House of Commons Hansard #55 of the 35th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was referendum.


The SenatePrivate Members' Business

11 a.m.


Paul Crête Bloc Kamouraska—Rivière-Du-Loup, QC


That, in the opinion of this House, the government should abolish the Senate.

Madam Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to open House proceedings this morning on the motion in which I call on the government to abolish the Senate.

First of all, I would like to thank all members of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs for allowing this motion to be put to a vote, because I think it is important for the House to have an opportunity to deal with this significant matter.

Why do I want the Senate to be abolished? The reason I moved this motion is that I realized that, throughout Quebec in particular, the Senate symbolizes in a way the ineffectiveness and inefficiency of Parliament. A case in point, which is a caricature because it does not concern all the senators, is when we saw some of them doze off on television during the throne speech.

That incident made me think about the following question: Why do we still need today a second House like the Senate, an unelected House? The senators were never elected by the people to carry out this function; they were appointed on the Prime Minister's recommendation. Senators are often appointed as a political reward, because they helped run a political party so it could win an election, or because they will work on an election campaign in the future.

I can give you two examples: Céline Hervieux-Payette was defeated as a Liberal candidate before being appointed to the Senate; she is now co-chair of the Liberal Party of Canada's organization for the next election campaign. There is also Mr. Nolin, who plays more or less the same role for the Conservative Party of Canada.

Although they were not elected, these people sit in a House with the same responsibilities as the House of Commons. Let us not forget that after a bill passes third reading here in this House, it is sent to the Senate, which goes through the same stages. This is a form of duplication. We saw in the Pearson airport case-and the Liberals were the first ones to be affected as a government; I think this will make them think about how relevant this motion is-how the bill was stalled in the Senate for several months. The reality we are facing is that elected parliamentarians who have passed a bill are now paralysed in their work by an unelected House. This, I think, is unacceptable in this day and age, on the eve of the 21st century.

The Senate's existence was understandable when the Canadian Confederation was created, because we wanted an equivalent to the British House of Lords. It was said at the time that the people sitting in the Commons might not have had all the intellectual capacities necessary. That kind of thinking was prevalent at the time, and all the problems had to be given due consideration. It was therefore decided to institute a kind of patriarchal entity, a House capable of seeing to it that things are done properly. But times have changed.

Today, members of Parliament have all the capabilities required to do their jobs; they have different opinions they are entitled to voice. They have researchers working for them and people lobbying them. Really, the Senate is no longer useful.

The other theoretical function of the Senate was that of representing the various regions of Canada. I have a teaser for you and all members of this place for that matter. Who can identify the senator responsible for his or her riding? Who can give me the designation of the Senate division or district represented by their senator?

I have asked the people of my riding time and time again and no one could tell me the name of the senator representing us or the designation of the division. We are part of the Grandville division and we are represented by Senator John Lynch-Staunton; he is certainly a very fine man. This goes to show that the Senate has not fulfilled this regional representation mandate because nowhere in Canada is a region associated with a senator in particular. And the reason for this is surely the fact that senators are not elected. There is also the appointment process. Often, senators to be were selected or appointed even before knowing what division they would be representing. There was also a requirement for holding property. We have seen cases where, on the eve of their appointment,

individuals rushed out to by a property to meet this statutory requirement. But the Senate no longer meets the objective inthis regard.

Another aspect seems very important to me today. Our constituents are asking us to cut the fat in government spending. They are asking us to look for areas where there are unnecessary expenditures being made. The government took a stringent measure in reforming the unemployment insurance program. Just to save a couple hundred or thousand dollars here and there, legislation was passed that gets down to the nitty-gritty, checking up on recipients to ensure they do everything by the book, all under this very complex act basically designed to hunt down abusers. But at the very same time, we have here a House, the Senate, with an annual budget of $43 million; that is a consideraable amount for an unelected Chamber.

And that is not counting expenses attributable to the senators' activities and associated costs. This amount covers wages, staff compensation and travelling expenses in general. Should we not eliminate the Senate, instead of targeting unemployment insurance beneficiaries? This would generate savings of $43 million. This is an expenditure that recurs year after year. The amount of $43 million is the actual budget. However, when senators delay the passing of a bill for six months or a year, this also generates major costs and it has a very harmful effect on the actions taken by the government and by Parliament.

We should modernize things somewhat. Eliminating the Senate would be one way of doing it. In this respect, the federal government is lagging behind. For example, it was almost 30 years ago that Quebec's National Assembly, then called the Legislative Assembly, eliminated its legislative council, which was more or less the provincial equivalent of the Senate.

I can assure you that things are not going any worse. People do not call to say that they miss legislative councillors. I do not think there would be any more problems if we did the same with senators.

Why is that institution such an anachronism? It may be that, at the turn of the century, there were more complex issues requiring an expertise that elected representatives did not always have. Today, a support system has been developed for MPs and it includes all the functions necessary to that end.

A debate in the Senate does not shed new light on a bill. The legislation goes through all the stages in the House: introduction, followed by first, second and third readings, as well as consideration in committee. Let us not forget that consideration in committee did not exist 10 or 15 years ago. Since then, this stage has become a very important part of the process. Committee members consider bills clause by clause; they have expertise.

The Library of Parliament provides non partisan support and research services. It is very easy to get information on issues of interest. Nowadays, members of Parliament are very well equipped to give thorough consideration to legislation.

There is no longer a need to rely on outsiders whose mandate is unclear. We do not really know whether senators represent the interests of lobbyists or those of the public. That is not always clear. There are some rather ambiguous connections, and, since they are not elected, senators have a great deal of room to manoeuver. They do not have to take any account at all of what they have been told by their fellow citizens in the positions they adopt.

As members of this House, we are only too aware of this. When there is a controversial bill, a situation that is more difficult to analyse, we are approached by lobbyists, but also by our constituents. Imagine how differently you would do things if all you had to take into account in reaching a decision were lobbies. In the end, what we have is a sort of outmoded 19th century democracy, one that does not correspond to our needs today in the information era. What we need above all is people well attuned to their communities, something the senators certainly are not.

Earlier, I mentioned the $43 million budget. This is a lot of money. Freeing up this amount would still not solve the problem of the Canadian deficit, but it would be an important symbolic gesture. When we ask the public to do their part and accept cuts, we are asked all the time: "Are you guys in Parliament doing your part? Are you doing what is necessary so that the best possible decisions are taken at the least cost?"

The Senate is a flagrant example of the sort of area where we could make an important symbolic gesture in the vote following this debate. This would not exclude a debate at a later date on the advisability of having a second House in Canada. What form would this House take? Should it be a House whose seats are distributed by region, or should there be no regional representation at all? This debate can take place later on.

I think there are speakers who are going to raise these points in the debate today, but that is not the real focus of the debate. These are significant considerations, but it is important to realize that the motion is concerned only with the abolition of an archaic institution no longer meeting any need. Agreeing to this motion does not preclude another subsequent debate on a motion proposing a different solution. That is a debate on another scale, with constitutional ramifications. It will be up to the House and the different political parties to defend their points of view in the debate over the coming weeks, the coming months, and probably up until the next

election campaign. There may be differing positions on the relevance of a second House.

But today the purpose of the motion is to identify clearly the importance of making such a gesture, of sending a message to the public that we think that senators, with their present mandate, are no longer needed.

We no longer have any need of a chamber of this type, because the mandate is totally met by the House of Commons. We have MPs capable of performing its duties and this also represents an opportunity to help solve Canada's financial problems. I refer to all of the costs relating to the work of the senators.

In this connection, I would refer you to the 1991 auditor general's report in which he made 27 recommendations for corrections to certain practices of the Senate. We have no way of knowing if those corrections were made, for last week the government operations committee was told by the Senate, giving rise to an interesting motion by the Reform Party: "We do not have to be answerable to the House of Commons. As a chamber, we, like the House of Commons, have only to answer to the Governor General. We do not have to account to you for the $43 million".

In my opinion, that on its own is a provocation and ought to lead Parliament, the House of Commons, to adopt the motion I am proposing, for it seems to me that we ought to have had the opportunity to find out in the House the implications of the auditor general's recommendations, and to analyze in committee whether they had indeed corrected the improper practices. There were a number of significant charges against the senators, whose overall policy was that they could spend like there was no tomorrow whenever anything was needed.

Reference was made to messenger services, travel services, documentation services. In a number of aspects, the Senate is still living high off the hog while the rest of us in Parliament are having many items questioned by the board of internal economy in order to ensure that funds are being properly spent. The desire to economize is not found in the Senate.

How could the Senate be abolished? With the way the motion is presented we are not saying that the Senate is to be abolished the day after a vote here, rather we are giving the government the mandate to see that job is done. I think a number of these people are ready for a golden handshake. Starting with conditions that are acceptable here, we would work it so that within perhaps a year or two the matter would be settled and the other House would disappear on its own.

Those senators still with a taste for politics could simply be invited to come back into the real political arena, that is the next election campaign, where they could face the electorate. They will be able to judge whether they can convince their fellow Canadians that the positions they defend in the Senate are relevant.

The quality of parliamentary debate arises from the fact that, during election campaigns, elected officials have to confront the needs of the population on the campaign trail. Let us remember that we have been here two and a half years and that we must be careful not to live in a parliamentary bubble and to return and visit the people. Basically that is why elections are held. Every four years or so we do a check to see whether what we have done meets the expectations of the people. This is the basis of democracy. I do not think we need outdated institutions today, particularly costly institutions like the Senate.

