House of Commons Hansard #111 of the 35th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was minority.


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5:15 p.m.


Pierre De Savoye Bloc Portneuf, QC

Mr. Speaker, constitutional matters are always delicate ones. We know that things are written into the Constitution, into the constitution of any country, in order to ensure, in a way, that they remain unchanged. In fact, what is written into a constitution is aimed, in some cases, at protecting the rights of certain minorities, and in other cases, certain majorities.

In the case of interest to us here, especially after the Newfoundland referendum, we understand that what will be done will affect rights a certain minority believed were protected for ever.

I am not taking a stand in this debate, but I would like the hon. member who has just spoken to clarify his view of this duality between permanently maintaining rights which are perhaps a bit

outmoded, on the one hand, and this constitutional guarantee which calls for the ongoing protection of minority rights, on the other.

These two points of view are contradictory, and I would like the hon. member to explain how he resolves that contradiction.

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5:20 p.m.


Dan McTeague Liberal Ontario, ON

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate the hon. member on this good question. He addresses the dilemma that exists at the present time surrounding that question.

As I just said, I find that our Constitution is a document that evolves from day to day. It is not a document that is intended as a bottleneck, or a straight jacket. It is a document that is intended to offer limited and minimal protection to the interests and the proposals made at the time the document was signed.

The courts have played a very strong role in balancing competing rights and interests. We know that the history of this argument, of this whole episode, is one that is fraught with what appears to be governments hell bent on imposing their will, notwithstanding the fact that within the province of Newfoundland there is ample room if not ample evidence of an agreement.

We also acknowledge that perhaps a 52 per cent vote in favour of a question may not be enough for questions where people's rights are involved.

Fifty-two per cent voting on the rights of minorities who are themselves minorities without their consent is certainly a recipe for tyranny of the majority. The dilemma of a constitutional requirement of protection versus the democratic will of a certain number of people are two competing theories within the terms of our federalism. Yet at the end of the day the rule of law must prevail. The rights of minorities must prevail. The right to free speech must prevail. We know these as sacred values within our system.

While the question is an excellent one, the resolution cannot be found by simply adopting one side and saying: "To heck with the Constitution. It means nothing. What we are interested in doing here is achieving 1996 fiscal expediency".

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5:20 p.m.


John Cummins Reform Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the comments of the member for Ontario. He has a well deserved reputation for sticking up for those who cannot defend themselves regardless of personal cost. He certainly has earned my admiration for that.

The question I have for the member is a simple one. Is the protection that he is seeking for religious minorities in educating their children any different than the protection that would be available to say linguistic minorities, or is it something far beyond that level of protection for which he is arguing?

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5:20 p.m.


Dan McTeague Liberal Ontario, ON

Mr. Speaker, I wish to congratulate the member. I did not have an opportunity to refer to his speech a little earlier. It took me as a bit of a surprise that he stated the position he had. It shows there is quite a bit of diversity in that caucus on this issue as well.

Do I see this educational issue as being a precedent, a door opening for other minority rights?

As I indicated to the member from the Bloc, we must always be prepared to have a Constitution that is flexible. When we have 30 million Canadians from so many backgrounds, with so many different interests, but then at the end of the day saying we believe in this great country it is going to create a bit of a problem for many of us if we are not prepared to acknowledge that the Constitution is something that must change with changing times.

I am worried about existing rights that are acknowledged by the minorities, not simply from a position of vested interest, but given the history of this amendment. Many have written us saying: "We have a problem here. The government seems prepared to steamroller a particular issue with the help, by and with the consent of the government, through the House of Commons and through the Senate. We think that you should stop for a moment and really think about what you are doing in the context of that which we agreed to only 50 years ago".

I respect the fact that in this House there are many members of Parliament who are a little older than 50 years so it is not really that long ago. No offence of course to the hon. whip of our party.

However, in all sincerity to the hon. member's question because it is an excellent one, I do not believe we should be moving toward rectifying new rights when we have not been able to demonstrate a guarantee that we are going to be able to defend the rights that we have already proclaimed. That is exactly the point with which I think the House must be seized.

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5:25 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Before resuming debate, a point of order from the hon. member for Sarnia-Lambton.

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5:25 p.m.


Roger Gallaway Liberal Sarnia—Lambton, ON

Mr. Speaker, earlier today votes were taken. With respect to votes concerning Bill C-29, I sent a note to the table officers to point out that I would be absent during those votes.

Unfortunately, the earlier two votes which were taken my name was applied for the subsequent three votes. I had asked the table officers that I not be shown as being present. I was in fact absent and I was marked present and having voted in favour. I request that I be shown as absent and therefore I would request the consent of the House to have the record correctly reflect that.

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5:25 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I am sure the consent of the House is not necessary to clarify the record in light of what the member has said. I will ask the table officers to make that clear in Hansard .

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5:25 p.m.


Pat O'Brien Liberal London—Middlesex, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today-

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5:25 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Excuse me, but it is not your turn. As a Liberal has just spoken, it is now the Bloc Quebecois' turn. I therefore give the floor to the member for Bellechasse.

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5:25 p.m.


François Langlois Bloc Bellechasse, QC

Mr. Speaker, my apologies to the hon. member for London-Middlesex, but I believe the opposition was not among the last few members to speak, although there was no lack of debate.

My colleague, the hon. member for Mercier, always looks at things in their historical perspective. Knowing where she has come from, she knows where she is headed, and this gives me a point of departure.

