The Comment

Annual Budgets: exercises in public relations

TORONTO – They used to be expressions of how well governments managed the economic interests of their citizenry: investments in (and returns from) growth-inducing measures and balancing expenditures consistent with intake. The expectation would be that the lower the penalties/taxes by government, the greater the opportunity for the individual to exercise choice for personal development.

There have always been people, both in and out of government, who see opportunities for exploitation and act on the greedy impulse to satisfy a personal agenda. Responsible governments, advocates of transparency, tend to “weed out” such behaviour. Some are more successful than others; hence, the value of partisanship.

That does not mean that governments cannot or should not tell their story. It is up to stakeholders to analyze and assess where their own interests lie. A realistic account of what may be transpiring, sprinkled with a healthy dose of skepticism may turn out helpful. Even if governments, buttressed by well-financed bureaucracies, have vastly superior resources than lowly citizens. But, after all, it is our money Governments are investing or spending, depending on the prevailing point of view.

Somehow, one would have expected help from our stakeholder organizations, of which the Ontario Catholic School Trustee’s Association (OCSTA) is one. Barely sixteen hours after the presentation of the Ontario government’s budget in the Legislature, OCSTA’s president sent a memorandum ( you can read it here: Memo-Budget Announcement (March 26) ) to School Board Chairpersons and Directors of Education, advising one and all: “the budget included the following new funding initiatives that will be of interest to Catholic boards.” That’s it.

Publicly available data (subject to minor variances, including OCSTA’s) affirms that approximately 25% of Ontario’s students are in Catholic schools, spread over 29 school boards, administering 1,500 schools. It is fair to suggest that for every $1,000 dollars the governments spends on education, Catholics boards – which have been around since 1841, 26 years before Canada was “united” – can legitimately expect $250.

Rather wish that someone had placed the $23 Billion in “building, expanding and renewing schools and child care spaces in that context. Only $6 Billion of it would go to Catholic boards. Be still my heart… over the next 10 years! Should we divide the total by ten and accept the annual $600 Million to then distribute among the 29 Catholic boards – roughly $20 Million per board? One cannot build even one high school for that amount of money.

One imagines that the provincial organization which looks out for the interests of local school board trustees will be advocating for the parents of the children they have assumed trusteeship.

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