Debates of May 31st, 1996
House of Commons Hansard #54 of the 35th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was amendment.
- Constitution Amendment
- National Transportation Day
- Minister Of Human Resources Development
- HASTINGS-FRONTENAC-LENNOx AND ADDINGTON
- Francophone Communities
- Minister Of Human Resources Development
- Liberal Party
- Youth Employment
- Tonya Schweigert
- Youth Employment
- Manpower Training
- Access Awareness
- Fisheries And Oceans
- National Unity
- Manpower Training
- Goods And Services Tax
- Hollinger Inc.
- Young Offenders Act
- Milling Industry
- Pearson International Airport
- French Speaking Minorities
- Government Contracts
- Health Care
- Employment Centres
- Committees Of The House
- Government Response To Petitions
- Criminal Code
- Questions Passed As Orders For Returns
- Amendment To The Constitution Of Canada
- Criminal Code
Allan Rock Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada
WHEREAS section 43 of the Constitution Act, 1982 provides that an amendment to the Constitution of Canada may be made by proclamation issued by the Governor General under the Great Seal of Canada where so authorized by resolutions of the Senate and House of Commons and of the legislative assembly of each province to which the amendment applies;
NOW THEREFORE the House of Commons resolves that an amendment to the Constitution of Canada be authorized to be made by proclamation issued by His Excellency the Governor General under the Great Seal of Canada in accordance with the schedule hereto.
AMENDMENT TO THE CONSTITUTION OF CANADA
- Term 17 of the Terms of Union of Newfoundland with Canada set out in the Schedule to the Newfoundland Act is repealed and the following substituted therefor:
"17. In lieu of section ninety-three of the Constitution Act 1867, the following 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 a ) except as provided in paragraphs (b) and (c), schools established, maintained and operated with public funds shall be denominational schools, and any class of persons having rights under this Term as it read on January 1, 1995 shall continue to have the right to provide for religious education, activities and observances for the children of that class in those schools, and the group of classes that formed one integrated school system by agreement in 1969 may exercise the same rights under this Term as a single class of persons; b ) subject to provincial legislation that is uniformly applicable to all schools specifying conditions for the establishment or continued operation of schools,
(i) any class of persons referred to in paragraph (a) shall have the right to have a publicly funded denominational school established, maintained and operated especially for that class, and
(ii) the Legislature may approve the establishment, maintenance and operation of a publicly funded school, whether denominational or non-denominational; c ) where a school is established, maintained and operated pursuant to subparagraph ( b )(i), the class of persons referred to in that subparagraph shall continue to have the right to provide for religious education, activities and observances and to direct the teaching of aspects of curriculum affecting religious beliefs, student admission policy and the assignment and dismissal of teachers in that school; d ) all schools referred to in paragraphs ( a ) and ( b ) shall receive their share of public funds in accordance with scales determined on a non-discriminatory basis from time to time by the Legislature; and e ) if the classes of persons having rights under this Term so desire, they shall have the right to elect in total not less than two thirds of the members of a school board, and any class so desiring shall have the right to elect the portion of that total that is proportionate to the population of that class in the area under the board's jurisdiction.''
Don Boudria Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON
Mr. Speaker, I think you will find unanimous consent for the following motion. I move:
That, notwithstanding any standing or special order, if at 9.30 p.m. on Monday, June 3, Government Order, Government Business No. 5 has not been disposed of:
The House shall continue to sit until the said business is disposed of;
During the continued sitting, no member shall speak for more than 10 minutes; in other words, no questions or comments;
Any divisions standing deferred to the said date shall be postponed until the said business is disposed of;
The House shall adjourn immediately after the completion of any such deferred division.
For the benefit of our colleagues, it is because there is already a vote which was previously deferred and we would want to delay that vote as well until the conclusion of our business.
(Motion agreed to.)
Don Boudria Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON
Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 43(2), I wish to indicate that all Liberal members of Parliament during the
debate on Government Order, Government Business No. 5, except for the lead off speaker, will be limited to 10 minute speeches.
Allan Rock Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada
Mr. Speaker, the resolution invites the House of Commons to agree to an amendment to the Constitution of Canada which would give effect to certain changes in the manner in which denominational schools are administered and governed in the province of Newfoundland.
The resolution is before the House pursuant to section 43 of the Constitution Act, 1982. Perhaps it is best to start with an examination of that section in order to better understand the nature of our role and function on this occasion.