I would be much happier today if, instead of taking a position, I was recognizing the result of a referendum held in Newfoundland indicating to us that the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador wanted to leave Canada, like the result in 1948, and we will come back to this. The Province of Newfoundland-then the Dominion of Newfoundland-made a decision regarding union with Canada.

In this event, it would be sufficient to recognize the result and sit down again, because the people of Newfoundland would have exercised their sacred right to self-determination, to the full constitutional destiny of their province.

Today, I am not in any way questioning the results of the September 5, 1995 referendum. A majority voted in favour of amending term 17 of the Terms of Union with Canada. A little bit of background is still necessary. What took place? What led to the establishment of terms of union between Newfoundland and Canada?

For the benefit of those who were not with us at the beginning of this debate, a reminder that before 1949, Newfoundland was not part of Canada. Until 1933 it was an independent Dominion, like Canada, like Ireland previously, like Australia and like New Zealand, and as such part of the British Empire, which has now become the Commonwealth.

When economic problems became apparent, the responsible government of Newfoundland was suspended by an act of the Imperial Parliament, the Parliament of Great Britain, in 1933, the Newfoundland Act, 1933, 24-25 George V, chapter 2, United Kingdom.

As of 1933, the Imperial Parliament suspended responsible government in Newfoundland and appointed a commission of government to take charge of what to all intents and purposes again became a colony.

Apparently, the commission of government operated satisfactorily, and the war got the economy going again, so that in the post-war period, the people in London and the people in Newfoundland wondered whether they should maintain this commission of government, in other words, a governor without an elected legislature. The governor received his instructions from London and carried them out.

An initial referendum was held to put the question to the people of Newfoundland. Actually, a national convention was called in Newfoundland to determine the status the people wanted for Newfoundland.

This convention suggested putting two questions to Newfoundland voters: Do you wish to maintain the commission of government-direct rule from London-or do you want to go back to the status that existed before 1933, in other words, the status of a Dominion within the empire? With of course, responsible government based on the institutions that existed before 1933.

As a result of political intrigue and pressure from the Canadian government at the time and from the government in London as well, a third option was considered which had not been planned by the national convention of Newfoundland. The third option was federation with Canada.

Despite the position taken by the national convention of Newfoundland, a third option was put on the ballot in 1948, by an imperial act of Parliament. Let us recall the results of the first referendum, which was held on June 3, 1948.

There was a very respectable turnout of 88.36 per cent. In favour of maintaining the commission of government, in other words, an administration under the orders of the United Kingdom, 14.32 per cent; in favour of federation with Canada, 41.13 per cent; and in favour of the return to responsible government, in other words, to Dominion status as of 1933, 44.55 per cent. There was a majority but not an absolute majority in favour of one of the three options. The option which got the least votes was eliminated and as prescribed by law, a month later, on July 22, a second referendum was held. The question concerned only two points: Are you in favour of federation with Canada or of a return to responsible government?

This time, Newfoundland voters responded as follows: 78,323 voted in favour of federation with Canada and 71,334 voted in favour of responsible government, which in percentages works out to 52.34 per cent against 47.66 per cent. The difference is not

considerable, a difference that in other circumstances would not be worth discussing, because the figures themselves are eloquent.

Things become more disquieting when we look at the voting by riding. In the riding of Ferryland, the turnout was 104.59 per cent; in Labrador, it was 119.44 per cent; in Grand Falls, it was 109.79 per cent; in St. John's West, it was 101.50 per cent; in St. John's East, 100.05 per cent and in Humber, it was 107.84 per cent.

This is a turnout that the hon. member for Humber-Sainte-Barbe-Baie Verte can appreciate now. However, as my colleague and friend, the member for Louis-Hébert, would say, something is wrong with democracy somewhere. They went a little bit too far.

Such that, if we look at voting excesses, a lot of ridings had a turnout of nearly 100 per cent. Something rarely seen. For example in the second referendum, it was 95 per cent in the riding of St. George's-Port-au-Port; 97.16 per cent in White Bay; 96.26 per cent in Grand Falls. That is not so bad. In the riding of St. George's- Port-au-Port, in the other referendum, the figure was 99.39 per cent. These figures are rather unbelievable.

Worse yet, however, was the discovery made since that time that London had decided, regardless of the outcome of the referendum, that there would be union with Canada. History speaks for itself; nobody gave two hoots about the people of Newfoundland.

Finally, if only to have it appear in Hansard , as the result of the figures, ambiguous to say the least, with a turnout in seven or eight ridings of more than 100 per cent, the Prime Minister of Canada, Mackenzie King, said at the time the results were released, and I quote: ``I consider such results clear and beyond possibility of misunderstanding''. That took some nerve. Fortunately, there was no live television, because the people of Newfoundland would have been hopping. In the September 5, 1995 referendum no irregularities were reported. As the result of this referendum, it was decided that Newfoundland wanted to join Canada. The terms of union had to be negotiated. There are 50 of them and they appear in the appendix to the 1985 Revised Statutes of Canada .

We are concerned here today with term 17 and it is not an easy matter to understand. I am simply going to read term 17, and even the most eminent jurists sitting in the House will not be able to give us an opinion regarding its meaning.