If the House were to pass this motion, I would feel I had contributed significantly to the quality of democratic life and to ensuring that the Canadian system, as we know it, is as functional as it can be and that it will permit better management of the public sector and better response to the requests of our fellow Canadians.

One of the Bloc's prime mandates, to defend Quebec's interests, includes this notion. You may be sure that the abolition of the Senate is a matter of almost total consensus in Quebec. We never felt there that the Senate satisfactorily represented us and we do not want more governments either. We want to eliminate one level of government.

So we can safely say that throughout Quebec, when we look at the list of senators and their designations, few people know that Victoria, De Salaberry and Mille Isles are represented by senators or can give the names of the corresponding senators. So no one in Quebec would be sorry about the abolition of that House.

We would make the House of Commons accountable by giving it the ultimate power of decision. There would be no second level of decision. The decisions affecting the federal Parliament would only be made here.

Once the debate on this motion is over, I hope enough members will vote for it so we can take the significant action of giving Canada even better democratic tools and strengthening the House of Commons' powers, while at the same time doing something that is very significant these days by saving the money we would no longer have to spend on the Senate.

That is why I ask every member of this House to consider this motion individually. It is not a matter of toeing the party line but of determining if the Senate is still useful to Canada, if it makes a contribution, or if things would not run more smoothly without the Senate and their negative public image. This might help raise people's level of satisfaction with the work of their elected representatives.

In conclusion, I hope that, after the vote, all of us can in a way go down in history by abolishing an unelected House and allowing the government and the Canadian Parliament to act in accordance with

the mandates given by the people, and by taking the symbolic action of cutting some unnecessary spending in Canada. In my opinion, the most significant way to do so with regard to Canada's current institutions is to abolish the Senate.

The SenatePrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Simcoe North Ontario


Paul Devillers LiberalParliamentary Secretary to President of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada and Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs

Madam Speaker, Motion No. 221, brought forward by the hon. member for Kamouraska-Rivière-du-Loup, proposes that in the opinion of the House the government should abolish the Senate.

I am somewhat puzzled by the timing of the motion. Only a few weeks ago the hon. Leader of the Opposition was accusing the government of wasting its time and energy on issues not related to the concerns of citizens. Today we are asked to debate a motion for which there is little evidence, if any, indicating that Canadians wish to reopen this debate at this time.

Therefore, I do not see how such a radical reform could be contemplated without public participation. Various groups will argue that other issues are more pressing and should take precedence over the abolition of the Senate.

The areas of real concern for Canadians are economic growth, job creation, fairness, social justice, collective security and national reconciliation. This was made very clear in the Quebec referendum last October.

While the opposition party is putting forward such a proposal at the most inappropriate of times, we, on this side of the House, are concentrating on fulfilling our commitments. We have undertaken to build on our achievements and to focus on priorities such as employment, economic growth, the safety of Canadians and the renewal of the federation to strengthen national unity.

To achieve these goals the government has put forward a plan of action set out in the speech from the throne. The government intends to honour each commitment it made to the Canadian people in order to make our country work more efficiently and more harmoniously. It is obvious that the Bloc Quebecois has no interest in working for national unity and seeing our country work for the betterment of all its citizens, including Quebecers.

The motion brought forward today by the hon. member for Kamouraska-Rivière-du-Loup clearly demonstrates that building on the existing strengths of Canada and trying to find positive answers to concrete problems is not a priority for that party.

As my hon. colleague is well aware, there are four main areas in addition to other reforms to the working of government that are central to the government's plan of action and to national unity. The government intends to stick to its agenda for change as proposed in the throne speech. The upcoming first ministers' meeting will be an important opportunity to consider the priority issues with which Canadians want us to deal. Let me reiterate that the abolishing of the Senate is not a priority for Canadians.

Let me summarize for the benefit of the hon. member from the opposition the initiatives on which the government intends to focus and on which we will build at the first ministers' meeting.

First, the federal government has voluntarily limited its spending power in areas of provincial jurisdiction. We have announced that we have no intention of creating cofunded programs in areas of provincial jurisdiction without the provinces' co-operation.

This is something the provinces had been requesting for a long time. It is the first time in the history of our country that the federal government has limited its spending power outside the formal setting of constitutional negotiations. Our government is also responding to a need clearly expressed by our provincial partners.

Second, the government has undertaken to find new ways of co-operating with the provinces to maintain, regarding social programs, national standards with no strings attached and the guarantee not to implement them unilaterally. Once again, we will be acting on the basis of mutual consent. By operating this way, we will be fulfilling our obligation to maintain solidarity while at the same time respecting the provinces' autonomy.

Third, we will reduce duplication and overlap by withdrawing from areas where other stakeholders, be it the provinces, the municipalities, private corporations or non governmental organizations, are better able to take on the responsibility.

Again, this is an issue it has been working on with the provinces and this is why the federal government will withdraw from activities that are more appropriately the responsibility of the provinces, municipalities and other stakeholders.

The announcement made last Thursday by the hon. Minister of Human Resources Development is a concrete example of a priority issue to which the government was committed and which was delivered to the satisfaction of all parties involved. The minister sent all provinces and territories a labour market proposal offering them responsibility for all active employment measures funded through the employment insurance fund.

The provinces will be able to have their own employment programs including wage subsidies, income supplements, job creation partnerships as well as labour services like employment counselling and job placement. This is an example of practical and flexible federalism at work.

We are acting on our commitment of solidarity with the unemployed from coast to coast, while at the same time respecting the principle of local autonomy, whereby each province can develop local programs to meet local needs.

Finally, the federal government is committed to exercising a leadership role to strengthen Canada's economic union, promoting greater labour mobility and interprovincial free trade and, with the support of the provinces, building stronger institutions such as a single Canadian securities commission. These initiatives and other reforms are practical incremental changes that will enable us to make our federation more harmonious, more efficient, more adapted to the challenges we face in the 21st century.

Again, the first ministers meeting will be an important opportunity to consider ways to clarify the roles of government and to better promote our social and economic union. The government recognizes the need to take action to restore public confidence in institutions by getting government right.

Getting government right means modernizing federal programs and services to meet the needs of Canadians today and in the future. It means clarifying federal roles and responsibilities. It means strengthening the economy and economic union. It means enhancing social solidarity. It means pooling national resources to achieve common goals efficiently and effectively. It means protecting and promoting Canadian values and identity while celebrating Canada's diversity.

This is what Canadians want their governments to achieve by working together. Therefore the motion we are debating today is one that does not reflect the concerns of ordinary Canadians. Besides, the motion brought forward by the hon. member for Kamouraska-Rivière-du-Loup does not take into consideration the fact that for many Canadians the federal decision making process does not sufficiently take into account regional diversity and needs.

We know that regional representation is the basic structure of the Senate. Abolishing the Senate would not resolve the issue of regional representation.

We could debate the Senate issue for days and weeks without ever reaching a consensus. Again, this is the wrong time to raise this issue. Canadians have other concerns and priorities. As members of this House, we are responsible for seeing that their needs are met. That is why I think this motion should be voted down.

The SenatePrivate Members' Business

11:30 a.m.


Leon Benoit Reform Vegreville, AB

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased today to be speaking on the Bloc motion which reads:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should abolish the Senate.

If we were to ask Canadians how they feel about the Senate we would get a very widely supported response that it is not worth keeping the Senate as it is and it should be abolished. The Reform approach is to change the Senate substantially to make it work better rather than just to abolish the current Senate and leave nothing to fill the void.

We have proposed over the years since becoming a party in 1987 that Canada needs a triple E Senate. A triple E Senate is one which is elected by the people, is effective enough to stop legislation which is unfair to one region or another, and has an equal number of senators from each province. I will talk about this later.

The motion which calls for the abolition of the Senate and proposes nothing to replace it really shows the approach the Bloc has taken to building our country. It has chosen the approach that the Senate should be abolished rather than trying to fix it, to make it work better, to make it fill a real need this country has. In terms of the country as a whole, the Bloc has taken the approach that it is better to tear it apart than to take the time and effort to fix it and make it work better.

We need a much more positive approach in this House if this country is going to survive. However, the party which has presented this motion does not want Canada to exist as it is. It wants Quebec to become a separate country. The Bloc is quite content to tear down rather than to fix.

Before I get into what the Reform Party has proposed on this issue, I will talk about what the Liberals have said. The Liberals have said quite a bit over the years in terms of fixing the Senate. I believe it was at a party policy convention in 1991 that the Liberals debated the concept of a triple E Senate. I do not know what happened to the motion that was debated and, I believe, passed at that convention. It certainly has not been acted on, which is very sad.

More recently the Prime Minister commented on the Senate. On September 24, 1991 the Prime Minister said: "The regions of Canada need to be more involved in decision making and policy

making at the national level. To meet the hopes and dreams of those who live in the west and in the Atlantic, a reformed Senate is essential. It must be a Senate which is elected, effective and equitable".

Jumping ahead to May 9, 1996, what did the Prime Minister say? It is quite a different thing when Alberta Premier Ralph Klein said that Alberta want to hold an election to elect its senator. Alberta already elected Stan Waters back in 1989. Stan Waters, by the way, was a Reform senator. When Premier Klein said that Alberta wanted to elect another senator, what was the Prime Minister's reaction? On May 9, 1996 the Prime Minister said: "I will name a senator who I will choose and who will represent my party in the House of Commons". That is a quote from the Prime Minister.

