Catholic public school motion defeated by council

By Stephen Dafoe

Morinville – The Catholic public school debate came before Morinville Town Council again Tuesday night, this time in the form of a motion from Councillor Lisa Holmes. Although a topic of discussion in the streets of Morinville for several months, the matter first came before council two weeks ago when Donna Hunter, spokesperson for the group of local parents seeking a secular education for their children in Morinville’s public schools, made her case to council. Council’s reaction at that time was one of silence. Neither comment nor question was made to the delegation.

But recent headlines outside of Morinville, including an article in last Saturday’s Globe and Mail, prompted Holmes to speak up where none on council had before. Holmes motion, delivered at the end of Tuesday night’s meeting, called on council to send an invitation to Barrhead-Morinville-Westlock MLA Ken Kowalski, Alberta’s Minister of Education Dave Hancock and the trustees of the Greater St. Albert Catholic School Board. That invitation would request the parties to attend a stakeholder meeting in Morinville within the next 30 days to discuss the future of Morinville’s education system.

Holmes’ motion was defeated by a 4-3 vote, Councillors Holmes, Boutestein and Van De Walle being the only supporters of the idea.

Speaking against the motion, Councillor Gordon Boddez said the school issue is not a municipal matter. “We are a creature of the provincial government,” Boddez said. “We are created by provincial government. School boards in this province are creatures of provincial and federal governments.”

The veteran councillor went on to compare the idea of mediating in the dispute to an independent committee stepping in to resolve Morinville’s long-standing feuds with Sturgeon County.

Boddez was not the only veteran councillor to oppose Holmes’ motion. Deputy Mayor Paul Krauskopf also made his objections known. “It’s too broad of an event,” Krauskopf said of the proposal, adding he would not object to the mayor making a call or speaking to some people on the matter, but that it was out of place for all of council to be addressing the issue. “This is a provincial matter, not a town matter.”

It was a sentiment Councillor David Pattison agreed with although he – like Holmes – is troubled by the recent regional and national attention the issue has attracted.

“Personally, this is an issue that I have seen since I moved here, but I’ve always seen it as a provincial matter,” the councillor said. “I just do not see what we as a town could do to mediate to bring parties together to resolve an issue. I hate the headlines, but with respect to Councillor Holmes, I do not see it as an appropriate role of the town to be on the mediation side.”

But Mayor Bertschi is not as troubled by the headlines as some on council, nor is he as concerned with the negative image those headlines may send Morinville’s way. “It is purely and simply an issue between the province and the schools,” the mayor said. “It’s going to continue to be an issue as long as we continue to keep growing. The divide’s going to get wider.”

The mayor said ultimately it will be the minister of education and the province that will have to make the decision. “We’re an anomaly in this province,” Bertschi said of Morinville’s unique Catholic public school system. “We’re the only one like this. In fact, I think we’re the only one like this in the country. It just needs to be dealt with at that level. That’s who needs to deal with it.”

The mayor said he could not envision a point where the issue would become a municipal issue. “The sky is not falling,” Bertschi said. “Does it need to be addressed? It would be nice if the minister would address it, but if they choose not to. I read an article in one of the dailies in the city that this will have to go to the courts. Well, how does it get to court? Does this group have to sue the province? Do they have to sue the school board?”

Bertschi said he felt for the Morinville parents and their plight, but maintained it was a matter between the province and the school board. “We’ve got enough issues at the municipal level without taking on fights that aren’t ours.”

But Councillor Holmes feels the schools issue is one council should be willing to have a dialogue on, although she agrees with others on council that it is not council’s fight.

“This is not a municipal issue, but as a resident of Morinville I’ve always believed that we have to do what’s in the best interest of the town,” she said. “When the town is the one out there in articles, then we have to be involved. It starts to impact on economic development. We have plans we want to make on attracting residents and new businesses to our community.”

Holmes said she felt the roundtable discussion she proposed in her motion would have given Morinville an opportunity to move the issue forward in discussions on a topic she hears about frequently as a parent of children in Morinville schools.
“I hear this issue every day,” Holmes said. “I live this issue every day.”

Although raised in a Catholic family, Holmes said she is not a practicing Catholic. Like other Morinville parents she has encountered religion coming home with her child.