I will begin. I hope that the translators have the English version, because I am going to read it in French. Term 17, regarding education, is worded as follows:

  1. In lieu of section ninety-three of the Constitution Act, 1867, the following Term shall apply in respect of the Province of Newfoundland:

In and for the Province of Newfoundland the Legislature shall have exclusive authority to make laws in relation to education, but the Legislature will not have authority to make laws prejudicially affecting any right or privilege with respect to denominational schools, common (amalgamated) schools, or denominational colleges, that any class or classes of persons have by law in Newfoundland at the date of Union, and out of public funds of the Province of Newfoundland, provided for education,

(a) all such schools shall receive their share of such funds in accordance with scales determined on a non-discriminatory basis from time to time by the Legislature for all schools then being conducted under authority of the Legislature; and

(b) all such colleges shall receive their share of any grant from time to time voted for all colleges then being conducted under authority of the Legislature, such grant being distributed on a non-discriminatory basis.

I do not know whether anyone can rise and explain the term on the spot. I would be prepared to take my place and ask for the unanimous consent of the House to allow such an explanation. It is obvious that, through this term, the Newfoundland legislature gave up to the various denominations its control over schools, its power to legislate with respect to matters of education.

Today, we are hearing two theories. One claims that the repeal of term 17 of the Terms of Union of Newfoundland with Canada will not affect minority rights, and the other claims that it will. There is even a third school of thought, probably the objective one, which tells us that it would appear that the conclusion of the referendum indicates that the various religious denominations, or the six main ones, appear to have given consent. Just now, in quoting the referendum figures, the hon. member for Delta attempted to demonstrate that the Roman Catholic Church in Newfoundland did not have a majority vote in favour.

I am not, myself, in a position to give any answers. I feel that a thorough examination and careful attention to the speeches made in this House will make it possible to make a more informed decision.

But some questions do remain. One condition for union is not clear. Does it affect minority rights? If so, unilateral action, without knowing whether the minorities agree to having their rights abrogated, strikes me as a disquieting precedent. If not, then all that we have to do is take the simple step of merely ratifying the consent given in Newfoundland. We need some clarification on this. I personally do not have enough information to form a firm opinion. You can understand that, when it comes to minority rights, we in Quebec are a little gun shy.

If, tomorrow morning, the government of Manitoba were to hold a referendum to do away with section 23 of the Manitoba Act, what would happen? That is the section which requires the Manitoba legislature to pass its legislation in both official languages, the one which states that the language of legislation and the language of the courts is English and French.

The 1890 Greenway laws had abrogated francophone rights in Manitoba. Only in 1979 did the Supreme Court, in the Forest decision if my memory serves me correctly, conclude that the 1890 legislation was invalid because it was unconstitutional.

Almost 100 years later, it was difficult to restore the rights of francophones who formerly made up 50 per cent of the population of Manitoba. According to the latest census, scarcely more than 12,000 people in Manitoba stated they were of French Canadian origin.

If a referendum were held tomorrow morning in Manitoba and 80 or 90 per cent of the voters were in favour of repealing section 23 of the Manitoba Act, should we adopt it with our eyes closed and again make English the only official language in Manitoba, while for 100 years, Manitoba's francophones have struggled to maintain their rights? That is a good question.

If tomorrow morning, the Government of Ontario held a referendum to repeal section 93 of the Constitution Act, 1867, concerning schools for Catholic minorities which, at the time, were also francophone minorities, would we, in the event of a positive outcome, agree to accept such an amendment? Personally, I do not think so. I think these rights should be maintained, protected and even expanded.

There seems to be a complete lack of understanding between the people who embrace these two theories. I think it is necessary to clarify the interpretation of term 17 which, in any event, does not seem to be clear to anyone, so that we cannot really make up our minds. Once again, the question that was asked in the referendum in Newfoundland in 1995 was straightforward, but it referred to an extremely complex situation.

The hon. member for Ontario said earlier that the Constitution should reflect the changes that take place in society. I quite agree with what he said. In the case of a constitutional text like the one we have here, the Terms of Union of Newfoundland with Canada in 1949, if the present Government of Newfoundland had to renegotiate these terms and if Canada had to renegotiate them, we would not end up with the same terms, certainly not term 17 in its present form, because it does not seem to correspond with a certain social reality.

It is not up to me to find out whether it does or does not correspond with the social reality that exists in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. It is up to the people of Newfoundland to decide what suits them. The only thing I have to check as a parliamentarian is whether minority rights, constitutional minority rights have been affected, yes or no.

If not, the question is clear. The people of Newfoundland have decided, and I do not have to check whether they were right to decide in this way. If, on the other hand, it involves constitutional rights, the rights enshrined to protect minorities from periodic changes by governments, to ensure that their rights endure, I am entitled to ask questions as to why the rights of a minority are to be changed. To my knowledge, this would be our first time in the history of Canada to legislate the rights of minorities and to limit them constitutionally. The effect of constitutional legislation respecting minorities has always been to extend protection.

I hope we come to a better understanding during this debate. I do not think this is a partisan debate. It should not become one. It is a fundamental debate on the role, on the place, of minorities within the federation and on the interpretation to be given the Canadian Constitution in general.

Let us recall that the terms of Newfoundland's union with Canada in 1949 were negotiated by the Government of Canada alone, without the provinces. The provinces were not involved in this negotiation.

Which province was most interested? The Province of Quebec, which has a common border, the border of Labrador, which was defined in 1927, with the definition being cast in stone in the terms of Newfoundland's union with Canada in 1949 and reconfirmed in the Constitution of 1982. If there is one border that is not at issue, it is the Labrador border at the moment. The Province of Quebec was not consulted.