The Prime Minister's story changed considerably from 1991 to 1996. He stood in the way of the province of Alberta electing a senator to the Senate, something which Albertans have demanded. There was a very large turnout for the election of Stan Waters. Albertans care about this very much. They thought that electing senators was a start toward getting the triple E Senate which they want.

I guess what the Prime Minister says nowadays on a lot of issues is inconsistent. On September 10, 1993 the Prime Minister said: "There will not be a promise that I will make in the campaign that I will not keep". He said that during the election campaign. On May 3, 1996 he said: "Sometimes in the course of a mandate you are faced with a situation where you cannot deliver. You have to have some flexibility because acts of God come in the administration and no politician can see everything happening". His story seems to change from time to time.

I would also like to quote the member for Kingston and the Islands. Last month when speaking about the election of Stan Waters he said: "I do not recall any look of shame on the Prime Minister's face when he appointed this particular Reform hack to the Senate. He won a popularity contest in Alberta. It was a fraud run by the Government of Alberta". This is a quote from the member for Kingston and the Islands, the former House leader for the Liberal Party. That is what he thinks of the Alberta election of Stan Waters, an event Albertans took pride in. It was so important to Albertans yet he speaks of that event in those terms. It is shameful to Albertans and most Canadians.

Changing the present Senate must happen. This move is widely supported by Canadians. They want in its place a body that will help to deal with the problem of legislation which may be unfair to one region of the country passing through this House. I have heard Bloc members say on many occasions that they have been treated unfairly in legislation which has passed through this House.

I would think that the Bloc of all political parties would be demanding a triple E Senate so its regional interests would be protected, so that no legislation could pass through this House of Commons that would be unfair to Quebec. That would be so important yet Bloc members talk about abolishing the Senate. They have not taken a constructive approach.

As recently as last week, Reformers debated a motion which would have made the Senate much more accountable to Canadians. It was a very important motion which was, as usual, shot down by the House.

In the blue book, the Reform policy book which we update at every assembly and have since our 1988 policy conference, the first principle declares the equality of Canadians and provinces, that they should be treated equally under the law. The second principle states: "We affirm the need to establish a triple E Senate in the Parliament of Canada, that is to say, a Senate which is elected by the people with equal representation from each province, and which will be fully effective in safeguarding regional interests".

There have been many attempts to improve the Senate in this House. There was a bill by the member for Kootenay East to have an elected Senate. There was a motion by the member for Mission-Coquitlam to have a triple E senate. All of them have been shot down by the House. They are changes which would be so important to Canadians and to Albertans, but we are not going to get these changes, or we have not so far.

We have to take the approach that we are going to improve the Senate by making a triple E Senate. Until that happens a first step which we have laid out in our 20/20 national unity proposals is to elect a Senate.

I would like to amend the motion. I move:

That private member's motion M-221 be amended by adding immediately after the word "Senate" the following: "in its present form".

The motion then would read: "That, in the opinion of this House, the government should abolish the Senate in its present form".

The SenatePrivate Members' Business

11:40 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Ringuette-Maltais)

The motion is in order.

The SenatePrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.


Jean-Guy Chrétien Bloc Frontenac, QC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to take part in the debate on Motion M-221 moved by my colleague and friend, the hon. member for Kamouraska-Rivière-du-Loup, and dealing with the abolition of the Senate.

For quite a number of years now, this issue has been surfacing regularly. Consequently, the government, and in fact all the members of this House, must give greater consideration to a situation which, over the years, has tarnished the reputation of

Canadian politics, and particularly the credibility of our role as parliamentarians.

In this context, the government should consider an in depth reform of federal parliamentarian institutions, so as to make them more effective and better adjusted to modern reality.

I am fully aware of the Senate's role in the traditional British parliamentary system and of its historic contribution. However, we are faced with a serious dilemma. On the one hand, the current economic context does not allow us to maintain a symbolic institution whose costs are in excess of $65 million a year and whose effectiveness is rather dubious.

On the other hand, as we approach the 21st century, it is clear that the governmental and legislative structures have not managed to modernize themselves. In fact, this archaic institution plays a role quite remote from its original raison d'être. Instead of protecting the public from the excessive ideologies of elected representatives, the Senate is now an instrument used to delay legislation on a purely partisan basis. In this regard, I wish to remind the House of the position held by the current government when it formed the official opposition.

At the time, the Liberal Party was open to a Senate reform. Now, it has a totally different attitude. The Liberal government does not seem to give the same priority to such changes, because it now controls this parliamentary structure, taking advantage of the situation. The most blatant example of this is undoubtedly the appointment of Mrs. Shirley Maheu to the Senate to make room for the new member for Saint-Laurent-Cartierville in a by-election last winter. The government thus made sure it had one more voice in favour in the lengthy legislative process, in addition to legitimizing the hasty appointment of the President of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada and Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs.

However, the contemptibly partisan political scheming behind these appointments pales in comparison to the image the public has of the Senate. Before preparing this speech, I took the time to consult with some of my constituents in order to find out just how they perceived the Senate, and especially what their concerns were.

In this connection, I would like to tell you how the upper House has dropped in the opinion of the people in my riding of Frontenac. The first image to come to people's minds is undoubtedly that of the senators lulled fast asleep by speeches that we would have thought were very interesting and compellingly delivered.

Ask anyone what their boss would think if they fell asleep on the job, and what would happen. The lineups would be even longer at the employment centres. Yet, as citizens and taxpayers, we tolerate a totally intolerable situation. It gives new meaning to the expression "asleep at the switch".

In another vein, I suggested to my constituents that they write to their senator, as they do regularly to their federal MP. They all seemed interested, but nobody knew to whom they should send their letter. Of all the constituents I met with, no one could say which senator represented, if I could put it that way, the Frontenac area.

At best, a few could name a few members of the upper House, including Senator Hébert, Senator Jean-Louis Roux and Senator Gérald Beaudoin. But these individuals were known to the public before they even became senators. And there is worse. No one could give the name of our Senate division, leading me to conclude that, in addition to being useless, the Senate is not well known.

On a more theoretical note, the reason for which the Senate was created no longer obtains. As I mentioned at the beginning of my speech, the Senate originated out of a certain concern regarding the representatives of the people. The Senate was to provide a legislative alternative to the incompetence and excesses of members. But history has shown us that this aspect of parliamentary life has largely improved and that legislation introduced by the House of Commons responds satisfactorily to the expectations and needs of the public, and respects its interests.

The House of Commons, like the National Assembly of Quebec and all legislative assemblies of Canada, is a sovereign and democratically elected assembly. Why, then, hang on to an outmoded institution whose costly operation does nothing but slow down the operation of Parliament, and adds to taxpayers' dissatisfaction with how politicians are running the country?

My colleague representing the Liberal government spoke earlier about the primary goal of his party, aside from creating jobs and putting its fiscal house in order. Here are $65 million it could save year after year, and it is afraid to lift its little finger today and make it happen. Of course it will do nothing, given the appointments just made by its leader.

I see Sharon Carstairs. She was his friend, his ally in the fight against the Meech Lake accord. He appointed her for the next 23 years, at an annual salary of $64,000 and all the benefits that go with it. He appointed her for the next 23 years, until the year 2017. It is shocking. The same goes for Céline Hervieux-Payette.

The SenatePrivate Members' Business

11:55 a.m.


Bill Graham Liberal Rosedale, ON

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak on this motion.

I am rather confused by the priorities set by the Bloc Quebecois and its vision of the priorities of all Canadians, including Quebecers, in introducing the motion today. I can hardly believe there is serious indication that there is any interest among Quebecers in

pursuing a divisive interest like Senate abolition at this time in the country's history.

What is more, in connection with what the member who has just spoken has said, he knows very well that the Parti Quebecois in power in Quebec has no intention whatsoever of pursuing such a motion, since to do so would require that party and the Quebec National Assembly affirm the Canadian Constitution. Is that likely?

Perhaps, under the circumstances, it would be a good idea to accept abolition of the Senate. That would be the price to pay to gain Quebec's total endorsement of the Canadian Constitution. But I can tell you straight that, here in this House, the Bloc members are all perfectly aware that the Government of Quebec has no intention of following suit. Under those circumstances, then, the motion we have before us is a waste of time for the House, and does not show the respect of the institutions the hon. members claim it does.

Furthermore, there is no guarantee that other provinces would approve of these changes. For example, smaller provinces like Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, which together represent only 6 per cent of the national population but which hold 19 per cent of the Senate seats, would gain nothing from its abolition.

Canadians have told us there are more pressing priorities which must first be addressed. In addition to economic concerns, as my colleague from Simcoe North noted earlier, national reconciliation is one of the fundamental priorities the government is committed to achieving.

I remind my hon. colleague that in the referendum of October 30, 1995 Quebecers chose to stay in Canada. At that time the Prime Minister acknowledged that Quebecers also indicated they wanted change. Thus renewal is the priority of Quebecers, of all Canadians and of the government.

To this end the Prime Minister was quick to lead us on the road to reconciliation by introducing in the House of Commons a resolution recognizing Quebec as a distinct society, a resolution the Bloc Quebecois refused to support.

The Prime Minister also extended a veto to Quebec and initiated changes that would make it possible to bring government services and the decision making process closer to citizens in accordance with the wishes of Canadians across the country.

The Prime Minister has acknowledged that Canadians throughout the country want to see the federation modernized, adapted to today's economic realities and to the needs of all citizens. That is the vocation of the government. That is not in any way the purpose of the resolution we are debating today.