As noted in the preamble to the Resolution, section 43 of the Constitution Act, 1982 provides for an amendment to the Constitution of Canada in relation to any provision that applies to one or more, but not all, provinces.
This amendment may be made by proclamation issued by the Governor General under the Great Seal of Canada where so authorized by resolutions of the Senate and House of Commons and of the legislative assembly of each province to which the amendment applies. Therefore, it is up to us to consider the proposed amendment and to decide whether to approve it.
This change relates only to the educational system in Newfoundland, which reflects a feature of our federation. Our Constitution starting in 1867 made clear that education is to be within the legislative authority of the provinces. Because by the time each of the provinces in its turn joined the federation and there were arrangements governing religious involvement in education, the Constitution protected and perpetuated those arrangements by its terms.
In the case of the four original provinces section 93 of the Constitution Act, 1867 governed. In the case of those that joined Confederation after 1867, the terms of their union spoke to the question. In the instance of Newfoundland, which joined the federation in 1949, it was term 17 of the terms of union which dealt with denominational or religious education rights in the province of Newfoundland.
In 1949 term 17 sealed into the Constitution, in the form in which it then stood, the arrangement between the religious denominations and the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador in relation to denominational education.
And so we are asked by Newfoundland alone to make changes in relation only to the denominational school system in Newfoundland. We are asked to do so under section 43 of the Constitution Act, 1982, which by its terms provides for a Constitutional amendment where that amendment affects only one province or more than one but not all, in this case just one, and which provides that such an amendment can be made bilaterally, between the province affected and Ottawa, the national government, through resolutions passed respectively by the provincial legislature and by Parliament, both the Senate and the House of Commons. That is why we are dealing with this issue under this section in relation only to that province.
I will touch on the role of the House of Commons when invited to participate in such a bilateral amendment arrangement. No such amendment can be achieved without the concurrence of the House of Commons. In that sense we have a veto. We are an essential participant in the process of amendment.
There have been at least three other occasions in the recent past when the House of Commons participated in such a bilateral change. The occasion that might spring most immediately to the minds of members involved the fixed link with Prince Edward Island, which required a change in the terms of its union with the federation.
The role of the House of Commons when asked to participate in a bilateral constitutional amendment under section 43 is not simply to act as a rubber stamp or to reflexively agree to what is proposed. In my respectful view both the House and the Senate are required to form an independent judgment on the question of whether they should by resolution agree to such a change.
It is also true that in forming that judgment the federal Parliament should demonstrate a decent respect for the resolution passed by the provincial legislature. 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.
On the facts of this case, this government looked at the proposal, examined it on its merits and came to the conclusion that Parliament should act by resolution to effect the proposed constitutional change. I will touch briefly on some of the factors we took into account in arriving at our conclusion that this resolution should be adopted.
We looked at the present term 17 and the manner in which it provides for the organization and administration of denominational schools in Newfoundland. We had regard for the fact that that arrangement is antiquated and reflects an age long past.
We considered the factual arguments put forward by the government of the province of Newfoundland and Labrador with respect
to the cost and the quality of education under the terms and conditions reflected in the 1949 constitutional arrangement. Quite apart from cost and the modernity of the school system, we also looked at other issues.
We considered the question of whether the proposed change would adversely affect or would extinguish minority rights in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. On that question we considered as well that there is in fact no majority denomination in that province. Unlike others, there is no single denomination which dominates numerically. Rather, it is plain that 95 per cent of the population of Newfoundland and Labrador is made up of those who adhere to one or another of the seven denominations whose involvement in the school system is constitutionally protected both before and after the proposed amendment.
We also gave weight to the fact that each of the seven denominations is affected equally by the proposed change. We concluded on a fair reading of the amendment and on a balanced assessment of its effect that what is an issue here is really a change in the manner in which denominational rights are exercised, the manner in which denominational schools are administered. After the change, the circumstances prevailing in Newfoundland and Labrador will be roughly comparable to those in other Canadian provinces in terms of denominational education.
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.
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. The majority is composed of a composite of the separate denominations and there is no majority in that sense.
We also had regard to the process in the province, that is to say, the manner by which this resolution emanated from the assembly in Newfoundland and Labrador. We considered the history of the matter.
We learned that the nature and extent of the involvement of the churches in making administrative and economic decisions in the education system of Newfoundland has been a matter of controversy for generations. We learned that it was the subject of a royal commission which made recommendations that are reflected in the proposed amendment as recently as 1992.
We learned that there have been extensive negotiations and discussions between the government of that province and the leaders of the denominations involved.
