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Paige MacPherson: More Canadian families are choosing independent schools

Commentary

During the pandemic, due to government policies including school closures, some Canadian parents have sought alternatives to their local public schools such as independent schools, homeschooling, or small education collectives and learning pods. Yet new research shows this trend predates the pandemic. A greater proportion of Canadian K-12 students were already enrolling in independent schools in 2019/20.

And at the same time, a declining share of Canadian parents are enrolling their children in their local government-run public school.

Independent schools operate autonomously outside of the government public school system. While the level of regulation varies depending on the province, these K-12 schools are typically more flexible with their educational approach.

Between 2006/07 (the earliest year of available data for all school types) and 2019/20 (the most recent year available), independent school enrolment in Canada increased from 6.7 percent to 7.6 percent. The proportion is higher in some provinces. In 2019/20, more than one in every eight students in British Columbia, and almost one in 10 students in Quebec, were enrolled in independent schools. 

On the low end, Newfoundland and Labrador (1.6 percent) and New Brunswick (1.3 percent) had basically a rounding error level of students enrolled in independent schools in 2019/20. Unlike B.C. and Quebec, neither of these Atlantic provinces allow any portion of parents’ tax dollars to follow their children to schools of their choice. 

Nevertheless, an increasing proportion of Canadian families are choosing independent schools despite the financial sacrifice this requires for most families. Five of 10 provinces allow a portion of parents’ tax dollars to follow their children to schools of their choice—independent schools or government public schools (which receive significantly more funding). While many independent schools offer bursaries and scholarships, typically parents still must pay tuition to cover the cost difference. 

Why are families choosing independent schools?

For starters, they offer a variety of pedagogical and curricular approaches that differ from one-size-fits-all government public schools. Almost half of independent schools in Canada have a specific cultural or religious focus, according to earlier research.

Other schools offer Montessori, Waldorf, Emilio Reggio, or Forest School programming. For some children, smaller schools or stronger academic, arts, or sports programs are a better fit. Specialty schools comprise about 30 percent of independent schools in Canada. Many independent schools also offer tailored attention to address exceptional learning or behavioural needs. Simply finding a school that has a differing approach to bullying may also be a driving factor. 

Of course, many Canadians likely still believe that independent schools only serve Canada’s elite. But research has found that only 4.7 percent of the independent schools in Canada were elite university preparatory schools, meaning more than 95 percent of Canadian independent schools were not.

Further research showed that when the small proportion of elite independent schools is removed from the analysis, the average income of families with children in independent schools in B.C. (the province with the highest level of independent school attendance in Canada) is essentially the same as families with children attending government public schools; only a 1.9 percent difference.

Again, despite the financial sacrifice, an increasing share of Canadian families are choosing independent schools because they feel they’re a better fit for their children. Provincial governments can increase access to independent schools for all families, regardless of income, by allowing a greater portion of parents’ tax dollars to go to their chosen school, and funding lower-income families at higher levels. 

Even before COVID, finding the right school for every child was a priority for families. It should be a priority for provincial governments, too. 

Ken Boessenkool: Conservatives will vote for a strong climate plan if it helps them win

Commentary

Conservatives for Clean Growth was set up to urge Conservatives to take advantage of the incredible economic opportunities Canada faces as the world moves to net zero. Opportunities in mining (like raw material to meet global demand for batteries), clean energy (like nuclear and natural gas to replace dirtier energy like coal), technology (like carbon capture, modular nuclear reactors, and present and future cleantech opportunities), and manufacturing (like electric cars). As co-chairs Lisa Raitt and Jim Dinning argue, these are reasons enough for the party of growth and opportunity to pursue a credible climate change policy.

Yet, if that’s not enough, there is also a raw political argument for the Conservative Party, and its leadership candidates, to present party members and eventually all Canadians with a credible climate plan to reach net zero. For the simple fact is that without a credible climate plan, the prospects for a Conservative electoral victory are seriously slimmed.

Even if there was a time when a Conservative rallying cry for lower taxes could defeat a Liberal rallying cry for a strong climate plan, that time is now firmly in the rear-view mirror. These days, if all Canadians hear from Conservatives on climate is policies they are skeptical of, they can be forgiven for believing that Conservatives are skeptical of climate change itself.

For example, a recent 5,000 respondent poll commissioned by Clean Prosperity and conducted by Conservative pollster Andrew Enns, Canadians ranked climate change above higher taxes when it came to issues of concern (both followed pandemic management and post-pandemic economic recovery). Fully three-quarters of Canadians support a policy of “moving to net zero,” with only 16 percent opposed (the rest didn’t know). About the same number of Canadians (15 percent) think we should do “less” about climate change.

Fifteen percent of Canadians do not a Conservative electoral coalition make.

Critical to any Conservative electoral coalition is the 905—the ridings forming a ring around Toronto. In an analysis of the 2019 election, voters who considered voting Conservative—but didn’t—put the environment and climate change as their top priorities. These were the voters who denied a Conservative return to government. Almost one-third of voters who didn’t rule out voting Conservative said a credible climate plan would have made them “more likely” to vote Conservative. 

And such a plan would not have cost the Conservatives in the west. Rather, a “credible climate plan” would help Conservatives hold ridings in the west where the party won with small margins without creating any risk in ridings where the party won with large margins. In fact, support for a strong climate plan—even one that includes carbon taxes—jumps from 23 percent to 67 percent if western Canadian Conservative voters believe such a policy will help win enough seats in Ontario to form a national Conservative government.

In the face of this overwhelming evidence of the need for a credible climate plan, the Conservatives presented such a plan in the last election.

A poll conducted following the 2021 election makes it clear that Erin O’Toole’s climate plan (which independent analysis said was credible) was a net positive for the party in that campaign. Once again, among those who considered voting Conservative—but didn’t—almost three voters said the Conservatives credible climate plan made them “more likely” for every one potential voter who said “less likely” to vote Conservative. And only five percent of Conservative voters thought they should do “less” than what O’Toole presented in that campaign. Hardly a vote loser some said it was.

Now is the time for the Conservative party to build on this progress. The next election will (please God) be held in a post-COVID world (an issue that cost Conservatives in the last election). Presenting a credible climate plan will be a minimum requirement for the next leader of the Conservative Party to become prime minister.

This is why Conservatives for Clean Growth has assembled policy teams—made up of conservative policy minds, relevant energy and environmental experts, and climate policy people—to assist Conservative Party leadership candidates to develop a credible climate plan. A plan that can position Canada to take advantage of the economic and technological opportunities presented by the global move to net zero. A Conservative plan for growth and prosperity. 

We look forward to working with all leadership campaigns to develop such a plan, which can then become a key element of a plan to elect a Conservative prime minister in the next federal election.