The government understands the desires of Quebecers and of all Canadians for change and has made this central to its mission. Among other things, we are committed to establishing clear lines of responsibility between different levels of government, eliminating unnecessary duplication, ensuring the viability of our social safety net and reducing barriers to internal trade.

The government has also limited its spending power. As set out in the speech from the throne, the government will not use its spending power to create new shared cost programs in areas of exclusive provincial jurisdiction without the consent of a majority of the provinces. Any new program will be designed so that non-participating provinces will be compensated, provided they establish equivalent or comparable initiatives. This is the first time any federal government has undertaken to formally restrict the use of its spending power outside constitutional regulations.

Madam Speaker, I note that you are informing me that my time is drawing to a close. I understand that this debate will be resumed when this motion next comes up and I will be able to complete my remarks at that time.

The House resumed from May 31 consideration of the motion.

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Bonnie Hickey Liberal St. John's East, NL

Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Mississauga West.

Madam Speaker, you are going to hear a lot of factual and statistical information today concerning educational reform in Newfoundland. You are going to hear a lot of "what ifs" and theory about how this may or may not affect other bilateral terms of union of the other nine provinces and territories of our nation.

What you will not hear today is the voice of one group of Canadians who are the most affected by this constitutional amendment, the Newfoundland children, of which I am a mother of two. I speak from the heart when I say the status quo is unacceptable.

Let me give a brief background on Newfoundland's denominational education system. It dates back to the 1700s when the Church of England's missionaries founded one of the first schools in Bonavista to administer to both the religious and educational needs of that town.

In the mid-1800s this system was entrenched through the educational act which further divided funds between the Roman Catholics and the Protestant school boards. It is this system that still exists today and was enshrined in the terms of union in 1949 when Newfoundland elected to be the 10th province of Canada.

For some time now Newfoundlanders have realized that the system cannot continue under its current form. With the province groaning under the pressing weight of a $6 billion debt, changes to the system are essential. The people of Newfoundland have always believed in a better future for their children.

Consider the title of the 1992 report of the royal commission of inquiry into the delivery of education in Newfoundland and Labrador, "Our Children, Our Future". I call on my colleagues in this chamber to remember these four words "our children, our future" as we debate this resolution in the House today.

The proposed changes will enable the province to improve educational opportunities for our students, to bring in new technologies and to update curriculum. At present the province of Newfoundland spends the highest proportion of its total resources on education, more than most other provinces.

A greater amount of this funding than should be necessary is being used to provide for the cost of maintaining four separate school systems and 27 individual school boards for a provincial population equivalent to that of the city of Calgary, Alberta.

Savings of up to $25 million a year will be realized from the administrative changes, student transportation efficiencies and school consolidation which will result from the education reform process. The proposed reform will provide an opportunity to redirect these savings into the classroom level and benefit our students.

As it exists today, a number of students miss out on the valuable skills and courses that will prepare them to enter the workforce. In today's technical, computerized world I have heard stories of students who have literally flipped a coin to decide which sciences to study because the school did not have enough money to offer a full range of courses. Yet there was a whole other identical system in the same community.

Instead of having one comprehensive system that allows students to avail themselves with every opportunity to study a broad range of sciences, the students lose out in a system of duplication and inefficiency.

With finances stretched to the limit, school boards are often unable to provide the basic necessities. There are schools in the province today with no cafeterias and no proper janitorial services. In these schools, students are missing out on meals and they are getting sick from the general lack of cleanliness.

Is this a system that adequately prepares our students to meet the changing face of the Canadian labour market? No, it is not. It puts the Newfoundland youth at a disadvantage to their counterparts in other provinces.

With the closure of the fishery and a dwindling population, a good education is the key to ensuring our children have a bright future and not one of unemployment and dependency.

In addition to my personal experience with the Newfoundland school system, I am currently part of a team that is travelling across the country coast to coast with the ministerial task force on youth. We are consulting directly with young Canadians, youth service agencies, private and public sectors, schools and other concerned Canadians about the needs of young people, their expectations and their aspirations. We are looking at the issues of school to work transition, labour market entry and perceived and real barriers to entering the job market.

Everywhere I go and especially at my town hall session in St. John's on May 11, which I might add has been the largest town hall session to date, I hear of the real need for schools to make changes to reflect the changing needs of the Canadian labour force.

In the speech from the throne the Liberal government made a promise to create a better future for our children and young Canadians. This statement was made because it realizes that one of the greatest challenges facing our country is ensuring that our children obtain the skills and knowledge they need to compete in the fast changing, highly competitive world.

To meet this challenge we have to ensure children have access to quality and excellence in education. By passing this resolution we will ensure that the people of Newfoundland and Labrador have the tools necessary to meet the challenges and to ensure the future of our children.

For those who are concerned that the Newfoundland government is taking control from the churches in the province, this is simply false. The proposed amendment does not abolish or undermine denominational education in this province. Rather, current rights are being updated to effect the needs of today's students and at the same time allowing for a more efficient administration and delivery of educational services in the province of Newfoundland. The modifications further allow schools to maintain religious education, activities and observances.

The majority of Newfoundlanders voted in favour of these changes on September 5, 1995. Of those who chose to vote, 54 per cent voted in favour of the government's proposal despite the fact that the churches launched a vigorous campaign designed to encourage people to vote against the plan. The Newfoundland

government did not stage a campaign, yet it won a clear majority in support of its position.

As to the claim that this referendum is imposing the will of the majority on to the rights of the minorities in the province, the denominations affected by the changes in the education system comprise 95 per cent of Newfoundland's population, hardly a minority. I would further argue with those who would say that their education in a currently uni-denominational school will be destroyed. This is just not so either. There are provisions in the current proposal to ensure, where numbers warrant, those schools will be allowed to continue their as uni-denominational.

Now that I have addressed the many concerns of the resolution I want to address the concerns of some of my colleagues who are concerned about the process that brought the debate into this Chamber. Some argue that this is being pushed through. This is completely false. It has been an issue for a long time. Because it only affects the province of Newfoundland perhaps it was not a priority for some MPs, especially given the amount of legislation that passes through this Chamber. It has always been a priority for me and for my children.

I say this to those MPs who would vote against this resolution because of the concerns over the so-called process: Do not trivialize the future of my children for a bureaucratic mentality. Put yourself in my children's shoes and do not take away their chance for a better future.

In conclusion, I want my sons and the children of Newfoundland to have every opportunity available to embrace the future, to keep up with the changing labour force requirements and in doing so, to become contributors to the Canadian economy. Amidst all the debate on the constitutional, legal and political theories, let us not lose sight of what is really at stake here, Newfoundland's future, its children.

I ask all hon. members to look above the power struggles of the church and state and the political positioning and as parents, which the vast majority of us in this Chamber are, ask themselves: Would I want my child to lose out in a system that is based on duplication of services or would I want my child to have every opportunity available to get a well-rounded education? If hon. members believe in the future of my children and all those of Newfoundland, then they should not base their opinion on the what, ifs and maybes. They should base their conclusion on the greatest natural resources that Newfoundland has to offer this country: our children. Never lose sight of them in this debate.

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12:10 p.m.


Dennis Mills Liberal Broadview—Greenwood, ON

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to participate in this debate. I would like to make one point and then ask the member for St. John's East a question.

First, the member talked about it in her speech, as did the premier of Newfoundland in his press conference last week. He talked about the illiteracy rate in Newfoundland as being something of great concern. He talked about the difficulty the system was having and the embarrassment of the highest illiteracy rate in the country.

I found the comment very strange because I read from the red book of the premier of Newfoundland. "Since Confederation we have made tremendous progress in education. Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have built an educational system in which we can all have pride. Our university participation rates are higher than the national average. If the present trend continues, Newfoundland and Labrador will soon have education levels equal to the best in the country".

As someone who believes in encouraging and funding national standards, that is a positive sign. I just wanted to make that comment because it conflicts with some of the comments that have been made which tend to denigrate the current education system that exists in Newfoundland.

In the speech by the member for St. John's East, she talked about the notion that the educational system would remain the same where numbers warrant. On Friday the Minister of Justice made the same comment, that the uni-denominational schools may be created where numbers warrant and where the parents choose that for their children.

The resolution before the House does not state "where numbers warrant". Would the member consider, seeing as it was in her speech and also stated by the Minister of Justice, amending this resolution to add "where numbers warrant"?

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12:10 p.m.


Bonnie Hickey Liberal St. John's East, NL

Madam Speaker, I have not considered that as an amendment. I think the amendment we are making to justify giving our children a better education in Newfoundland is probably all that we have time to deal with.

The children of Newfoundland do not have a voice here today, but they would rather be given every opportunity possible to be better citizens rather than debating whether or not this or that amendment should be taken care of. The Term 17 amendment is all that we need to deal with. It will give our children a better education, a better future and a better life as Canadians.

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12:10 p.m.


Beryl Gaffney Liberal Nepean, ON

Madam Speaker, this is probably more of a statement than a question.

I listened with interest to my colleague from St. John's East. A lot of questions have been troubling me and through her speech and the comments she has made, as a resident of Newfoundland, as a member of Parliament and as a person who has two sons within the

Newfoundland school system, she speaks quite clearly when she says she supports the will of the majority of the people of Newfoundland.

Two things that have been troubling me have really been answered in this little book. One of the questions in the book is: Why is the federal government involved in this matter? It is answered here quite clearly. The other question is: Can these reforms be made without a constitutional amendment? I would encourage anyone who is watching to phone our offices and ask for a copy of this little book. It contains questions and answers which may clear up all the questions in our mind.

