Greens call on provincial government to end separate school system: letter to Minister Eggen

February 26, 2016

Dear Minister Eggen,

The purpose of this letter is to urge you to begin the process of ending the separate school system in the province.  There are no good reasons for keeping the separate system in place and several very good ones for ending it.

The main arguments in favour of ending the separate system are these:

  • Publicly-funded education exists to advance civic values:

The point of publicly-funded education is to bring children together to acquire the skills and knowledge they will need to flourish in our economy but also to be able to play their role, and fulfill their duties, as citizens.  In order to achieve these goals, public education must be structured so as to advance civic values, such as preserving and enhancing democracy and honouring every person’s right to equality in the public sphere.

Having a religious school system fully funded by tax-payer dollars flies in the face of that civic purpose.  We see the contradiction played out in the controversies over the legal requirement to allow GSAs in all publicly funded schools, to create safe places for trans-students in all schools and the earlier controversy with the Christian schools which are part of the Edmonton Public School Board over adoption of that Board’s policy to treat all students with dignity and respect regardless of sexual orientation or expression of sexual identity.

Public schools exist to advance democratic objectives, such as the embrace of diversity, not the teachings of any particular religion.

  • Favouring Catholicism over other religions is discriminatory:

To give one religious group, Catholics, an advantage denied all others is contrary to the spirit of Canadian democracy which is to welcome people from all over the world and from all faith and non-faith traditions.  It is time to bite the bullet and eliminate this discriminatory anomaly in Alberta.

As is no doubt obvious, to provide every religious group in the province their own school board would be both practically impossible (there are dozens if not hundreds of different faiths practiced in Alberta) and in principle wildly unsound.  The only way a society as diverse as ours can flourish is if children of all identities and backgrounds come together in schools where they learn from and about each other.

In the absence of separate schools, if Catholic parents want their children educated in their faith they can send them to a private school founded on Catholicism as do people of other faiths in the province.

  • Separate schools have been successfully eliminated in other provinces;  the same can be done in Alberta:

Not only were separate schools not established in all parts of Canada – BC for one has never had separate schools – several provinces have eliminated them, ironically Quebec included.  Separate school boards remain in only Ontario, Saskatchewan and Alberta.  The change we urge can be made.  All it takes is committed leadership and we urge you to show that leadership on this issue.

  • Separate schools are an intolerable anachronism:

We all understand that the separate school system originated in our past when two European nations (England and France) and the dominant religions of each (Protestantism and Catholicism, respectively) dictated how Canada would be structured politically.  But what made sense in that colonial context makes none at all now.  Alberta really does need to make this change.

  • Tough economic times are the right time to start this change:

It is appropriate that the process to eliminate separate schools be started now when Alberta is in dire economic straits.  The economic advantages to avoiding the duplication of two administrative systems would be clear to Albertans:  yes, some jobs would be lost but those would be primarily administrative and of course the separate board positions would disappear.  Most teaching, teaching support and maintenance jobs would be undisturbed by such a change.  School facilities – buildings and grounds – and transportation (school buses) could be put to more efficient use.  In many cases children who now have to be bussed would be able to walk to school because what was formerly a separate school and not open to them would now be accessible.

I conclude by urging that you show the kind of leadership necessary to strengthening public education in the province by starting the process to eliminate the anachronistic, unfair and unnecessary separate boards.  Instead of dividing communities along religious lines our publicly-funded school system, minus the separate schools, would bring children and families together as it should.  This would be an important move regardless of what kind of economy Alberta finds itself in but, given the very difficult present economy, it is especially important.

I look forward to hearing from you on this crucial matter.

With best wishes,

Janet Keeping

Leader, green Party of Alberta



Comments 8

  • I totally agree with Janet Keeping’s position. It is time that Separate Schools be amalgamated into the Public School System.This move would be so good on so many levels.
    One thing not mentioned in the letter is that it would increase connectivity within communities if the school boards were combined. As a child growing up in Calgary I remember feeling a disconnect in my community. The Catholic and Protestant kids hardly knew each other. I think the community would have been stronger had we attended the same school.
    There is a strong case for a restructuring of the school system.

  • Learn about the constitution.Separate schools are protected in Alberta and Saskatchewan!

    • Thanks for writing, Sid. I am a lawyer and am well aware of the constitutional basis for separate schools. But the Alberta constitution can be changed. Separate schools have been eliminated in some provinces. It can be done.

  • You claim that only “Catholics” are given separate status.You are wrong,the act allows for separate PublicProtestant schools ,of which there are several in Alberta.

  • I think protecting ALL of our children in this province should be a priority. I am disappointed that this party does not seem very interested in knowing how pesticides are registered, regulated and abused in this province….how we have dramatically increased this in ways that are affecting our environment, our health and even our ability to grow food. Climate change is a huge issue that industrial agriculture contributes 44-57% according to a UN report….other forms of agriculture are carbon sinks……changing what we do can have a huge impact on the quality of our food, our air, our water and certainly the health of our children. I wonder why a separate school system is an issue……I don’t see this as a priority at all. I would vote for your party if I felt you represented the values I am looking for in a party I thought was “green.”….Also, you do not need to be Catholic to go to a catholic school.

    • Dear Sheryl,
      Thanks so much for taking the time to write. First, let me say that the Green Party of Alberta is very concerned about how pesticides are used and abused in this province. I realize that we have to date dropped the ball on this issue, especially about specific concerns people in Edmonton have had about pesticide use in their city. We must get on this and I promise you we will. The fact that we haven’t to date is a function of having so few resources that we fail to respond effectively on many issues but hopefully you might be willing to get involved with the Greens and help us become more effective on this kind of issue. We very badly need people like you to work alongside the very good people already involved with the Green Party of Alberta.
      About separate schools: it’s a complicated issue but goes to the heart of what we mean by public education, what we mean by freedom of religion, how deep our commitment really is to avoiding discrimination, how serious we are about the wise use of public resources, how serious we are about having walkable, much more healthy communities where all children can walk to at least elementary school. I could go on and on – really – but I’ll only add that Green politics are, yes, very much about environmental issues but also about much more, including very importantly human rights.
      Again, thanks very much for writing. Please get involved with the Green Party of Alberta and help the party become what Albertans need us to be.
      Janet (Keeping), leader, Green Party of Alberta

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