Who protested in this House at the time? A member for the riding of Charlevoix, Frédéric Dorion, who, at the time, represented a riding along the Labrador, and consequently Newfoundland, border.

Frédéric Dorion, who later became the chief justice of the Quebec Superior Court, said in this House it was unacceptable that Quebec, the neighbouring province, was not consulted on the terms of Newfoundland's union with Canada. I understand, because had we been under the effect of the present legislation, the Constitution of 1982, which was forced on us, this procedure would not have been possible. The provinces would have to be consulted.

As we can see, the constitutional change mentioned by the member for Ontario is ubiquitous. Freezing the Constitution in an interpretation that was valid perhaps in 1949 is probably not very healthy. However, if the other alternative is to take away minority rights, I do not consider that healthy either.

I would hope that, in the course of the debate, the information and especially the understanding the members of this House may gain from Resolution No. 12 before us, will clarify this debate and enable everyone to come to an understanding in their soul and in their conscience.

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5:50 p.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have a couple of brief comments and then a question for the member.

In the debate a number of issues have been raised, one about educational reform being necessary in Newfoundland and that it could be achieved only through constitutional amendment. The quality of education has not been a question here. In fact, Newfoundland has done as well or better than Ontario in a recent national survey on science and math.

The fact that there was a royal commission and that the framework agreement covered 90 per cent of the recommendations seems to indicate that there was a possibility that the province could do this.

On the issue that Parliament alone must accede to the provincial will, I guess the rhetorical question is why is it in the Constitution in the first place, if the provinces can just say do it. It really does beg the question.

There is the issue that there was a referendum. We all know the turnout was low and the plurality was also very low. When we are talking about a right that was given as part of the terms of union, it is clear that it is those who will be reliquishing their right who must have the primary say in whether that right is going to be relinquished.

The last point was that minorities had their chance because there was a process they went through. There is no question that the process was procedurally fair. But I am wondering, considering the debate in the House and in the Senate, whether today Newfoundlanders would say that they really understood the consequences of what was being dealt with.

My question has to do with the proposed amendment with regard to "where numbers warrant". Many members have already said that this was a phrase which was incorporated in the debate in this place, even by the justice minister in his speech on May 31, that the change to the Constitution would provide uni-denominational education "where numbers warrant". But that phrase was not specifically included in the legislation and, indeed, the amendment in the Senate was not passed for that. That was called for even by Cardinal Carter.

I would ask the member, with regard to the issue of "where numbers warrant", would the member not concede that this would be a reasonable amendment to the proposal now before the House?

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December 2nd, 1996 / 5:50 p.m.


François Langlois Bloc Bellechasse, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Mississauga South for his question.

The question appears straightforward, but the answer is not. Either the amendment to Term 17 of the union of Newfoundland with Canada, or the reverse, depending on one's point of view, gives constitutional protection to the right of religious denominations or churches in matters of education in Newfoundland, in which case Term 17 should not be amended, or the proposed amendment does not infringe the constitutional rights of religious groups or groups referred to in Term 17 of the terms of union, in which case we should simply recognize the referendum.

There cannot, in my view, be any middle ground: either these are constitutional rights, in which case those affected, the minorities, must be consulted. It is not up to the majority to decide for the minority that they no longer want these rights. It must be certain that the minority knowingly gave up its constitutional rights. This is on the assumption that the constitutional amendment infringes minority rights.

The other assumption, which is just as plausible, and is supported by a number of members in the House, says: "Term 17 of the Terms of Union of Newfoundland with Canada does not affect the constitutional rights of certain groups in Newfoundland. We therefore need only recognize the referendum and blindly ratify it".

Like the hon. member for Mississauga South, I too will await the continuation of debate, in order to gain a greater understanding of the issue.

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5:55 p.m.


Pat O'Brien Liberal London—Middlesex, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased for the second time in this House to speak on this amendment to term 17. I suppose in a way we might call this an amendment to term 17 revisited. I am pleased, as other colleagues of mine have said, that in effect the Senate has given us an opportunity to correct a mistake that I feel this House made, a very important and glaring mistake, last spring when it passed the requested amendment to term 17.

I will first make reference to the member for Bellechasse who just spoke, a colleague from the Bloc, who mentioned that the opposition had not had a great number of opportunities to speak today. I am pleased that he did speak prior to my remarks. I note that I have heard precious little in the way of reservations from the official opposition. I have to ask myself why that is.

At least the last member who spoke did raise the possibility that this is not the way to proceed, that there could be a matter of minority rights here. The vast majority of the members of the Bloc have simply accepted the need to pass this amendment on the slimmest of margins, on a fuzzy question put to the people of Newfoundland, in my view. I think the Bloc has its own agenda for supporting such a course.

For the sake of historical accuracy, and a s a history teacher in a former life, I would like to inform the member for Bellechasse that in 1867 Catholic minorities in Ontario were not strictly francophone. Largely they were but at that time there were many thousands of Irish Catholics who were in the province of Ontario; some of them my forebears. Just for the sake of historical accuracy I would like to inform the member of that point.

