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.