“My seven-year-old son came home from Grade 1 and told me he is giving up chocolate for Lent,” Holmes said. “How did he know that? How did he learn that? He’s not in religious studies. He’s in the options course. But he had pancakes for breakfast and learned about Lent.”

Holmes said she was not bothered by her son’s Lenten sacrifice of chocolate and feels her child is getting an excellent education in his Morinville school; however, she understands how other parents might see things differently.
“If I was Muslim; if I was Jehovah’s Witness, it would bother me,” she said. “This is a public school. I do feel that there is a huge issue here for young families in our community, and that they have elected me as a mother of a young family to be their voice. Today I hope I gave them that.”

Donna Hunter, a regular attendee at Town Council meetings, said she was blindsided by Holmes’ motion Tuesday night. “That was phenomenal that she would even make a motion like that,” Hunter said after Tuesday night’s meeting. “That took a lot of guts, and she’s right. It’s like the elephant in the room that everybody is ignoring. It’s got national exposure. How can they still say this is not a town issue? Everybody is talking about Morinville.”
Although disappointed the motion did not pass, Hunter said she was pleased it was made and felt it would have been a good step towards opening discussions. “Any time people are given a place to feel safe and to have an open conversation, that’s a positive thing,” she said.

Hunter said she received an e-mail from Minister Hancock’s executive assistant Tuesday indicating the minister would be meeting directly with GSACRD, something she and her group had been awaiting word on for some time. “I think the media attention is having an effect on this issue,” Hunter said, adding she has seen a disconnect between what the minister is saying in the legislature and what his spokespeople are saying to the media.

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  1. So if we are upset about the price of gas in town caused by oil companies raising the prices when there is civil war in a country that controls 2% of the oil production in the world – should we bring an issue like this to Council and expect them to set up a meeting with the gas companies in town to resolve the issue?

    Just wondering…

  2. @ anon Amos

    Gas prices don’t effect the sustainability, marketability and the future growth of the town. This is a town issue. People aren’t going to base moving to Morinville on the gas prices, they will base their decision on the education of their children. Sending the message that you can live, work, shop and pay taxes in Morinville but if you want to educate your children with a non Catholic education you will have to bus them right out of town is going to open the market to a limited pool of prospective buyers and essentially limit the grown of Morinville.

  3. Anon,

    Gas is part of a global market economy and does not just affect Morinville. You will be gouged no matter where you go!

    Your argument means that council should stay away from advocating for a change to Cardiff Corner because the province owns and operates the highway – of course this does not make sense. If there is an issue that affects this community it is something that council should look at.

  4. I can tell you that this issue is causing quite a lot of comment all around the world. This poor town is a laughing stock.

    I am sorry, but I believe in secular education – and this Roman Catholic monopoly seems Medieval to me – just like the darned Church itself.

    Sorry I gave them a compliment. Not the Middle Ages, the Dark Ages.

  5. An interesting argument. However what exactly does “secular” education mean? Well the word “secular” as commonly applied means devoid of influence from religious values. However those that assert the alleged need for secular society fail to acknowledge that they themselves typically have values informed by atheistic religion. Those who claim that atheism is not a religion should know that the courts have ruled that atheism is religion, because it is a set of organised beliefs, values and historical or philosophical claims pertaining to the nature of existence. So considering that all persons in society have a philosophical position that may vary from others, it is impossible to actual achieve a “secular” education because secular education becomes by default atheistic, which is still religious, and therefore not secular. Science, literature, maths, and art are all influenced by philosophical or religious ideas. Just consider the billions spent on searching for extra-terrestrial life. It is completely a religious scientific exercise to develop a naturalistic philosophy and depends upon naturalistic assumptions in its application. If people want true equality in public education then there must be room for all philosophical or religious views to be presented (including Catholicism). Informing people abort differing views is different to expecting them to adopt those views and giving them a failing grade if they don’t adopt those views. Informing children about Catholic celebrations is no more troublesome than informing children about the SETI program. Perhaps the school could introduce an optional multicultural program to inform about other religions and cultures, on an informational basis as opposed to an instruction and acceptance basis. I am not a Catholic but do send my son to a Catholic school and am not concerned with the variety of views he hears.

  6. I would not be in disagreement with a variety of views either. However in the Morinville public schools the governing board does not promote a variety of views, it promotes one, wholly-permeated, above, and to the exclusion of all others. While this may be acceptable to those that share that view,I do not believe that serves the public.