The starting point of this debate from my point of view is does the school system of Newfoundland and Labrador need reform. I will not take long on that point. I had the opportunity in October to visit Labrador. The member of Parliament was good enough to invite me to visit his riding. It is clear that the school system in Newfoundland and Labrador is in need of reform, as several colleagues have said. Anyone who has informed himself or herself about the situation knows that is the case.

There were long negotiations held to that end. In my view, just as they were about to come to fruition those negotiations were cut short. It is my position that the solution for the school system problems in Newfoundland and Labrador ought to be found or arrived at by the Government of Newfoundland, by school authorities, by the people of Newfoundland themselves with a made in Newfoundland and Labrador solution. Surely if all parties involved are parties of goodwill, and I am sure they are, this amendment requested of the House of Commons for the second time would not be necessary. I feel it is not the best solution to the situation that exists in Newfoundland today.

The member for Bellechasse mentioned that some have the view that we must just close our eyes and pass this amendment as requested. I disagree with that. Many colleagues do.

I would like to quote the Minister of Justice on May 31 when he said these words about that point: "We ought to give great weight to the action taken by the province in question but we must not automatically pass a resolution at its request. We must form our own judgment and be satisfied that it is in the public interest to do so".

That raises the question of the public that is being referred to. Clearly the public in question is the Canadian public from coast to coast to coast. It is absolutely incorrect and shortsighted in my view for anyone-and we have heard that argument and we may again-to say that this is strictly a Newfoundland question and nothing else, that it is not relevant to other parts of country. That is absolutely incorrect or why are we speaking on this issue in this House today, following action taken by the other place last week.

This is clearly a national issue. As soon as Parliament is involved it is automatically a national issue.

I support the amendments made in the other place last week that have been introduced by my colleague, the member for Broadview-Greenwood today. I feel that these proposed amendments would facilitate the necessary educational reform in Newfoundland and, at the same time, maintain the existing minority rights which are so vital to the success of this nation. Either that, or we ought to go back to the negotiating table and let the people of Newfoundland solve this problem with a made in Newfoundland solution.

In my view, the question which is very important is this. What are minority rights worth if they can just simply be removed, whatever the means, without the expressed consent of the affected minorities? That point has been made several times by my colleagues, the member of Ontario and the member for Lachine-Lac-Saint-Louis. I was also very pleased to hear the comments of the Reform member for Delta earlier.

The Reform member for Edmonton Southwest quoted Thomas Paine in his remarks and made a very important point which needs to be a little more fully addressed. His point was: "Should it not fall to every generation to govern themselves and should they not be tied by decisions of previous generations?"

With that logic, the relevant point is that this generation of minorities in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador do not support the proposed amendments to their rights. This generation is objecting. I have heard no one contest the validity of that statement. Therefore, it falls to this generation of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians and Canadians to speak on this question. The issue of minority rights is no less relevant for this generation than it was for past generations when these rights were enshrined in the terms of union by which Newfoundland became the 10th province of Canada in 1949.

It seems that it is a day to quote great Americans so let me quote a great American leader, Martin Luther King Junior, when he said that "injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere". We can take that point and expand on it. We can say "a threat to minority rights anywhere in Canada is a threat to minority rights everywhere in Canada". That is exactly what is at issue for me, having researched this issue as carefully as I could and having tried to listen to all points of view on this.

As a Canadian and as a member of Parliament that is exactly what we are discussing. There is no way that I can support the removal of minority rights anywhere in Canada without the consent of that minority first.

Several colleagues have made reference to the fact that education was very carefully protected by section 93 in the original British North America Act, 1867 and was again protected in the Constitution Act, 1982 and in the 1949 terms of union by which Newfoundland became the 10th province. Anyone who does even a cursory reading of the political history of this country will know

that there has been no more divisive issue than education, whether it is in your own province of Manitoba, Mr. Speaker, whether it is in Ontario or in Quebec. Anyone who has any knowledge of our political history will know that is the case.

Indeed, my colleague from St. Boniface gave a very eloquent explanation about the threats to minority rights that this action represents. Many members feel that is not the case, it is strictly a Newfoundland issue. I am not reassured by those members and I certainly do not share that view.

It is fairly straightforward for me. The history of this nation was founded on a respect for minority rights: linguistic rights, language rights and racial rights. It is a history of which we can be proud. The future of this nation will be founded on respect for minority rights or that future will be greatly imperilled.

The Reform member for Delta gave a very good explanation of the severity of the Manitoba example where in the 1890s Prime Minister Laurier faced the Manitoba school crisis. I can tell him that I drew that very concern to the Liberal caucus privately a long time ago now when I stated that I did not think we needed another schools crisis 100 years after the Manitoba school crisis. Would it not be a pity if this were passed lightly, and we would look back and rue the day that we had launched another schools crisis, this time in the province of Newfoundland?

As I said earlier, those who would draw the Senate into this are exhibiting very specious logic. It is simply irrelevant. Whether the Senate belongs as a part of our system, whether it should be elected or abolished, the point is this: in this case the Senate did its job.

The appointed Senate, which is what we have in Canada, did its job. It said to the House of Commons: "You have acted precipitously. You'd better consider that these minority rights are not being protected by your actions". It was very important that the Senate did that. This House should do no less.

I repeat that a threat to minority rights anywhere in Canada is a threat to minority rights everywhere in Canada, and that is simply something I cannot countenance. I support the idea of inserting the phrase "where numbers warrant". That would allow the educational reform which is badly needed in Newfoundland and Labrador to take place. It will also protect minority rights in a way in which they are not now protected.