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12:15 p.m.


Carolyn Parrish Liberal Mississauga West, ON

Madam Speaker, as members know, I rarely speak in the House of Commons. However, this issue is of extraordinary importance to me. I have spent my life in education. I am a Roman Catholic. I am a former secondary school teacher and I formerly chaired the largest board in Canada. Most of all, I spent 21 years being a parent.

It is important to let my constituents know why I am supporting wholeheartedly the government's resolution to amend term 17 in the 1949 agreement between Canada and its youngest province, Newfoundland.

Newfoundland and Labrador has decided it wants to modernize its educational system, bringing it closer to those enjoyed by all the other provinces and territories in Canada.

As an educator, I understand its desperate wish to be sure its education system has value. Newfoundland and Labrador spends the highest amount of money per capita of any province in Canada with the poorest results. It has the highest dropout rates, the highest rates of illiteracy and the lowest standardized test scores in math, science and English. With seasonal employment in the fisheries in deep trouble, math, science and English are skills essential to Newfoundland's prosperity and to the prosperity of the entire country.

I would like to show some comparative statistics to my own riding. In Mississauga West the average family income is practically $65,000 a year. In Newfoundland it is $40,000. The average unemployment in my riding is 7 per cent. In Newfoundland it is over 30 per cent. I have 18 per cent of my population with university degrees. In Newfoundland it is less than 5 per cent.

Canada has a generous spirit. We have redistributed wealth in the good times and we equally share in the bad. Newfoundland and Labrador will soon be enduring part of a $1.5 billion cut in transfer payments. Every remaining tax dollar, both local and federal, must be put to good use.

Newfoundland and Labrador is not a poor cousin that must continue to live on the generosity of others. It must be allowed to be a full and independent partner in Confederation, a viable as well as a beautiful part of this country.

Education, preparation for the world of tomorrow, is the basis for a modern and successful Newfoundland. A system that has not matured since 1949 does not respond to the needs of today's students.

Newfoundland and Labrador has asked the permission of its voters, first through a referendum, then through a recent provincial election and now through their political leaders of all parties in the provincial House. Last year all party leaders unanimously agreed to ask us to amend their terms of union. Last week this request was unanimously supported by every MHA of every party in their House.

In 1949 term 17 of Newfoundland's terms of union enshrined a fully denominational religious education system resulting in a very large number of small schools administered by 27 boards. There are 110,456 students in 446 schools governed by 27 school boards with a budget of $525 million. I chaired a board with almost the same number of students that covered three municipalities. The smallest, Caledon, has only 7,000 students who would have remained frozen in time, one-room schoolhouses and miles of weary travel every day.

They chose to join the Peel board for all the benefits one efficiently run system could provide, special education, vocational training and French immersion. These are only dreams in Newfoundland.

When I became a trustee in 1985, I represented Ontario at a national conference. The Newfoundland trustees were then wrestling their their 27 boards, negotiating for a better way. Now 11 years and a 1992 royal commission report later, they are no further ahead. The time for negotiation is over.

Some have suggested a constitutional amendment is not necessary. However, even if an agreement to change the education system could be reached between all denominations and the provincial government, any such agreement could be challenged in a constitutional challenge on the basis that it violates term 17.

This is why an amendment is essential at this time. All schools are denominational in Newfoundland. No one denomination dominates. It is a collection of minorities. What of those who do not belong to a formal religion or to a religion that is not one of the chosen ones? Does a Jewish child convert to Catholicism? Does a Muslim immigrant have to convert to the Pentecostal faith? How do we protect the freedoms of the real minorities, the 5 per cent of Newfoundland students who do not conform to one of the recognized religions?

In the proposed new system churches will still play a significant role in the instruction of students; instruction rather than planning, teaching rather than tyranny.

The people of Newfoundland and Labrador have a right to jurisdiction over education. They have a right to a freedom from religion as well as freedom of religion. Every tax dollar paid to publicly supported schools must be squeezed and manipulated to its maximum benefit. No longer will a dollar paid to upgrade a Catholic school be multiplied by 27 for unneeded repairs to those of other denominations.

In Ontario over the last ten years two out of every three construction dollars have been put into the separate system because that is where the need was greatest.

Funds will now be distributed in Newfoundland according to need rather than denomination. Some say French language or aboriginal rights will be affected. They will not. These are charter rights for all Canadians and will be maintained. Some say this is the thin edge of the wedge and that other provinces will follow suit, possibly eliminating Catholic schools in Ontario.

Ontario does not have the same terms of agreement. It does not have the same terms that allow such change. Denominational rights are protected in the case of the four founding provinces by the Constitution and by different terms of union. In addition, education is exclusively under provincial jurisdiction in Ontario.

The people of Newfoundland and Labrador should have province-wide control of their education system, just as we have. They should have the right to create ten interdenominational boards where 27 currently exist. Where numbers warrant, separate schools will continue to exist for individual denominations. Boundaries, capital funding, transportation and other purely administrative matters will be controlled by a duly elected provincial legislature.

In summary, Newfoundland and Labrador has debated this issue for many years without coming to a negotiated agreement. Its children are suffering. Its spends the most to achieve the least. It is our poorest province. Control over education is a provincial right. Quality education is the right of every Canadian child.

We cannot allow unwarranted fear of what may happen to blind us to what is already happening. The children of Newfoundland and Labrador of every religion desperately need our support before truly effective change will happen. No tiny six-year-old should ride for hours on a bus past three or four schools to go to the school which will accept her. All children of Newfoundland should be able to go to their nearest school and receive a quality education.

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12:20 p.m.


Dennis Mills Liberal Broadview—Greenwood, ON

Madam Speaker, the way the member for Mississauga West denigrated the Newfoundland school system is beyond belief.

I have some comments from the former minister of education for Newfoundland, Mr. Chris Decker, on a report on education in Canada regarding Newfoundland's educational system:

The percentage of the population attaining less than 8 years of schooling has decreased from 24 per cent in 1976, compared to the then Canadian average of 9.5 per cent, to 5.6 per cent, slightly more than the Canadian average of 3.8 per cent in 1991. That is an improvement of 18.4 per cent for Newfoundland compared to an improvement of 8.4 per cent for Canada as a whole.

The numbers of students not graduating from high school in Newfoundland have decreased from 66 per cent in 1976 to 49.9 per cent in 1991. The Canadian average went from 56 per cent to 43 per cent during the same period. The numbers for Newfoundland are much better now than in 1991, the last year statistically compared to Canada.

Students in Newfoundland perform just as well as students in most other provinces and the Canadian average; results of testing of 16-year olds in reading and writing, school achievement indicators project, 1994.

We are painting the Newfoundland educational system like it is some archaic operation. That is not the case. It does not exist. Let us deal with the real reason we are amending this fundamental piece of Confederation. It is an economic deal. We are doing this to save $11 million or $12 million. That is the bottom line.

I have real problems with approaching a motion like this which is so important. As the member from Ontario asked in her remarks, will this affect Ontario? This could affect Ontario. We have had some of the best constitutional lawyers in the land say that. I want to be on record as saying I do not think we should just rubber stamp this.

The House has always been the protector of minority rights. This is a Chamber in which we are to be looking out for the disadvantaged, not the advantaged. In this case we are really missing an opportunity to be what the Chamber is supposed to be, the guardian of minority rights.

The member mentioned the system would stay the same where numbers warranted. I asked the member for St. John's East if she would support putting into the resolution the phrase "where numbers warranted". The Minister of Justice has stated it, the premier of Newfoundland stated it in his press conference last week, but it is not in this resolution.

I propose we amend this motion by doing a very simple thing which could bring all of us together, that the system would stay the same where numbers warranted, which is what the member said in her speech. Would the member support that addition to the resolution in the form of an amendment?

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12:25 p.m.


Carolyn Parrish Liberal Mississauga West, ON

Madam Speaker, it is nice to see my former colleague from Broadview-Greenwood has not lost his touch. His spellbinding ability still exists. His ability to conjure up statistics at will is still very good.

I did not denigrate the residents of Newfoundland, nor did I-

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12:25 p.m.


Dennis Mills Liberal Broadview—Greenwood, ON

Madam Speaker, on a point of order, the member for Mississauga West made a statement that was not accurate. She accused me of conjuring up statistics at will when I quoted directly from the minister of education for Newfoundland.

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12:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Ringuette-Maltais)

Resuming questions and comments.

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12:25 p.m.


Carolyn Parrish Liberal Mississauga West, ON

Madam Speaker, I am sorry if I said they were conjured. As we all know, when one has spent a lot of time in academia one can always find the right statistics to suit the argument.

As far as an amending formula or amending this motion, it has been my experience in the House, which is not as broad or as deep as that of the member opposite, that whenever people cannot fight the intent of a motion logically they start amending it to destroy its intent, to confuse, to obfuscate.

I do not believe our position in the House should be to amend anything that goes on in Newfoundland. I believe we should pass this. We should leave it to Newfoundland to construct its own system, just as we have in Ontario. It is not our business because we are very afraid that someone may look at changing the system in Ontario. I would love to see the member opposite sit back quietly if someone from Newfoundland were to suggest how to change the system in Ontario.

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12:25 p.m.


Roger Pomerleau Bloc Anjou—Rivière-Des-Prairies, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to say how pleased I am to speak today on a matter as interesting as the one we are now addressing. For the fourth time in its history, a legislative assembly, this time the legislature of Newfoundland and Labrador, has adopted a resolution asking the federal Parliament to amend the Constitution under section 43 of that Constitution.