    However that wasn’t the article.

    Thank you Councilors Holmes, Boutestien, and Van De Walle, for your attempt encourage discussion and resolution. It showed leadership, courage, and creativity. You have my respect for it.

    Mr. Bertschi, one would think that public education issues in your township, would warrant at least the lobbying efforts applied to the Cardiff Road Intersection. There is a huge difference between politically unable, and politically unwilling.

    None of our hands are “tied” on this matter. All residents of Morinville including the town leadership both in an official, and or unofficial capacity have the ability, and certainly the right to lobby any political entity for resolution on an issue.

    If they choose to do so.

    Minister of Education
    MLA Ken Kowalski
    Mayor Bertschi


    Thomas kirsop

  7. Morinville is not unique. Legal, too, has only two school options, both for Kindergarten to Grade 9. Both are Catholic schools; Legal School is part of GSACRD, whereas École Citadelle represents Conseil scolaire Centre-Nord. If Legal parents want their children to be educated locally, they can choose the language but not whether or not they wish them to attend a Catholic school. This was a stunning revelation 4 year ago when my family decided to move from Calgary to Legal. There may be other similar situations in Alberta’s smaller communities.

  8. If parents really wanted their children to be educated in a public secular school they would have spoken with their feet and taken their kids down the road to Sturgeon, or found out before they moved to Morinville the nature of the education system. This is all about transportation for a handful of families.

  9. @ Kim

    This is not all about transportation for a handful of families. Only 30% of students enrolled in schools in Morinville are Catholic. That means 70% are not. If given the option and all things were equal the numbers would support a non-faithed based school. Many parents are already taking their kids elsewhere. Only a handfull of families have been brave enough to speak out but there are many others who, for fear of being discriminated against, have remained silent. You mention voting with your feet and I couldn’t agree more about the impact it is having on the town but not in the way you might think. How many people are voting with their feet and moving or never looking at Morinville in the first place because of this issue. If you are not Catholic you are not welcome. That is the message the public is seeing. What would be so wrong about having a non faith based school in Morinville? No one would force you to send your kids there. It is all about choice and the lack of one.

  10. No one should have to send their child on a bus for 40 mins(one way) shared with highschool kids in order to attend a public non faith based school, when there are already 4 public schools in town. Morinville is not some tiny remote village in the middle of nowhere, where the closest school is an hour away. We have over 8000 residents with many different faiths, and the only public education we are able to receive in town is a Catholic permeated education?

    The image of Morinville will only continue to suffer until our education system is dealt with.

    The mayor and councillors who refused to facilitate an open discussion has done residents of Morinville a disservice. Why not have a discussion with all parties involved? Why not have a place where residents can voice their concerns? Everyone in Morinville is talking about this issue, and town council doesn’t want to have anything to do with it.

    Isn’t this the reason why we elect officials, to have someone represent us?

  11. Conrad, I am surprised that you can’t see a greater difference between Roman Catholic education and secular education.

    It has been alleged that references to God and Jesus are permeating the entire curriculum. This is totally unnecessary and in fact objectionable. The supernatural need not intrude.

    Conrad, you say ” Science, literature, maths, and art are all influenced by philosophical or religious ideas. ” – but surely that is the point – to look at the constrasting ideas from a philosophical point of view, not from the “inside” perspective of Roman Catholicism!

    But even then, Mathematics and Science (to give two examples) are as relevant to Buddhists and Hindu, as to Roman Catholics. The theorems, text books and research remain the same.

    It is my opinion that religious education belongs to the LEISURE time of families – where they may partake of what they choose – if they want to allocate time, budget and brain space in that direction.

    I repeat that Morinville is an international laughing stock, as evidenced here in Australasia – and to think it is the country of Trudeau etc, leaders of the liberal free world!!

  12. These families are looking for a choice. I don’t believe anyone was interested in attacking the beliefs of the Catholic Church. The same concerns would have been raised regardless of the denomination of the school. The mean spirited comments that are coming from both sides have absolutely nothing to do with the original issue.
    I have lived here for the past 5 years. There are 2 families on our street that home school their children. We know of at least 15 other families that drive their children to St. Albert to attend school. The demand for a secular school is much stronger than council may realize.
    By the time our town reaches 10,000 people we will need another school. Will council lobby the provincial government for a secular school??? To sum it all up…….just because we have Tim Horton’s, does that mean we will never get a Starbucks??