We learned that there was a referendum in September of last year by which the province was asked its view on the question of whether this reform should take place. By majority vote, that proposition was approved.
We learned also that as recently as last week that same legislature which last fall had adopted a resolution calling for the amendment by majority vote unanimously adopted a second resolution calling upon this Parliament to act urgently to give effect to the constitutional change.
The premier of Newfoundland and Labrador was in Ottawa this week to remind us among other things that by modernizing the school system as proposed in this amendment, the province expects to save at least $27 million. This is money he says can be better spent to serve the people and the children of Newfoundland in an improved educational system.
In all of those circumstances, sensitive always to the question of the protection of minority rights and carefully considering the background from which this resolution arises and the process followed in achieving it, the conclusion to which we came is that it merits the support of this Parliament.
Quite apart from the particular circumstances in Newfoundland and Labrador, there are some who worry that if we act in this instance we might be establishing a precedent of interference by the national government in collaboration with the provincial government of the day to affect denominational involvement in education in a province, that a precedent would be set that would imperil religious education elsewhere. May I say two things about that.
In many respects the Newfoundland and Labrador situation is unique. Precedents require like facts or like principles. I dare say it would be very difficult to find a future circumstance in a different province where the same principles and circumstances would prevail.
The history of religious involvement in education in Newfoundland and Labrador dates from 1723, the first recorded instance of churches organizing schools for children. The practice grew up after the 18th century of schools being exclusively run by churches for the children of their adherents.
In 1874 this practice first found expression in the law. It developed over time to the point where in 1949, the then six denominations had exclusive control over their own schools. That practice was entrenched in the terms of union of that date. There is no other province in Canada in which there are only denomination-
al schools and no public school system. To that extent, with that history and background, Newfoundland and Labrador is a province that is unique.
Quite apart from the lawyerly argument that the circumstances and principles in this instance stand apart, there are still those who worry that we are establishing a precedent that would imperil religious education elsewhere. To that I say that concerns about the power of such a precedent ignore the right and the responsibility of Parliament to exercise an independent judgment in each instance to determine each request for an amendment on its own merits and to decide in any future case whether a proposed change to another province's system is in the interests of the public and of the children.
Should another province come forward next month or next year with a proposed change to its terms of union or to section 93 to deal with the involvement of religious education in schools, it will be up to us to make our own assessment on the facts of that case, on the question whether minority rights are respected, educational quality is preserved and denominational involvement will continue.
On the facts of this case I have explained our reasoning in concluding that we should proceed. In the facts of a future case it will be open to us to conduct the same analysis and to arrive at our conclusion. Parliament must not think that by acting in this instance we are creating a rigid rule which will bind us in all future cases to do the same. We shall make up our minds on the facts of those cases if and when they arise.
I say to those who are concerned about the power of precedent from that perspective that they need not be. We shall be here, we shall be vigilant and we shall examine critically any future proposal on its merits. Should Ontario for example come forward with a proposal to change the arrangements entrenched in section 93 of the Constitution Act of 1867, we shall examine such a proposal. If it does not meet the standards which we think are appropriate, we can decline to give our support.
There are also those who worry more broadly about minority rights. They contend that if this change can be made by a bilateral arrangement between one province and the national Parliament that minority rights in a broader sense might be imperilled and might be subject to a similar change.
There are those who are concerned about minority language rights in education in Ontario, in Manitoba and in other provinces. Concern has been expressed about aboriginal rights. It has been said that if we are prepared to act bilaterally to change the way school rights are exercised or administered for separate denominations, what is to protect the minority language rights in Manitoba or Ontario if the governments of those provinces come to Ottawa to ask our collaboration in a change?
As I have just said, in any such instance the Parliament of Canada would make up its own mind independently. More directly and more importantly, minority language education rights cannot be changed bilaterally. They are governed by section 23 of the Constitution Act, 1982. Any such change would require the broader amending formula to be applied. At least seven provinces with at least 50 per cent of the population would have to concur in such a change. It could not be carried out bilaterally. The instance we have before us is profoundly different from what would arise with a proposal to change minority language education rights entrenched and protected by section 23 of the charter.
Similarly, by sections 25 and 35 aboriginal rights are respected. Those rights cannot be changed. The terms of those articles in our Constitution cannot be amended without the operation of the general amending formula requiring at least seven provinces with at least 50 per cent of Canada's population. There need be no concern arising from this resolution in relation to minority language rights.
Finally, it does not affect official language educational minority rights in any way. These are constitutionally protected by section 23 of the charter and nothing in this amendment will diminish that protection.
