Candidates debate education in Beaches-East York

Religion, all-day kindergarten and a French-speaking school topped the agenda as Beaches-East York candidates debated education on Sept. 20.

The debate, one of many across the province for “Education Day,” saw Shawn Ali of the Green Party, Helen Burstyn of the Liberals and New Democrat Party incumbent MPP Michael Prue face off at Secord Elementary School to an audience of more than 100 people.

The Progressive Conservative candidate, Chris Menary, was not present.

The issue of religious practices in schools came up after audience members began asking questions. Prue’s stance was well-received.

“Our public schools are supposed to be secular,” Prue said. “In the last election the Conservatives ran on a platform of allowing multi-faith schools and paying for them and got trounced at the polls.”

Burstyn was in favor of a more lenient and school-specific approach.

“We respect the ability of students to practice their religions and be accommodated in every school setting if it’s a public school in this province,” she said.

Prue thinks a definite decision needs to be made and instituted in all schools equally.

“If you want the schools to be secular, they all have to be secular,” he said.

With the audience clearly in his favor, Prue dominated the debate.

Green Party candidate Ali sometimes deferred questions, stating that he and his party’s platform “agree” with Prue.

Burstyn, however, was able to challenge Prue on his support for all-day kindergarten.

“The NDP opposed and voted against all-day kindergarten,” Burstyn said. “You also closed 150 schools across Ontario.”

Prue countered that the budget his party voted against contained more than just all-day kindergarten.

“New Democrats vote against a budget,” he said. “We vote against Liberal budgets, the same budgets that have the HST in them. To say we opposed all-day kindergarten is… untrue.”

French-speaking students having to travel out of the riding for school was another issue addressed.

An audience member pointed out that funding for a French-speaking school in the riding has been in place for years and yet, it still hasn’t been created.

“We’ll need to get the school,” Burstyn said. “You need a member in government to be able to press the government to be able to put that school here.”

Prue responded by saying that the problem is with the school boards.

“If there was one board, this would not happen,” he said. “One board would control all the property and say we need a French high school here… and I don’t think the idea is all that far fetched”

The event was hosted by school board trustee Sheila Cary-Meagher and emceed by community newspaper editor editor Carole Stimmell.