Mr. Speaker, I listened with care to the remarks of my hon. and gallant colleague, the minister of fisheries, who in my view gave ample justification for the passage of this resolution without amendment. However, I want to make my own views known on the subject because a considerable number of people in my own constituency have expressed their concerns and interests on this subject.
The resolution that started the whole ball rolling was a resolution of the House of Assembly of the province of Newfoundland that was adopted in October of last year. Under the terms of section 43 of the Constitution, the resolution that is considered by this House must be identical to the resolution of the House of Assembly of Newfoundland. Once the two have been passed with one from the Senate, the Governor General can then issue a proclamation amending the Constitution.
Anyone who is interested in this subject and who is concerned about the wording of the resolution before the House today could easily determine what that resolution was going to say by looking at the resolution passed by the Newfoundland House of Assembly in October last year.
Any argument that this has been sprung on the House at the last minute and is being rushed through in my view does not hold water. Everyone in Canada knew that section 43 was the route that would be followed for this amendment. Everyone in Canada who was interested could have looked at the Journals of the Newfoundland House of Assembly last October, read the resolution and known exactly what the Minister of Justice was going to propose in this House when the matter came here, once the government had made a decision that it was going to proceed with this resolution.
For those who argue this is somehow being rushed through or that this is a surprise, I say they simply should get a subscription to a proper newspaper and read it because it was there for all to see. Many of us did not bother to look because many of us did not think it was important at the time. The issue has become very important now because so many people have apparently expressed considerable concern about this resolution.
I decided to have a long look at the situation, to look at the facts under which the resolution was adopted and make up my mind as
to what I should do. I did so with some care. I have decided to support this resolution and reject the amendment that was moved by my former colleague from Broadview-Greenwood. The hon. member has moved an amendment which has an initial appeal but which in my view is not necessary in this particular case.
I believe we should approve the amendment the government has proposed and that the Government of Newfoundland has proposed without any change. I say so for these reasons: First, this resolution was adopted by the House of Assembly of Newfoundland. It was adopted in October 1995. It chose to have a referendum before that on the issue which happened, although it did not need to have one.
We can argue whether it was a big enough majority or whether enough people voted but to me that was irrelevant because there was no need at all for a referendum. The Government of Newfoundland chose to have one and it had one but if the resolution had come from the House of Assembly alone, in my view it would have been proper for this House to act on it because that is the constitutional amending formula we have agreed to in this country. The Government of Newfoundland adopted in its House of Assembly a resolution which it sent to Parliament and asked us to act on.
Second, after that resolution was adopted, there was an election in Newfoundland. If the people of Newfoundland felt that their government was not representative of their interests in this regard, they could have thrown the government out, but they did not. The government was re-elected and a subsequent resolution was adopted approving the former course of action. It was adopted unanimously in the Newfoundland House of Assembly and it was supported by all three party leaders. We have ample justification from the House of Assembly in Newfoundland to proceed with this constitutional amendment. That is all the Constitution of Canada requires under section 43 and that is what we are proceeding on.
The question came to me: How should I as an MP from Ontario react to this request from the Government of Newfoundland? Should I interfere in Newfoundland's decision on a matter of exclusive provincial jurisdiction? I have concluded that I should not. If I were to interfere, on what grounds ought I to do so? In my view the only ground I could interfere on would be one of overriding national interest. I do not see a violation of any overriding national interest in this case.
I know some of my colleagues on all sides of the House have argued that minority rights are somehow being diminished by this resolution. It may be that over a long period of time there could be a diminution of minority rights by virtue of the passage of this resolution, but the situation in Newfoundland is radically different from the situation in Ontario given the protection that is afforded to minority education rights in our province.
Effectively there is no public school system operating in Newfoundland. There are no public schools in Newfoundland as we know them in Ontario. All the schools are denominational schools. All the denominational schools are being treated the same by this resolution. They are all having their status slightly altered by this resolution but there will remain denominational schools in Newfoundland after this resolution is adopted until such time as the assembly changes those rules. It has not indicated a desire to do so. That is something the electors of the province of Newfoundland can deal with when they elect their members to their House of Assembly. They are the ones who should have the responsibility for education in that province and they will have to accept that responsibility. The electors will have to take their responsibility by electing the right people to the legislature.
In my view we have not taken away the right of denominational schools to exist in Newfoundland by this amendment. It is provided in there that they may continue under the resolution that is before us. While we may have weakened the current status of those schools by this resolution, we have not undermined minority rights unless we regard every group that has a school as a minority because every one of the school groups has been changed. I suppose it could be argued that every one of them is a minority and therefore we have affected minority rights, but in my view it is not an argument I find compelling enough to convince me as a non-Newfoundlander to interfere with the decision of the duly elected representatives of the people of Newfoundland expressed in their assembly before an election and again after an election, when they had a chance to change the composition of that House.
I also note that six of the seven members of Parliament from the province of Newfoundland in this House are supportive of this resolution. If my colleagues who are elected from that province support it, who am I to second guess them and say this is wrong?
I am pleased to support the resolution. I will accordingly vote against the amendment. I do so bearing very much in mind the fact that there are fears this is going to make a significant change on a particular minority, namely the Roman Catholic one. I do not believe it will. I believe this will work out for the betterment of all the people of Newfoundland.
The people from Newfoundland who have spoken in support of it have done so eloquently and they have done so in the belief that what they are doing will improve the education system in that province which on any unbiased record is, if not the worst, is one of the worst in our country. Everyone is admitting it needs improvement. This resolution is put forward by the province of Newfoundland with a view to improving it. I am happy to lend my support to it on that basis.