I conclude by commending this resolution to the House. The Prime Minister has seen fit to direct that the vote be free. I invite members of this Chamber as they make up their minds on the question to look at the substance of the case and to meet the concerns which I have dealt with on their merits as well.
This is a case in which a member of the federation has properly and validly invoked section 43. A legislature has not only adopted a resolution as required, but more recently has unanimously called for urgent action on our part. It is an instance in which minority rights are not extinguished, they are not eliminated and they are not defeated. It is a case in which seven specific denominations will continue to be proprietors of a school system, those denominations with entrenched rights and representing 95 per cent of the population.
It is a case in which Parliament, by acting, will not be binding itself to automatic agreement with all future possible requests for change in the same field under section 43. It is a case in which the action under section 43 cannot and will not imperil minority language or aboriginal rights because they cannot be changed bilaterally. Last, this is in instance in which we can illustrate that
the Constitution of Canada is a living, flexible and responsive instrument which can meet and serve the needs of all provinces and all Canadians.
With that I ask the House to support this resolution to modernize the school system for the children of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Michel Bellehumeur Berthier—Montcalm, QC
Mr. Speaker, it is with great pleasure that I rise today to speak to the motion the justice minister has just tabled. This motion reflects faithfully the amendments requested by Newfoundland regarding its education system as set out under Term 17 of the Terms of the Union of Newfoundland with Canada.
I think the minister spoke very eloquently of the concerns surrounding the consequences of the amendments, especially the sense of security this amendment may provide with regard to the situation in this province as it stands for minorities among others.
As members of the Bloc Quebecois, a sovereignist party and the official opposition in this House, we will naturally consider this amendment to the Canadian Constitution in a broader context. Indeed, to understand what this amendment is all about, one has to look at the history of how Newfoundland joined the Confederation, under what terms it joined, and how it is now asking for these amendments, which are raising a lot of concerns and questions on the part of the people of Newfoundland.
Everybody in Canada knows that Confederation has been in existence since 1867. Through the years, provinces and territories have joined Canada. In 1949, Newfoundland entered Confederation. How and under what terms?
How? Through a referendum. Quebecers did not invent referendums, they have been part of the Canadian Confederation for many years. Therefore, on March 15, 1948, the government in the United Kingdom passed an act paving the way for the referendum process. It asked three questions and provided for a second referendum should none of the proposals made by the government receive the support of the majority during the first referendum. Of course, since there were three proposals, the one with the least support from the public would be dropped.
Therefore, in 1948, there was a referendum on an extremely important issue: Would Newfoundland adopt a new constitutional status? Would Newfoundland enter the Canadian Confederation?
It should be noted that neither Ottawa nor the other provinces which were already part of the Canadian Confederation intervened to choose a date, draft the question or dictate the rules. Moreover, the federal government even had reservations regarding the wording of the question. Even then, the federal government argued about the percentage required to come into the Canadian Confederation. Things never change, do they? We have the same concerns today about a province that wants to leave Confederation.
Let us look at history, let us see what it tells us. In Britain, since Newfoundland was part of the United Kingdom in those days, they immediately recognized that 50 per cent plus one would be enough for Newfoundland to become part of the Confederation. We will see that Ottawa upheld that decision, and quite properly so.
So Newfoundland held its first referendum on June 3, 1948. It is important to know about the three proposals to evaluate the impact of the amendment before us in an historical context. Let me briefly review with you those elements of history.
The wording and the order of the questions in the referendum act were as follows. First, it proposed to the Newfoundland population a commission of government which was to govern for a five-year period; second, a confederation with Canada; and third, a responsible government, as it existed in 1933.
Obviously, there were pros and cons for all three. Some criticized the text saying it was biased in favour of the commission. The federal government did not agree with the wording of the proposals and was very reluctant. Ottawa condemned the fact that nothing was said about Great Britain no longer being able to financially support Newfoundland. The Canadian High Commission said the terms of the question were ambiguous and equivocal. I feel I have heard that same comment recently, but that was in 1948. The high commissioner even wrote: "The Confederation entered the battle with a great handicap and even if it were to win with a majority, it would probably be necessary to review the bases of the union".
All this goes to say that, according to Ottawa, the question submitted to the constituents on June 3, 1948 was unclear and ambiguous and nobody knew the ins and outs of the plan. There were reservations regarding the process.
