parties that have formed governments across the provinces.
There are avenues for federal cooperation among the provinces.
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