Prue confident in stand on Catholic school boards

NDP leadership contender Michael Prue (Beaches – East York) is not worried his stance on the issue of separate school board funding might negatively affect his leadership bid.

Prue said Ontario is the last province in Canada to have separate school boards.

“And we have declining enrollment in both school systems,” he said. “There is a limited amount of money for education in general, particularly since we’re going into a depression. And so some cool, sane heads are going to have to look at how we spend the money and how we apportion it out so that the kids don’t suffer.”

Of the four NDP leadership hopefuls, Prue is the only one in favour of opening debate within the party on the issue. It’s the same issue that caused John Tory to stumble in the run-up to the 2007 provincial election, nearly costing him the leadership of his Progressive Conservative party.

Prue contends there is no danger that the same thing might happen to him.

“Diametrically the opposite,” he said. “John Tory wanted to have 15 or 20 school boards. The issue that would come to the floor would talk about having one.”

Like Prue, Peter Tabuns (Toronto – Danforth) holds a riding in Toronto’s NDP-strong East York borough and is also campaigning to lead the party. He said Prue has taken a risk by trying to reopen the school board issue.

“I just don’t think it takes us anywhere useful,” he said. “We’re in a province that’s beset with economic problems, social problems, environmental problems. I just don’t see this as an issue that’s important enough.”

Prue countered, “Well, he would say that. He has tried to paint it every single way for advantage.”

Prue said if he becomes leader, he needs to know where his party stands on any issue. He said the NDP was mute on the school board funding issue in the 2007 election precisely because it did not have a stance.

“We had absolutely nothing to say when John Tory imploded because we had no position,” he said. “We have to have a position. We can’t go into the next election like we went into the last one, where we say nothing, do nothing.”

Party delegates will choose a new leader to replace Howard Hampton on March 7 at the 2009 NDP leadership convention in Hamilton. The other two candidates are Gilles Bisson (Timmins – James Bay) and Andrea Horwath (Hamilton Centre).