However, there were good reactions. On the whole, the media said that, yes, Newfoundland should join Canada under certain conditions. The Church played a very important role and that is why, today, we should look correctly at the amendments. It must also be pointed out that there were very strong sentiments against joining the Canadian Confederation.
In any case the campaign in Newfoundland, in June 1948, was democratic. Each side had a chance to express its point of view. It is not clear whether Ottawa got directly involved or not in the referendum debate in 1948, and it is not clear either whether Ottawa actually invested money in that debate. One thing is certain, agreements, with the Americans in particular, favoured the
federalist option, and in the end Newfoundlanders decided to join the Canadian Confederation.
What were the results of the first referendum? For responsible government, 44.55 per cent; for Confederation, 41.13 per cent; for commission government, 14.32 per cent. As you can see none of the three options had the absolute majority recommended by the United Kingdom, that is 50 per cent plus 1.
Therefore, a second referendum was held within 30 days. It was held on July 22, 1948. It was identical to the first one, that is to say that each party exposed its program and tried to convince voters, presented the pros and the cons, the reasons why Newfoundland should join Confederation or why it should choose a responsible government, etc. The result of this new referendum was: for Confederation, 52.34 per cent and for responsible government, 47.66 per cent.
What we should note today, and what might explain the fears or some points raised by various denominations concerning religion, with regard to the amendment to Term 17, is that 67.18 per cent of the people in the Avalon peninsula voted in favour of responsible government. At the time people in the Avalon peninsula, which is now part of Newfoundland, voted massively in favour of responsible government and not for joining the Canadian Confederation.
If we look at Quebec today, it is roughly the island of Montreal voting no in a referendum and the rest of Quebec voting yes to Quebec's sovereignty. But, at the time, the Avalon peninsula voted by a margin of 67.18 per cent in favour of a responsible government. It did not want to join Canadian Confederation.
The vote, when analyzed, seemed to follow denominational lines. That is why it is important to analyze what we have before us today. Note that the Avalon peninsula was for the most part roman catholic. In fact, the archbishop had taken position against Canadian federation.
The results were interpreted different ways, of course. The people of Newfoundland decided to join Confederation by a margin of 52.34 per cent, and this was interpreted all sorts of ways. Some were even concerned about disturbances in Newfoundland because of the narrow majority margin. Yet, that was not the case.
Government members, democratically elected people had voted against the project to join Canadian Confederation, but they went along with the wishes of the 52.34 per cent majority and worked to build Newfoundland within the Canadian Confederation. What I am saying is, if a 52.34 per cent margin is enough to join Canadian Confederation, I should imagine a 52.34 per cent margin-a minimum in any case-would be enough to leave it. At least in my view.
Furthermore, the Avalon peninsula rejected Canadian Confederation by a margin of 67.18 per cent, and I want to emphasize that. Was there any mention of partition? Did anyone say the results were too low to have Newfoundland join Confederation? Was anything said about a two-tier democracy, public disturbances, instability, or even about two kinds of referendums in Canada, about different values in referendums? No, nothing was said about that.
I have not checked, but I imagine that, at the time, in 1948, Canada, and Ottawa in particular, had a very responsible Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, because he did not challenge these results. No, the minister and the government acted responsibly because democracy had spoken. By a margin of 52.34 per cent, the majority had made its position known.
What did this result lead to? To negotiations between the Government of Newfoundland and the Government of Canada on the terms of their union. Negotiations were held between October and December 1948 to finalize the terms of the union, which, among other things, resulted in Term 17 before us today through a government motion, a motion that faithfully reflects the Newfoundland government's position on amending, among other things, the school education system in that province.
Everyone knows that Newfoundland joined the Canadian Confederation on March 31, 1949. But when Newfoundland joined Confederation in 1949, the clause on education in the terms of the union, which is part of the Canadian Constitution, specified that the Newfoundland legislature would not have the authority to pass legislation infringing on the rights or privileges of denominational schools as they were in 1949.
There have been many changes since 1949. In order to save money, to modernize the school system, or for other reasons, the people of Newfoundland decided in a referendum to give the government a mandate to amend Term 17 in the Canadian Constitution.
History is once again repeating itself. On September 5, 1995, a referendum was held in Newfoundland. In studying this matter, I became aware of the similarities between Newfoundland and Quebec, which hold periodic referendums to help their people move forward by seeking their opinion on some extremely important issues. I think education is extremely important, because our progress as a people and as a country is based on education, on the training of young people in our society. I think the amendments proposed by Newfoundland are worthwhile; they are not insignificant, as I read in the newspapers, but extremely important because they will have an impact on all future generations of Newfoundlanders. I think this needs to be said.