I am from Ontario although perhaps I have a little extra interest in this issue since my maternal grandfather was a Newfoundlander, but I certainly do not claim to be a Newfoundlander. However, this is much more than a Newfoundland issue. It is a national issue, an issue of justice, an issue of minority rights.

Many colleagues have made reference to Senator Kirby who is a Newfoundlander. His family is a prominent Newfoundland family. He has made several very good points, some of which I would like to quote: "Therefore I reject the claim that the desired reform of the Newfoundland school system can only be achieved through a constitutional amendment. Indeed, the evidence suggests clearly that almost everything that is needed to reform the school system can be achieved without a constitutional amendment". That is also my feeling.

Either we shelve this issue and send it back to Newfoundland to solve with a made in Newfoundland solution, or now that it has come back to this House I will, and I hope I will be joined by a majority of my colleagues in this House, on careful reflection support the idea of inserting the words "where numbers warrant". This would allow for the needed educational reform and would still protect minority rights.

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6:05 p.m.


John Cummins Reform Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for London-Middlesex for his speech. As he knows, no one should be more grateful for the opportunity to correct the mistake we made when we passed this bill last summer than the Minister of Justice.

On May 31 in addressing this motion the justice minister said: "We were much affected by the fact that even after the amendment there will still be denominational schools in Newfoundland and Labrador. They will still be constitutionally entrenched as an entitlement of the affected denominations-The government of the province of Newfoundland and Labrador has also tabled draft legislation by which it would be provided that unidenominational schools may be created where numbers warrant and where the parents choose that for their children".

The justice minister seems to be suggesting that after passing the amendments to this motion there will still be a constitutional entitlement where numbers warrant. There seems to be a contradiction between the position of the government and the reality as we see it.

Could my friend from London-Middlesex comment on that and on whether the government has somehow misjudged the effects of the bill?

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6:10 p.m.


Pat O'Brien Liberal London—Middlesex, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the comments and the question from my colleague from Delta.

First, I believe that all hon. members, certainly including my colleague the Minister of Justice, are weighing the issue very

carefully and that a free vote will be in their best judgment and following their conscience. I am certainly doing that and I believe all other members are doing the same.

My colleague from Delta has raised a very good point. Indeed in the minister's speech the words "where numbers warrant" as he has quoted are in there. I am not sure whether the justice minister was operating under the belief that was the intent, but it certainly does go along with the statement distributed by the Government of Newfoundland before the referendum in a householder sent to all the people of Newfoundland which had the exact same phrase "where numbers warrant".

My hon. colleagues from Delta and for St. Boniface, in citing the Newfoundland flyer, have raised very good arguments for supporting this amendment. I believe there should be no fear in supporting the inclusion of "where numbers warrant" in this motion.

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6:10 p.m.


François Langlois Bloc Bellechasse, QC

Mr. Speaker, following on my earlier comments, I have a question for the member for London-Middlesex.

Can he once again explain his point of view in this House? Why does he feel that the resolution before us infringes the constitutional rights of a class of persons in the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador?

I give notice immediately of a supplementary question, but it will be for the member for Humber-St. Barbe-Baie Verte when he speaks. I will ask him why he takes the opposite view, that the resolution before us does not affect the constitutional rights of a class of persons in the Province of Newfoundland. That will perhaps further the debate.

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6:10 p.m.


Pat O'Brien Liberal London—Middlesex, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am the person who is answering the questions. I will not respond for my colleague from Newfoundland who was just mentioned. I think all hon. members are searching their consciences and doing what they think is best for Newfoundland and, I emphasize, for all of Canada. All of Canada is involved in this decision because of the precedent nature of what is being done.

Why do I feel that the amendment to term 17 threatens minority rights? For me, Mr. Speaker, it is as plain as the nose on your face. In 1949 the people of Newfoundland were convinced to join Canada, in part because of a guarantee of denominational schools in term 17. That minority down to this very generation has never willingly accepted the removal of that constitutional guarantee. To remove it against their will is extremely dangerous, is an injustice, and is something I cannot countenance. I hope it is something the House will not countenance.

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6:10 p.m.


Dan McTeague Liberal Ontario, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will be very brief. I want to ask a question of the member for London-Middlesex. Subject to what the member for Delta has just said, he did not go on to make the real point that I thought might have been missing here and might be a linchpin in supporting the amendment of the member for Broadview-Greenwood.

The minister's statement of May 31 that: "denominational schools may be created where numbers warrant and the parents choose that for their children". He then went on to state: "In light of all of that we concluded that this is not an instance in which minority rights are being adversely affected by majority rule".

I believe the Minister of Justice may have been of the view that the province of Newfoundland was about to enact something to protect minority rights and therefore the Minister of Justice gave his tacit approval. Given that there may be this kind of confusion, does the hon. member not then believe that there is a possibility that maybe the House, including the government, will come to the belief that the protection of minority rights is important?

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6:10 p.m.


Pat O'Brien Liberal London—Middlesex, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is just a few minutes ago that these words of the Minister of Justice have come to my attention. I regard them very seriously, as I know all my colleagues do.

I share the views of my colleague from the riding of Ontario. It may well be that the Minister of Justice and the government were operating under an understanding which was based on the written statements of the Government of Newfoundland distributed to the people of Newfoundland in a householder which included the words "where numbers warrant". It seems logical to me that we might expect that is the intention of the Government of Newfoundland. If indeed that is the case, then the House did err last June in what it passed and we now have an opportunity which we must not let pass to correct that wrong.