This section allows the federal government to amend any provision of the Constitution which applies to one or more of the provinces, in this case Newfoundland and Labrador. According to section 43, any such amendment may be made by adoption of resolutions of the House of Commons and Senate and of the legislative assembly of each province to which the amendment applies.

In 1987, this House adopted a resolution to place the Pentecostal schools of Newfoundland on the same footing as the seven denominations recognized by the 1949 agreement, as well as to ensure their funding. This was the first constitutional amendment made under the section of concern to us today, section 43.

The second was to guarantee the linguistic equality of French and English in New Brunswick. That was in 1993. The same year, there was another constitutional amendment to permit the construction of an interprovincial bridge between Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick. I would point out that, in this vote, which involved approving the construction of a bridge, the Bloc Quebecois voted in favour, because we felt, and continue to feel, that this is the best long term solution in economic terms.

Today, therefore, the members of this House are preparing to pass a resolution that will lead to a new constitutional change, and I shall spare you the reading of the text. I would, however, mention that the aim of the Newfoundland legislature is to rationalize the province's education system to permit savings to be made. The aim is to put an end to denominational schools so as to cut the number of school boards-everywhere these days there is talk about downsizing the school boards, even in Quebec-in order to set up a new multidenominational school board, which will be more efficient and less costly, it is claimed.

This proposed education reform is based on the recommendations of the Newfoundland royal commission of inquiry into education, which published its report in 1992. The major obstacle faced by the Newfoundland government arises from the fact that denominational schools were guaranteed by term 17 of the Terms of Union establishing Newfoundland's entry into Canada in 1949, which is an integral part of the Canadian Constitution.

At first glance, there does not appear to be a problem, because the Government of Newfoundland could simply have passed a resolution to amend term 17 of the constitutional agreement of 1949 and then simply have it passed by this House. This time, however, the provincial legislature wanted to hold a referendum first to consult the people of Newfoundland before passing its resolution.

The referendum question asked Newfoundlanders whether they would allow the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador to introduce a resolution calling for the amendment of term 17 of the Terms of Union of Newfoundland with Canada. It must be pointed out that there was no obligation to hold a referendum to amend this term, since the amending formula in section 43 of the Constitution requires only that a resolution be passed by the Newfoundland legislature, the House of Commons and the Senate in such cases.

Yet, the Government of Newfoundland felt it had to hold a referendum in order to consult the population beforehand, thus

showing great respect for democracy. As we well know, referenda were not so widely used 30 years ago but today, with all the countries in the world joining large consortiums in Europe, Asia and North America, we will see more and more of them.

In this referendum, which, by the way, is the consultation mechanism par excellence and is now gaining popularity around the world, the people of Newfoundland expressed their desire to amend the extent to which and the way the various religious denominations get involved in the administration of the education system. They endorsed the government proposal by a 54 per cent majority, which is not that much. Only 52 per cent of all the people exercised their right to vote.

This referendum was held on September 5, 1995. In the following months, the Prime Minister of Canada said in response to the Newfoundland premier's formal request that he intended to table for adoption the text of the constitutional resolution in February 1996. In his letter to his provincial counterpart, the Prime Minister gives no indication whether he agrees with the referendum result; he simply accepts it and says he will table the resolution in the House.

In his response, the Prime Minister of Canada showed clearly that he accepts the result of a referendum in which 52 per cent of all registered voters participated and in which 54 per cent of the ballots cast is an acceptable majority. The parallel with the referendum situation in Quebec is impossible to ignore.

Although the issue of Quebec sovereignty is much more important and has a greater impact than today's constitutional amendment, that fact is that the Prime Minister has established a precedent by accepting the results of the referendum held in Newfoundland and Labrador.

The Prime Minister said in this House on several occasions-I will not quote from Hansard but I think everyone remembers the various times he said this-that a result of 50 per cent plus one in a referendum on Quebec sovereignty was not enough. He said a result of 50 per cent plus one was not an acceptable majority in the case of a Quebec referendum. Today, the same Prime Minister recognizes the results of a referendum in which only 54 per cent voted for a constitutional amendment and only 52 per cent of registered voters participated. We all know that voter participation in the Quebec referendum was slightly higher. It actually was over 90 per cent.

Are we to conclude from this that, for the Prime Minister, a referendum in which only 52 per cent of registered voters have exercised their right to vote is good enough anywhere in Canada except in Quebec, where 90 per cent of the population participated in the referendum and are about to do so again soon? Are we also to conclude that, for the Prime Minister, a referendum held across a province where a majority voted yes, with 54 per cent, this is good enough, except in Quebec of course, where 54 per cent is just not good enough? In his mind, according to the figures quoted or hinted at by friends of the regime and business people, it would take a 65 per cent vote, perhaps as high as 70 per cent, it is not clear, for a yes victory in a Quebec referendum to be recognized.

This makes us realize how totally inconsistent the Prime Minister of Canada and his government are. A referendum is a democratic public consultation process, and the cornerstone of democracy is precisely the 50 per cent plus one rule. It is the majority of the population making a choice.

In the information papers we have received, one of which I believe is from the Department of Justice, there are striking similarities there. Question 4 states: "Why do church and government leaders in Newfoundland and Labrador not settle this issue without constitutional amendments being necessary?" The paper in favour of passing the resolution reads: "Having negotiated intensively for three years, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador was unsuccessful in obtaining the consent required to implement the necessary changes. In addition, a further attempt by the Newfoundland and Labrador education minister to negotiate an agreement also failed and did not produce an agreement on key reforms".

In Quebec, we have been trying for 30 years and we are still waiting. So far, every attempt to reach an agreement has failed.

The document submitted to us by the Department of Justice also included the question: "Why are these changes necessary?" The answer given is that the current system must be changed, because it creates a complex administrative structure generating overlap and inefficiencies.

What difference is there with the Bloc Quebecois? The document states that the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador has come to the conclusion that eliminating these costly inefficiencies and freeing up resources to introduce other operational changes is the best way to improve its education system. Eliminating costly inefficiencies is, of course, exactly what Quebec and the Bloc Quebecois are asking for.

Shortly before I rose to discuss this issue, the House was debating the very real possibility of conducting an in-depth review of the Senate's role, and even of considering abolishing it, given the current situation. This suggestion has nothing to do with the quality of the men and women who sit in the Senate. Rather, it is based on the fact that this institution is an anachronism in our system. It prevents it from functioning well and it is also costly for nothing. The figure of $65 million per year was mentioned.

So, Newfoundland wishes to make some changes to its system to improve its situation. This is exactly what Quebec seeks to do, albeit on another scale.

The document also states that "it is those affected by the changes that approved them". This is in reference to the people who voted in the referendum held in Newfoundland. So, according to the Department of Justice, when a referendum will be held on Quebec's sovereignty, those affected, namely Quebecers, will have the right to express their views, because they will be the ones affected by the outcome.

Further on in the same Department of Justice document, in response to Question No. 9, the following is asked: "Did the government of Newfoundland and Labrador act arbitrarily?" Response: "On February 22, 1996, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador received a majority mandate with the campaign promise to reform the denominationally-based school system". Here again, we note the similarity with Quebec. Let me just remind the Liberal MPs, in case they have forgotten, which I doubt, that the Parti Quebecois received a majority mandate with the campaign promise of holding a referendum on the sovereignty of Quebec.

Another point catches my attention as well. Here we are speaking of a constitutional amendment which might impact upon other provinces. Yet the Liberal government, the government in this House, did not ask to choose the wording for the referendum question. It was drafted solely by the Government of Newfoundland, with no participation whatsoever by the federal government or any other provincial governments. Odd, because in the case of Quebec the federal government absolutely insists on taking part in preparations for the wording of the question. Yet that question, as will be seen later, will be asked of Quebecers by Quebecers. As in Quebec, however, the proponents of the no side in Newfoundland are unanimous in criticizing the question, as we have seen in the press reports, for being ambiguous, not explicit enough. But no attention was paid to that. The question was asked by the people of Newfoundland, it was answered by the people of Newfoundland, and the federal government did not get involved in drafting the question, whereas it did indicate that it might do so for Quebec.

In this connection, we have listed a few questions that were not raised about the recent Newfoundland referendum, yet are being raised in the case of Quebec. I will run through a few of them quickly, since I think I have only four or five minutes left.

A lot has been said on the question of a simple majority. The Prime Minister has intimated a number of times in the House, as I said earlier, that a simple majority might not be enough to ensure Quebec's sovereignty. In July 1948-and my colleague from Berthier-Montcalm has looked into this much more deeply than I-barely 52 per cent of Newfoundland electors agreed to join the Canadian federation in a referendum, and this was the second referendum in a few months, with the first one being held on June 3, 1948. So, the results of the first one were not accepted.

In the case of the second referendum, which passed with 52 per cent, 48 per cent of Newfoundlanders voted no, not wanting to join with Canada. It was not this figure that was taken into account, but rather the vote of the democratic majority, and Newfoundland joined Confederation.

Since referenda will be used increasingly, we will see internationally that the results of referenda committing peoples' future will be ever closer. The law of the majority will never change. In November 1994, 52 per cent of Swedes voted to join the European Union; although 48 per cent voted against, the rule of the majority prevailed. Two weeks later, Norway voted against joining by 52 per cent; 48 per cent of Norwegians were in favour, but the law of the majority prevailed.