But on September 5, 1995, the people of Newfoundland were presented with a referendum question, a question selected by the Newfoundland government and written by the Newfoundland government, asking them if they agreed Term 17 be amended so as to reform the education system.
Only 52 per cent of Newfoundland voters participated in this referendum, which means that about half the population voted on deciding that future. So be it. That is democracy. There is nothing we can do about it.
Of this 52 per cent, which represents approximately 201,710 voters, 54 per cent said yes to the proposed reform, to give their government the mandate to reform the education system, while another 45 per cent said no. The Newfoundland government derived the mandate to submit constitutional amendments, which we are debating today, from a yes majority of 19,941. That is a rather slender majority. But the people have spoken, democratically. For the sake of argument, let us round off these 19,941 votes to 20,000. With a 20,000 vote majority, the people have given the Newfoundland government the mandate to initiate amendments and reform the system.
The question approved by the legislative assembly of Newfoundland was a legitimate question. It was selected by lawfully elected MPPs. Those who complained about the wording, those on the yes side and those who took issue with the question all participated in this referendum, each in support of their own position. In this case, 54 per cent of the people of Newfoundland who voted said yes.
An information campaign was conducted. A proper referendum was held. The result was a democratic one.
I read in the newspapers that some thought it was strange that the opposition, the Bloc Quebecois, would agree with the action taken by Newfoundland Premier Brian Tobin. As a responsible official opposition in this House, we acknowledge the result, and we will act upon the wish of Newfoundlanders by supporting their request. We do not support the motion of the justice minister or of the government opposite, we support the motion tabled by the Minister of Justice as the spokesperson for Newfoundlanders regarding a decision they arrived at in a democratic fashion.
Indeed, we support the motion before us because it reflects the wish of Newfoundlanders. In so doing, we are only acting like a responsible opposition.
We would have liked to get absolute guarantees, including for French speaking minorities, because we have always protected the rights of francophones outside Quebec. No doubt about that. We would have liked to see the Government of Newfoundland provide full guarantees.
We did not get such guarantees, but we got some assurance that these minorities would continue to enjoy the same rights, following the amendments proposed by Newfoundland to Term 17.
We carefully reviewed the proposed amendment and we came to the conclusion, as did the Minister of Justice earlier, that this amendment, which we support, takes nothing away from minorities. Obviously, we would have liked to get more, to have things in writing, including things that do not currently exist but relate to the amendment. It goes without saying that such guarantees would have been beneficial.
Newfoundland's education minister, with whom I met on Wednesday, gave me an assurance. He told me about the funding and management of French speaking schools by francophones. I trust him to be true to his word. We did everything we could possibly do. We defended the rights of francophones within the limits set by our jurisdiction. Let us not forget that this is the federal government. We, Bloc Quebecois members, are respectful of the various jurisdictions.
Unfortunately, we read and heard comments in the newspapers, as well as here in this House and in the Senate with which we do not agree. We have to set the record straight. Some said the rights of minorities are sacred and must be protected when threatened by the majority. These people claim that the rights of the religious minorities will be challenged by the proposed measures to amend the Constitution of Canada.
I have heard some people say and I have read in the papers that the amendment before us would stifle or rather threaten the rights of religious minorities. According to their arguments, we have to vote against the motion before us, nip this dangerous precedent in the bud, because if we do not, other religious and linguistic minorities will be threatened by all the referenda other provinces may hold on various issues.
Their reasoning does not withstand close examination. These statements are unwarranted. The changes proposed to the education system in Newfoundland, however major or important they are, as I said earlier, do not threaten the fundamental rights of religious minorities, or for that matter linguistic minorities.
In fact, the goal here is not to abolish the separate school system, but to no longer impose a school system on a majority that does not care for it anymore. I would urge the ultraconservatives and the tale spinners to show a modicum of intellectual honesty.
Although I agree with the initiative he has taken, I would also invite the premier of Newfoundland to be fair, because from what I read in the newspapers about the meeting he had with the Leader of
the Opposition, where I was present, his account does not fully reflect the discussion we had.
I think Captain Canada should put away his hero's attire when he meets the official opposition. When he wants to inform the public, he should put aside his political options and talk clearly about what was really said during these meetings, because he put words in the mouth of the Leader of the Opposition that the Bloc leader never uttered.