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6:15 p.m.


Gerry Byrne Liberal Humber—St. Barbe—Baie Verte, NL

Mr. Speaker, it is certainly a lively debate. It is very refreshing and interesting to have members of the same party debating an issue. It shows that the House of Commons is alive and vibrant and that the Liberal government does not take anything verbatim. It debates it internally and then puts motions on the floor to iron out good policy which is effective and in the best interests of all Canadians.

We are talking about term 17 which concerns denominational education in Newfoundland schools. I want to say first and foremost that I do not take any particular pleasure in standing and saying that change is necessary. Change means that we have to take a second look at how we do things.

I want to say to all Canadians that what we are doing here is in the best interests of all citizens. We are acting in the best interests

of citizens who want to be full partners in Canada and who want to participate in an education system which is first class, which promotes excellence and the spiritual values which they want to keep.

We are debating a particular clause in the term 17 amendment which has been put forward: "where numbers warrant".

I am a member of Parliament from Newfoundland. I would like to interject a bit of my own personal experience with the Newfoundland school system and the excellence which it promotes. Hon. members who have mentioned it this afternoon are quite right that Newfoundland has an education system and a desire to educate its young people which is probably above and beyond any other in the country.

We appreciate the value and the importance of a strong educational system. We also appreciate the fact that we have to make the system better. We are not prepared to put any young Newfoundlanders or Labradorians in harm's way while we go about that task.

We now find ourselves in a situation which will improve the educational system for our province. We are debating a particular section of an amendment which states "where numbers warrant". Let us talk about where numbers warrant.

Newfoundland has approximately 750 communities throughout the entire province, the majority of which have a population of approximately 350 to 500. Newfoundland has as part of its terms of union with Canada a section which says that denominational education is extremely important and that it will be respected. It is a value which Newfoundlanders share.

I return to "where numbers warrant". Here is a critical difference in what hon. members would propose versus what I would inform them. We are going to respect religious education in Newfoundland and Labrador. However, if we were to establish a religious school in every community of Newfoundland and Labrador, in all 750 communities, we would have to take into account about 15 established religions. There are a lot more religions with fewer members. I suggest they may be in the minority. There are no religious denominations which are in the minority in Newfoundland and Labrador because every educational institution, every elementary or high school is a religious school, a denominational school. There are no non-denominational schools in Newfoundland and Labrador right now. Everybody who goes to school in Newfoundland and Labrador right now goes to a religious school.

That means there are people in Newfoundland and Labrador who profess a particular faith but because the school in their community is not of their faith, they are not receiving any religious instruction whatsoever in their faith. They are receiving generic religious instruction.

The hon. members who are presenting this amendment are prepared to say "where numbers warrant". Given the fact that we are entrenching religious rights in education where numbers warrant, if there is one person of a particular religious affiliation who is living in a province where religious schools, not religious education but religious schools are entrenched for everybody, it means they are proposing that a community of 350 people with 15 different religions should have 15 different schools. I think everybody in Canada realizes that there cannot be 15 schools with 15 principals and at least 15 teachers located in one community of 350 people, a community not unlike where I lived. It would create an absolutely uncontrollable financial burden.

We are talking about minority rights. It must be pointed out that everybody in Newfoundland and Labrador has to go to a denominational school whether or not they are part of that denomination because it is that denomination which established a school in their community. Whether they are Anglican or Pentecostal they have to go to that school, otherwise they will not be educated.

No one in this debate has talked about the students who have slipped through the cracks, the students who do not receive religious instruction in the faith of their choice. Nobody in the House has talked about the 50 per cent of Pentecostal students in Newfoundland and Labrador who, because they live in a community where there is no Pentecostal school, do not receive religious instruction taught by a member of their own faith. They receive the generic religious instruction.

A very pragmatic compromise has been reached which says that Newfoundlanders value religious education. We value religious instruction. A compromise has been reached that unlike today, in every school in Newfoundland and Labrador the students will be able to receive religious instruction from a teacher of the faith of their choice.

That is not the way it is today. If by fate of geography a student happens to live in a community where there is no majority of students who are members of a particular faith, as a minority in that community no religious instruction is received in the faith of the student's choice. The student would have to go to the religious school where another faith is being taught, sit there and take it in.

However the Newfoundland government has decided through consultation with the people that religious education is a value and a right worth preserving. That is exactly what it has done.

We have heard from some hon. members that it is a time tested philosophy that where numbers warrant we will be able to

establish denominational schools. And I separate denominational schools from religious education. Under the current motion which is before this House, religious education is preserved. What we say we do not need is religious schools per se where we establish seven or eight different institutions in one community to accomplish the same goal, educating our young people.

Not one member in this House has absorbed the fact that it comes with a significant financial burden. How does a province like Newfoundland deal with that financial burden? How does a province like Newfoundland which through the deliberations of hon. members in this House has to deal with the fact that cash transfers to the provinces are being reduced? It would probably cost about $300 million to establish schools in every community. It will be the Newfoundland government which pays that price.

A better solution is before us. It is a solution which takes into consideration the rights and the opportunities of all students in Newfoundland and Labrador to be instructed by instructors in the same religious faith as they profess, unlike today.