  13. Ithink the non Catholics should stop paying the education portion of their taxes to Morinville. Put the money in a trust account until the school board, the province and the town of Morinville gets this mess straightened out. Why should we pay school taxes when there aren’t any schools?

  14. I would like to hear people’s thoughts on what this change might actually look like. What would the 70% specifically like to see happen? How would the schools currently in Morinville be divided up? How would MCHS and Primeau be split? What about Legal? Or would there be new schools built? Would the non-Catholic teachers who currently teach in Morinville be designated to the public school? Would those non-Catholic families who prefer a Catholic education for their kids still have that right? Would Sturgeon run the public school(s)? Who pays for it? How many jobs would be lost?

    I think people should start thinking about the nitty gritty’s to see what it might really mean.

    This is a great conversation, so thank you for the platform to voice opinions about highly emotional issues.

  15. Excellent points, Kim.
    We (and I’m not really sure who that “we” is ) should be planning for the town’s future growth. I believe someone had quoted 800 housing starts in town. Regardless of their faith, where are all these children going to go to school.

  16. This issue is more a matter of freedom and the ability to choose! It’s as plain as the nose on your face: mindful decision making to put your children in a non faith based school is non-existent in your town. Those who choose to live non-Catholic lives should be able to do so as we in fact do live in Canada – a free country. The opposite is happening and children are being fed/influenced in a Catholic way at school. Where is the freedom there? Morinville has grown and with that growth should be betterment and diversity for the community. Yes it is true that we elect people into Mayor and council positions to represent us. Mr. Bertschi, I sincerely wonder who it is that you are representing? A laughing stock this town is: No freedom of choice to school our children in a non faith based environment AND we smell like a freshly opened dog food bag. Just such a beautiful place this is 🙂 This is not something to be proud of. But like it has been said, its not Bertschi’s issues, right?!

  17. It was cold out yesterday… Thank you to the couple from Cardiff that brought me hot chocolate, that was very kind of you and it was greatly appreciated.

    It’s supposed to be warmer on Monday and I will again be out making my statement publicly infront of the town office. Then I go back to work for a while.

    I have two handouts;

    One encouraging ALL of the community to voice their opinion on the Public Education issue so we can help Mr. Bertschi understand that NO ONE is without political clout in some manner. This handout is chalk full of contact e-mails for both the municipal and provincial representatives who are supposed to represent you.

    And of course, the second, is a hand out from the parent delegation whom I choose to support, and lobby for, in writing, and on the sidewalk (another form of political clout available to ANY citizen). Sometimes it’s too cold for any mom to bring her kids out all day (ability), and I’m happy to do the delegation the service (will).

    You are welcome to join me, for discussion, to voice your opinion , or to walk with me, if you choose to do so. It’s a big sidewalk.


    Thomas Kirsop

  18. @ Conrad
    People asking for the Government to provide a Secular Education for the children of Alberta, is not the same thing as asking for the Government to teach Atheist beliefs. All people are asking for when they want a Secular Education system, is for the Alberta Education Curriculum to be taught from a Religion neutral perspective, and not have the education permeated wholly by one Religion, which is fair for every Religion. This is not something that the GSACRD currently provides to the children of Morinville. Our education system should never be intended to provide Religious instruction unless the fundamentals of every Religion are covered from a non-biased point of view in a class such as Social Studies. This in by no way infringes upon the human rights of any religious groups when they still have the option of obtaining religious instruction at their place of worship.

  19. Kim ..

    The specifics will need to be negotiated but the goal of the exercise is extremely clear. I would think that the people who don’t want a bar of Roman Catholicism would be reasonably open-minded, given their current predicament.

    Switching one of the schools over to non-Catholic is an obvious option – but why does there need to be a loss of jobs? There should be an INCREASE in the number of children needing to be taught – some won’t need to travel any more, and some should emerge from home schooling. Some teachers who are currently obliged to put the spin about a god and Jesus Christ will need to stop that if they want to continue in the town, but surely there will be enough willing to do that. This is assuming that they are fully qualified to teach the curriculum excluding the Catholic component.

    I imagine that Roman Catholics (with their Apologetics tradition) will do everything they can to defend this bastion but they need to be more broad minded these days.

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