Also in attendance at that meeting were the Newfoundland premier, naturally, the Newfoundland leader of the opposition and the leader of the third officially recognized party in Newfoundland. This is to show you, Mr. Speaker, that when the people express themselves, everyone gets behind the victor to move democracy forward, to make the people progress.
In the Newfoundland legislative assembly, the leader of the opposition and the leader of the third party were against amending term 17. On the 29th, the three leaders stood side by side to show their support of the democratic will of the people.
This is exactly what will happen in Quebec. Some may have their doubts about this, but after a yes vote in Quebec, the leaders of the main parties will all stand by the decision of the people.
We must remember that that meeting dealt mainly with two things: first, the recognition of the democratic process in Newfoundland and second, as I said earlier, the protection of the French minority.
As I said, the people expressed themselves clearly. Even if a province wanted to challenge in court the decision made by the people of Newfoundland on this constitutional amendment, it could not do it. Even the Constitution itself could not stand in their way. The people decided to accept this amendment.
To show how important democracy is, a Liberal member of the legislative assembly, Walter Carter, said that the wording of the referendum question was too complex. Even the opposition, as I said earlier, was against the question and the amendment. According to the Church, in Newfoundland, the wording was biased in favour of the yes side. The participation rate was not high, and that could raise questions.
But the wording of the question was decided upon by the democratically elected representatives of the people. Everyone was able to make himself or herself heard. This was a legitimate initiative and we, as members of the House of Commons, must accept it, period. The people of Newfoundland have spoken and we must accept the verdict wether we favour pluridenominational schools or not. Is my time up, Mr. Speaker? I still have points to make.
My dear colleague, I believe you do have a lot of points to make, and you will have the opportunity to pick up where you left off after question period.
It being eleven o'clock, the House will now proceed to Statements by Members.
National Transportation Day
Statements By Members
Stan Keyes Hamilton West, ON
Mr. Speaker, I consider it a privilege to announce that today is National Transportation Day and next week is National Transportation Week in Canada.
Celebrations are being held today in Vancouver and in cities around the country next week. Over the last three years, the government has worked hard to modernize Canadian transportation. It has reduced subsidies, commercialized services and updated transportation policies and regulations. However, it cannot all be done from Ottawa.
Canada's transportation system is really a network of interlocking systems. We need the active participation of all Canadians. Canada's urban centres are particularly important. Every day more than 145,000 Canadians travel between cities by bus, rail or air. Every day, trains, trucks and ships move almost 2.3 million tonnes of freight to market.
That is why the theme for National Transportation Week 1996 is the Urban Connection. I am pleased to have this opportunity to recognize all the men and women who plan, build, operate and use our transportation systems, who ensure that trade relationships and tourism industries can rely upon safe, secure transportation.
Minister Of Human Resources Development
Statements By Members
René Laurin Joliette, QC
Mr. Speaker, the remarks made in this House by the Minister of Human Resources Development, supported by the Prime Minister, show once again the contempt of these two men for those who do not share their opinion.
Many new Quebecers who voted yes in the last referendum came from countries where freedom of expression no longer existed. By choosing Canada as their new home, they were hoping to find what they had lost without having to renounce their political judgment.
In becoming part of Quebec's society, the members for Bourassa and Blainville-Deux-Montagnes became aware of the limitations of federalism and embraced the sovereignist cause. They deserve to be congratulated. They are proof that nationalism in Quebec is not the exclusive prerogative of those who were born in that province.
Statements By Members
Herb Grubel Capilano—Howe Sound, BC
Mr. Speaker, the Minister for Human Resources Development noted earlier this week that Canada's persistently high unemployment rates are a puzzle to him and that most European countries face the same problem.
What the minister neglected to mention is the United States has very low unemployment rates. He also failed to note the OECD studies which have identified generous social programs as the main cause for the persistent high unemployment rate in Europe and Canada. I wish the minister had mentioned these facts.
We need in Canada a dialogue over the trade-off between unemployment and the generosity of social programs. We may wish to keep the present system intact but we should do so with a full understanding of the trade-offs involved.
HASTINGS-FRONTENAC-LENNOx AND ADDINGTON
Statements By Members
Larry McCormick Hastings—Frontenac—Lennox And Addington, ON
Mr. Speaker, thank you for the opportunity to invite my colleagues to explore the three counties of Hastings-Frontenac-Lennox and Addington this summer.
They would be greeted by friendly people and find serene beauty in the rugged landscape, charm in the rural villages and adventure in locating the ghost towns and river mill ruins that dot the region.