The rule of a simple majority in a referendum is universal, because it is the only democratic and practicable rule. When a society says "one person, one vote", it does not mean "one person, two thirds of a vote" or "one person, a vote and a third". Everyone's vote is equal. This is why a referendum is based on a majority.

When Quebec joined the federation, there was neither a referendum nor an election. Quebec joined the federation by parliamentary vote. In the first Quebec referendum on sovereignty in 1980, and in the referendum on the Charlottetown accord, the federalists participated in the campaign without ever imposing any conditions regarding a majority of more than 50 per cent, because until then they were confident they would win. But, as soon as things start heating up, they want to change the rules of the game. In Quebec, like everywhere else, winning a referendum requires a simple majority, that is to say, 50 per cent plus one vote.

I have noted on several occasions that our friends in the Reform Party have, through their leader, taken a clear stand on this issue. I am convinced others have taken the same position, although I have been unable to read the reports in other newspapers, I did read his statement that:

"A 50 per cent plus one vote for independence is sufficient for Quebec to leave Confederation, according to the Reform leader, but the terms and conditions would have to be subject to a referendum in the rest of Canada". I agree with that. "I do not know of any other threshold than 50 per cent plus one". That is what went on everywhere.

There is also Don MacPherson, who wrote in a recent article in the Gazette :

"I hate to test his legendary modesty but I am forced to admit that my good friend Bernard Landry"-I do not know if it is true that he is friends with Bernard Landry-"is right again. Landry, who is vice-premier in the Parizeau government"-so this goes back a few months-"says a simple majority is good enough to decide a referendum on sovereignty. The vice-premier could have also pointed out that it was good enough for federalists in the 1992 Quebec referendum on the Charlottetown constitutional accord. What is sauce for the federalist goose is sauce for the sovereignist gander". He ended by saying: "And by current world standards of democracy, a yes vote in the referendum would give a Quebec declaration of independence impeccable legitimacy".

This does not mean it would be easy, but it would be legal. We could repeat some of the other arguments that were never made again in relation to what is happening elsewhere in Canada. There is no dispute about the Newfoundland referendum, which was only won by a few points and in which only about half the population voted. But they are already starting to set the rules for the next referendum in Quebec.

They are now addressing the issue of borders and minorities. They are telling us the borders of Quebec might change, that minorities may not want to stay within these borders, that the territory may be partitioned, who knows. Yet, Canada as a country has recognized many countries in the world-I will name a few-with the borders they had before. Canada has recognized the two sovereign countries that resulted from the partition of Czechoslovakia: the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Ottawa was one of the first capitals to recognize Ukraine's independence in 1991, and that of the Baltic states, as we remember. In the case of the Baltic states, which became sovereign through democratic means, I think Canada was the first country to recognize their independence and all their borders. Yet, the fact that all those countries have significant minorities does not take anything away from the results of a democratic referendum.

As for the resolution proposed by the legislature of Newfoundland and Labrador, I will support it because the people have expressed in a provincial referendum their desire to amend the extent to which and the way religious denominations get involved in the administration of the education system. I, however, would like to point out one thing, namely that the federal government seems to feel there are two kinds of democracy in this country: one for Canada and one for Quebec.

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12:50 p.m.


Dennis Mills Liberal Broadview—Greenwood, ON

Madam Speaker, the hon. member for Anjou-Rivière-des-Prairies has brought up a very important point of which every member of the House should be aware. It has to do with the precedent which is being set and the way the Bloc sees this precedent in terms of its next referendum. The member just said that in the next referendum if 50 per cent plus one decide to leave Canada, then how can there be one rule for Quebec and a different rule for Newfoundland? I believe that was the basic point which he made.

Since 1980 I have watched the premier of Newfoundland work in the House of Commons and work for Canada, not just domestically but internationally. I do not think there would be a person in the House who would deny the fact that the premier of Newfoundland is probably the best communicator Canada has had in years in terms of putting our presence, our spirit and our sovereignty on the front burner. He has been out there. His tactics have at times been borderline genius when it comes to communications. However, his tactics on this resolution are going to create a problem for us in the House and in the country which we have not thought through. Fifty-four per cent in the referendum at this time is establishing a benchmark. We all know what the polls are saying in Quebec and they are much more than 54 per cent.

It is important for all of us to realize that this Chamber is essentially being used as a rubber stamp for a constitutional amendment. A few years ago when we were talking about this issue a senator claimed that these rights and these systems are part of the arc of Confederation. Today we are simply going to rubber stamp the request.

The hon. member for Anjou-Rivière-des-Prairies put us all on notice in his speech just a few minutes ago when he asked how, on a referendum, there can be one rule for Newfoundland and a different one for Quebec. I hope when members think about supporting this resolution tonight they will think of the long term consequences.

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12:55 p.m.


Roger Pomerleau Bloc Anjou—Rivière-Des-Prairies, QC

Madam Speaker, those were mostly comments that my hon. colleague and neighbour-seeing that we have adjacent offices in the West Block-made. First, he said that the premier of Newfoundland was certainly the best communicator in Canada; we, on this side, have always called him Captain Canada, and this was not meant to be derogatory in any way. We do agree that, as a communicator, the premier of Newfoundland has spearheaded practically everything that was done in Canada. That is probably also one of the reasons why he got elected.

My hon. colleague commented on my calling the attention of the House to the fact that Newfoundland had just set a precedent, but I was just making a connection between the case of Newfoundland, where a 54 per cent result is readily recognized in this House, and Quebec, where the application of democratic rules is being questioned.

I think that what my hon. colleague is saying it that we are setting a precedent by passing this here. The precedent has already been set anyway. It was set at the international level, at Charlottetown, when the results were not questioned, because the 50 per cent plus one rule came into play. They were not questioned with respect to Meech, the 1980 referendum or any other referendum until now.

I sincerely believe the Prime Minister of this country is right when he says the basic problem and the first thing we should do, not myself personally, but those of my constituents who still believe this is possible-yes, some still do-would be to try to persuade Quebecers they must remain a part of Canada. Under those circumstances, a referendum would not be any problem.

Needless to say I have my doubts. I have been concerned with politics for 30 years-not actively involved but at least watching what is happening on the political scene-and in the past 30 years, we have never succeeded in having Quebec's minimum demands recognized. The only way out for us is to hold a referendum on sovereignty and we will win this referendum.

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12:55 p.m.


John Bryden Liberal Hamilton—Wentworth, ON

Madam Speaker, with the greatest of respect, I disagree most emphatically with the member for Anjou-Rivière-des-Prairies and the member for Broadview-Greenwood, who both assert that this whole debate today has to do with referenda. In my opinion, and in the opinion of many experts in legal matters who know far better than I do, it has nothing to do with referenda.

The legislative assembly of a province has sought a constitutional change which it is perfectly entitled to do. If for example the assembly in either of the provinces of Quebec or Alberta had a situation on which it was unanimously agreed a constitutional change was wanted, I would expect that the province would take the request for the change to the federal government. That is exactly as it should be.

When that request arises in this House, I would expect as is going to be the case today, the Parliament of Canada would decide on that request in a free vote. When there is a vote in this Chamber on a constitutional issue, as we have in the case with Newfoundland today, or any other province that may bring a constitutional issue before the House, it should be a free vote so the people of Canada shall speak on the issue and decide.

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12:55 p.m.


Roger Pomerleau Bloc Anjou—Rivière-Des-Prairies, QC

Madam Speaker, in fact, the Government of Newfoundland did not have to consult the people. It simply wanted to increase the legitimacy of its position in an apparently extremely contentious debate. That is why a referendum was held, and why the issue is taken up in the House, but there was no need for that in Newfoundland.

We will support the motion for two reasons. First, because a democratic referendum to that end was successful, and second, because we met with the premier of Newfoundland, whom we admire a great deal and who gave us a minimum of guarantees that minority rights would be respected.

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1 p.m.


Roseanne Skoke Liberal Central Nova, NS

Madam Speaker, the primary responsibility of the Parliament of Canada is not to concern itself with the reform of the Newfoundland and Labrador education system. Rather, the fundamental responsibility of the Parliament of Canada is to safeguard and protect the existing terms of the Canadian Constitution and to protect the enshrined rights of minorities as presently set forth in the existing Constitution. This is not merely a Newfoundland and Labrador issue; this is a Canadian issue affecting Canada as a nation.

The adoption of this resolution to amend term 17 by the Parliament of Canada will have far reaching, detrimental consequences for the nation, the Canadian people as a whole. Therefore I do not support this resolution.

This resolution is not properly before this honourable House. Procedurally the Parliament of Canada is relying on section 43 of the Constitution Act, 1982 to provide for an amendment to the Constitution of Canada in relation to any provision that applies to one or more but not all provinces; in this case one province. Section 43 provides that such an amendment can be made bilaterally, between the province affected and the Parliament of Canada, through resolutions passed respectively by the provincial legislature, by Parliament, by both the House of Commons and the Senate.

The Minister of Justice in his address to the House of Commons on May 31, 1996 gave an example of a bilateral change involving the fixed link with Prince Edward Island which required a change in terms of its union with the federation. With the greatest respect to the Minister of Justice, there is absolutely no comparison between the fixed link and the rights of minorities in Canada.

Procedurally Parliament is in error to entertain a section 43 resolution because the issue before the House does not merely affect Newfoundland and Labrador. It affects all of Canada. It affects every Canadian. It goes to the very heart of the basic, fundamental constitutional rights and freedoms set forth in the Canadian Constitution.