This issue has been held up in the other place for quite some time. It has been held up while a proposal has been put forward to make sure that French education is established in the new school system. However, as long as we debate this, we will not be able to enact the rights of French students to have instruction in the language of their choice because we are still hung up on and debating the fact that minorities are being hard done by. There are no minorities in Newfoundland. Everybody in Newfoundland and Labrador currently attends a denominational school, whether or not they are a member of that denomination.

No member in this House has spoken up and asked: What about the people who are not members of this particular denomination? How will they receive religious instruction in the future? Will they have to sit there and not participate in religious instruction of their choice as is currently going on? They are not talking about how much it is going to cost to establish a school in every community of the province. They are saying that they do not think the Newfoundland people have really thought this out, so they are going to think for them. I have not seen such an insulting point of view expressed in a long time in responsible government.

We have decided this issue. Look at the balance on how we decided this issue. We have looked at it from the point of view of the individual. We have looked at it from the point of view of all students. In the original terms of agreement when Newfoundland and Labrador joined Canada, we said that as a value our province respected religious education, not necessarily religious schools, but religious education. We do not really subscribe to the fact that we establish an institution. The denomination is what is important. The religious faith is what is important.

Under the current system every student in Newfoundland and Labrador will receive instruction in the denomination of their choice. That is sound public policy. That is respecting the rights of the individual. That is good government.

Unfortunately my time is up. In deciding on this issue, members should bear in mind that we have had a very good discussion. Good ideas have come forward and we are prepared to move on to be proud, dignified members of the Canadian Confederation. We will do so respecting the rights of individuals and respecting fiscal responsibility.

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6:30 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

There are actually 10 minutes left for questions or comments. Perhaps if the member is here next time when the matter resumes we can have questions or comments then.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

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6:30 p.m.


Derek Wells Liberal South Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, my questions are for the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food concerning the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

As I have explained to this House on many occasions, there are more seafood processors in my South Shore riding than in any other riding in Canada. I am advised by organizations representing these companies as well as the organization representing members from the federal constituency of South West Nova that there has been no consultation on Bill C-60 in my constituency, and this concerns me greatly.

Whereas I understand that discussions have been held with the Fisheries Council of Canada, please be assured that this organization is only one of several industry organizations representing Nova Scotia seafood processors.

Consequently, I am asking the minister to give assurances that the small and medium size processing companies be given an opportunity to provide input before the legislation becomes law.

Seafood producers have brought three other important issues to my attention in recent weeks: increased distancing between industry and government, uncertainties associated with fee setting and service delivery, and privatization of services.

The seafood industry in my riding perceives that the new agency, as proposed in legislation, will add more distance between the policy makers, regulators and industry itself. For the record, it is important to understand why industry is raising the issue now. Let me explain.

The decision to move DFO inspection headquarters from Halifax to Moncton for the maritimes region was seen by Nova Scotia processors as counterproductive with respect to servicing industry. It is difficult to understand why a division as vital to industry as the inspection directorate was moved out of the province and further distanced from the focal point of processing activity in Atlantic Canada.

Processors now fear that the new legislation which creates an advisory board to advise and report to the minister responsible for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency will result in further distancing between the seafood industry and government. It is believed that the advisory board will be a blue ribbon panel comprised of executives from the largest corporations from each of the sectors reporting to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. I must advise the minister that it is imperative to broaden representation.

With respect to fees, the seafood industry is concerned that fee setting for inspection services remains the exclusive domain of government. It foresee that fees could be increased and new fees added without any procedure to control or audit this process. Industry is asking to incorporate into the legislation a mechanism which ensures fees are discussed with industry in advance of implementation. It would also like to see a procedure which provides for independent review and audit of the inspection agency activities.

A suggestion which merits consideration is to look at Iceland as a model. I understand that many inspection services are delivered by the private sector but the national government observes the system through routine auditing and reporting. I believe Canada, like Iceland, has a vested interest in ensuring that business is not restricted or held hostage by single service providers.

I would recommend therefore that the legislation be amended with provisions to give the seafood industry a reasonable level of assurance that partnership agreements will be considered only if businesses will not be disadvantaged on the basis of size or ability to pay.

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6:30 p.m.

Beauséjour New Brunswick


Fernand Robichaud LiberalSecretary of State (Agriculture and Agri-Food

Mr. Speaker, I would like to respond to the concerns raised by some members of the seafood industry about the possible loss of expertise and advocacy for seafood at the federal level once the Canadian Food Inspection Agency is created.

Clearly it is very much this expertise that underscores the safety and trade ability of Canadian fish and fish products. We export over 80 per cent of our fish products today. Our exports are worth about $3 billion a year and are in large part directly supported by the system and expertise in the fish inspection area.

Expertise, professional experience and advocacy for sea food must continue and will continue to be an integral part of the agency. Our departmental staff is trying to determine the best way to have access to these skills during the transition period prior to establishing the Food Inspection Agency and also in the longer term.

I expect the agency will work over the first year to develop the optimal organization for the future which will best serve industry and the public. Service to and interests of the seafood industry will be paramount in this process.

I would also like to confirm the minister of agriculture's intention to have strong representation of the fisheries sector on the ministerial advisory board of the agency.

We have been consulting industry groups on a permanent basis during this past year. We will continue to do so when the agency is ready to become operational.

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6:30 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

A motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been adopted. The House stands adjourned until10 a.m. tomorrow.

(The House adjourned at 6.36 p.m.)