From the Loyalist Parkway alongside Lake Ontario in the south, through historic sites like Bedford Mills, to Algonquin Park in the north, HFL&A beckons visitors. Join us to fish for walleye in the St. Lawrence, Lake Ontario and the Bay of Quinte, the walleye capital of Canada.
Rock hounds will find more minerals in the Bancroft area than in any other location including blue hued princess sodalite. Mazinaw country offers more pictographs on a single rock face than in any other site in North America. HFL&A is also home to artists, potters and woodworkers whose open studio doors welcome visitors.
For wilderness camping, gourmet inns, canoeing, hiking or searching out artefacts, my neighbours in HFL&A and I extend an invitation to members to spend their summer vacations with us.
Statements By Members
Ronald J. Duhamel St. Boniface, MB
Mr. Speaker, some time ago, the government announced its intention to withdraw from the area of manpower training and to transfer that responsibility to the provinces.
Right now, several francophone communities have access to training programs in French. It is a right that is essential to the development of the language as well as the community. I think it is imperative that the government fulfil its obligations under the Official Languages Act when it enters into negotiations with the provinces.
We have a responsibility toward these communities not only to maintain training services in the minority language but also to improve these services where necessary. I am pleased to see that the government has made such a commitment.
Minister Of Human Resources Development
Statements By Members
Jean H. Leroux Shefford, QC
Mr. Speaker, we must not hesitate to condemn the xenophobic remarks directed by the Minister of Human Resources Development at my colleague, the member for Bourassa. The minister's remarks smack of a deep-rooted and invidious attitude that advocates intolerance and encourages aggressiveness towards anyone who is not a genuine, old stock Canadian.
The member for Bourassa is a model citizen, who is keenly interested in making his own individual contribution to the life of his adopted community. So it does not matter whether the minister, who does not share his political ideals, likes it or not. It is disgusting, not to say shameful, that an hon. minister would make such remarks.
The least one could do, in such a case, is first to make a public apology, and then, without delay, to step down and offer one's resignation.
Statements By Members
Dale Johnston Wetaskiwin, AB
Mr. Speaker, the Liberal government has a red book full of broken promises. It has
reneged on pledges to kill the GST, renegotiate NAFTA, reform MP pensions and provide stable multi-year funding for the CBC.
Its throne speeches promised to reduce federal-provincial duplication and overlap, and yet it clings to control and meddles in areas better left to the provinces.
Vancouver waterfront workers have to bear the brunt of federal inaction. They receive safety training from the province where modern standards and up to date regulations prevail, but B.C. regulations are unenforceable because these workers are still subject to ten year old federal health and safety laws. Union negotiators were so concerned for the safety of their members they won the right for injured employees to be treated by provincial occupational first aid attendants.
The government should seize the opportunity to practise real flexible federalism and provide health and safety to Canadian workers. This is a chance for the government to live up to at least one of its commitments.
Statements By Members
Dianne Brushett Cumberland—Colchester, NS
Mr. Speaker, this past month many members of Parliament and their staff have taken to the road to talk to Canada's youth regarding employment needs and opportunities. This information will be used to provide a report to the ministerial task force on youth and ultimately to develop a national youth strategy to be unveiled this fall.
In Cumberland-Colchester my staff has met with students from many schools across the riding to gain insight on what can and should be done to alleviate the problem of high youth unemployment in the Atlantic region. Both my staff and I were very impressed with the thoughtful and intelligent ideas our youth had to share.
It is my hope the ministerial task force on youth will seriously consider and act on suggestions made by these bright young minds. Canada's youth must be our priority. They are the future of the country and their opinions must weigh heavy in our policy decisions.
Statements By Members
John Richardson Perth—Wellington—Waterloo, ON
Mr. Speaker, in today's fast paced world it is easy to lose perspective. However, things come quickly into focus when we look at the challenges overcome by a very special constituent of mine, Ms. Tonya Schweigert.
On July 2, 1993, four days before her 16th birthday, Tonya was in a car accident that nearly took her life. Rushed to the children's hospital in London, she was treated for serious head injuries. Later she developed reoccurring, life threatening complications. However, through her tremendous motivation and determination, Tonya was released from the hospital only four months after the accident.
While her balance and co-ordination are still a bit inconsistent, that does not stop Tonya from riding her horse or being a successful figure skater.
Presently Tonya is working with 11 other special young Canadians who have triumphed over adversity. In conjunction with the Children's Miracle Network they are raising funds for children across Canada and the United States.
I salute these resilient Canadians who possess a willingness to fight the odds. They are role models for all of us.