When a province and Parliament can bilaterally act pursuant to section 43 to substantially modify without consent the minority rights of the Canadian people, we have to be more than concerned. In this instance the consent of the religious denominations has not been obtained. To act without this consent is inexcusable and unjustifiable.

To appease the provincial conscience a referendum was held in which 52.5 per cent of the eligible voters voted; 54.9 per cent voted in favour, 44.9 per cent voted no, and 422 ballots were rejected.

Although the referendum is not a prerequisite to a section 43 resolution it should be noted that the express consent of the religious denominations must and should be obtained. The constitutional rights of the denominations cannot be waived by the mere passing of a resolution by the Newfoundland government. Therefore unless and until the express consent of all religious denominations are obtained this section 43 resolution is procedurally and substantively not properly before Parliament.

In any event, section 43 cannot be read in isolation of section 93 of the Constitution Act. Section 93 of the Constitution Act, 1867 confers on provincial legislatures the exclusive power to make laws in relation to education. Section 93 restricts provincial power to make laws in relation to education by adding four qualifying sections. Subsection 1 specifically provides that nothing in any such law shall prejudicially affect any right or privilege with respect to denominational schools which any class of persons has by law in the province at the time of union.

Section 93 read in conjunction with section 43 makes it clear that this is not merely a Newfoundland and Labrador issue. This is an issue that affects every province, every Canadian, every religious denomination, every parent in Canada. It affects every minority right with respect to religion, education and language rights.

This section 43 resolution is not properly before the House. In any event, the substantive purpose and effect of this resolution is to undermine the existing and inherent rights of the church, the religious denominations' right to govern and to teach values consistent with the fundamental teachings of their respective religious denominations.

The effect of the proposed amended term 17 will be to permit the Government of Newfoundland to enact legislation which, as itself concedes, would prejudicially affect the existing constitutional rights of the religious denominations and minority classes of persons and thus violate term 17 as it stands.

The effect of that legislation will be to effectively dismantle the existing denominational school system in Newfoundland. The proposed amendment to term 17 will eliminate constitutionally protected rights held by religious denominations, and this will be done without their consent.

The initiative to amend the Constitution and thus to take away their minority rights was taken without agreement. It was also taken notwithstanding former Premier Wells' statement in the House of Assembly on March 12, 1993, when he said just before announcing an election: "Mr. Speaker, in response to the church leaders' concerns that implementing certain recommendations of the royal commission report would jeopardize their traditional rights, government has assured the leaders that it is not seeking change to the Constitution that would remove the constitutionally protected rights of classes of people specifically provided for".

However, present day events show that commitment was not kept. In light of this, this honourable House has a grave responsibility to protect, defend and safeguard the constitutional rights of our denominational schools and the rights of all minorities in Canada.

The House should be alerted to the words of the justice minister on May 31 with respect to the future section 43 resolutions: "We shall make up our minds on the facts of those cases if and when they arise. If they do not meet the standards which we think are appropriate we can decline to give our support".

I ask the honourable House should we leave the constitutional minority rights of Canadians in the hands of the politicians of the day to set the standards and to decide to change the inherent constitutional rights of the Canadian people at their political whim? I think not.

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1:05 p.m.

Winnipeg North Manitoba


Rey D. Pagtakhan LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Prime Minister

Madam Speaker, amending the Constitution of Canada is always very serious business and is to be approached by the House with the diligence and careful study it deserves, whether the amendment affects the entire country or only one province.

The resolution before the House relates only to one province. More specifically, the proposed amendment repeals term 17 of the terms of union of Newfoundland with Canada and substitutes for it certain changes as defined in the schedule called "Amendment to the Constitution of Canada" tabled by the Minister of Justice. It first appeared in the Order Paper and Notice Paper on Thursday, May 30.

At this juncture it is useful to remind us that Canada's Constitution since 1867 has made it clear that education lies within the legislative authority of the provinces, whether they were the original founding provinces of our Confederation or joined later.

When Newfoundland joined Canada in 1949 the clause in the terms of union dealing with education stated that the Newfoundland legislature will not have authority to make laws prejudicially affecting any right or privilege of denominational schools as they existed at the time of the province's entry into Confederation.

Today the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador has a publicly funded school system, the governance and operation of which is in the hands of seven denominations, Anglican, Pentecostal, Presbyterian, Roman Catholic, Salvation Army, Seven Day Adventists and the United Church.

In other words, there must be denominational involvement in decisions affecting the composition of the school boards, the establishment and closure of schools, the hiring of teachers, the establishment of school district boundaries and the distribution of public funds. The current education system has therefore produced a large number of small schools offering close proximity to each other. School children are bused to their own denominational schools elsewhere even though there are schools in their own neighbourhoods or communities.

The need for administrative changes in the school system for efficiency in transportation of students and for consolidation of schools has been evident for quite some time. In March 1992 the government established royal commission released its report entitled "Our Children: Our Future" which recommended fundamental changes to Newfoundland's education system. Term 17 requires denominational consent for changes in the province's education system unless amendment to Canada's Constitution as envisioned in the motion before us is passed.

The Government of Canada has a duty to study and respond to the resolution on this issue as passed unanimously by the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador. Members of the Canadian Parliament have the obligation to diligently study all sides of the issue. On a free vote I support the government resolution as tabled by the Minister of Justice.

The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador has documented that it first tried to achieve consensus with the religious denominations in the province to attain the necessary educational reform without constitutional amendment. The first meeting of the provincial government and church leaders happened in November 1992. Attempts to reach a consensus were pursued by way of exchange of letters and joint meetings on many occasions, as recently as April of this year. At one time private mediation was tried. Although a framework agreement was reached recently, and this is welcomed, it is the most recent position of the provincial government that such an agreement is tenuous and could be withdrawn by any party to the agreement or challenged in court by any citizen.

On the other hand, opponents to the proposed amendment to term 17 feel the framework agreement should be allowed and given a chance to work. They argue substantial reform of the province's educational system can be achieved without amending the Constitution. They further argue that repeal of term 17 would endanger denominational rights to education in Newfoundland and could set a precedent that threatens the same and other minority rights across Canada.

This is the nub of the issue as seen by the opposition. I believe the opposition is honest and sincere. It has received opinions from its legal advisers that Newfoundland legislation adopting the proposals outlined in the document "Framework for School Board Consolidation" would not be found by the courts to be in violation of term 17 of the present terms of union, that amendment to term 17 would create a risk to denominational school guarantees in other provinces.

These are the fears of those who oppose the resolution. They are sincere in their beliefs. I would like to assure them if I could that they have nothing to fear.

While the Government of Newfoundland will have greater administrative control, the denominational feature of the province's educational system is protected. In fact, uni-denominational schools will be established for individual denominations where requested by parents and where student numbers warrant.

The denominations will retain control over the religious aspects of schooling but a reduced number of interdenominational school boards will be established for greater efficiency in the system. To this latter recommendation, there is no dispute. There is no debate. Both sides on the issue agree.

The Newfoundland referendum on the issue, although not required for the process of constitutional amendment, was conducted by the Newfoundland government to gauge the sentiments of her citizens. Fifty per cent voted in favour of change. True, only 52 per cent of eligible voters cast their ballots but this I submit is a statement in itself.

Although the Newfoundland government used a referendum, the proposed constitutional amendment will not give support to Quebec separatists. Their agenda is to weaken and break Canadian Confederation. Quite the contrary, the amendment before us now is to strengthen the educational system in Newfoundland and to ensure co-operative federalism works at its best.

I should also emphasize that religious rights are not being fundamentally changed, only administrative rights. I agree with the Minister of Justice that minority language rights, aboriginal rights and other minority rights in and beyond Newfoundland, throughout Canada, are not in jeopardy.

The amendment to Term 17 does not create a precedent in the future for the situation in Newfoundland is unique. Future requests for constitutional amendments from any province will be judged as the present one is, solely on the merits of the facts.

I honestly believe that minority rights of any kind are not in danger. I am proud to tell the House that even long before I entered this hallowed Chamber, I participated actively in defence of French language rights in Manitoba when they were threatened in the early 1980s.

I have continued to advocate equity for all, for equal opportunities for people with disabilities, visible minorities, First Nations people and for women, for equity in our society. I will not stand idly by if minority rights are ever in peril.

We shall not fear to be proud of our national shared values, heritage and traditions. We shall not fail to be proud of our Confederation's eminent standing in the world community. We shall not fear of our trust in each other as citizens of Canada. We shall not fear change when change promises a bright future for our children, our youth and our country. We shall not fear to face the coming 21st century with confidence, secure in our history, generosity and integrity as a people.

Amending Term 17 is an appeal to our confidence and understanding as Canadians. It is a message that Confederation works. It is a message that our democracy is vibrant. It is a message that when we secure a bright future for one of our provinces, Newfoundland, its educational system, we secure a bright future for across Canada.

The people of Newfoundland determined their future when their province entered Confederation in 1949. The people of Newfoundland today would like to determine their future in Canada as Canada enters the 21st century. Let us pass this resolution now before us, for greater certainty of the future of all of us.

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1:20 p.m.


Dennis Mills Liberal Broadview—Greenwood, ON

Madam Speaker, the member stated in his eloquent address that there was a provision that uni-denominational schools may be created where numbers warrant and where the parents choose that for their children. The Minister of Justice made that same statement when he gave his address to the Chamber last Friday. That statement is not reflected in the constitutional amendment.

The member spoke about this in his speech. Would he support an amendment to the current resolution that would include "where numbers warrant"?