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.


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4:55 p.m.


John Cummins Reform Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, I certainly do not pretend to be an expert on the education system in Newfoundland. However I did teach school and I do understand the school system. Having taught for 25 years, I have an understanding of what can happen.

The key issue here is not the quality of education. The member for Gander-Grand Falls made that point quite clearly. The issue here is the way the referendum was conducted. A fuzzy question cannot be allowed in a referendum. We just went through that in Quebec. We are dealing with the same issue here, where a question is not self-contained and leaves itself open to wide interpretation. It is a flaw in the process. For that reason the motion should not be supported.

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4:55 p.m.


Derek Wells Liberal South Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to address the motion today. In doing so I want to address what the motion is and is not.

Let me explain why I rise to address the issue, an issue which in my opinion for the most part is a Newfoundland issue. It is an issue that the Parliament of Canada should take seriously. Parliament however should not override the will of the province unless there are some compelling reasons to do so. It must keep in mind that the matter was referred to Parliament after being the subject of a referendum in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador as well

as the subject of a unanimous vote of the Newfoundland House of Assembly. The referendum was not a legal requirement, but was conducted to gauge the wishes of the people. Also it was a major issue in the recent Newfoundland provincial election.

I represent a Nova Scotia riding but my roots are in Newfoundland. I was born there and completed my high school education there. I returned after university to teach in a small rural community before returning to Nova Scotia to complete my law degree. I attended both the integrated system of four denominations and I attended the Catholic system. I taught in the integrated system in the community of St. David's in rural Newfoundland. Just a few minutes away, in another small community, there was another all-grade school run by another denominational school board.

I am aware circumstances have changed since I attended school in Newfoundland and since I taught there some 26 years ago. However, many of the same inefficiencies created by term 17 still exist. The same divisiveness created by term 17 still exists. The same power struggle that has been ongoing in Newfoundland and Labrador for generations still exists.

I have heard it said by those who oppose the changes to term 17 that we are moving too fast, that we should slow down the process, that we should send this matter back to be reconsidered by the province. To those people I say no. With respect, this debate has gone on far too long. It is not a debate which commenced in 1995 with the provincial referendum; it is a debate which has been going on for years, in fact for generations.

For many of us who took part in this debate over the years, our concern is the amendments have not gone far enough. However, I am convinced that perhaps all that could be achieved has been achieved at this time and that we should move forward to pass this amendment.

The answer is not further delay. The answer is action now to begin the process of reforming the Newfoundland and Labrador school system. It is time we put this matter behind us.

Let me address what this legislation does not do. As other members have pointed out, lobbying on both sides has been intense and, like so many issues in the House, much of the information that has been circulated on both sides of the issue does not contain all of the relevant facts. In particular, the information about the quality of education in Newfoundland is unfortunate. Much of what we have heard is not true. In my view it is not the issue.

The hon. member for Gander-Grand Falls expressed this point much better than I could, but I agree with him on the point of the quality of education in Newfoundland. However, the debate should not be focused on that issue. We are talking about efficiencies, we are talking about the cost and we are talking about other issues. I go on the record as agreeing with the hon. member for Gander-Grand Falls with respect to that issue.

This amendment does not mean the end of denominational schools in Newfoundland and Labrador. This amendment does not abolish or extinguish denominational education in Newfoundland and Labrador. The new term 17 clearly states that subject to certain provisions all schools established, maintained and operated with public funds shall be denominational schools, and any class of persons having rights under term 17, as it read on January 1, 1995, shall continue to have the right to provide religious education, activities and observations for the children of that class in those schools. The bottom line is the amendment provides for the right to maintain religious education activities and observations in the schools.

The qualification contained in section 17(b) states that any provincial legislation dealing with the establishment or continued operation of schools must be uniformly applicable to all schools, both interdenominational and unidenominational schools. In other words, the power to the legislature is qualified.

The revised term 17 gives the Newfoundland legislature much greater control over such matters as school board boundaries, capital funding, school consolidation, student transportation and other administrative matters. The amendment removes some of the power from the churches and gives it to the duly elected representatives of the people. This debate is about power. More than that, it is about efficiencies, it is about reform and it is about better serving the interests of the students of Newfoundland and Labrador.

I will speak about some of the things the amendment does not do. The amendment is not about adversely affecting or extinguishing minority rights in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. It is fair say this is an issue we all take very seriously. If there were, in the drafting of the new term 17, an indication that minority rights were being extinguished, I am sure the amendment would not have the level of support it presently has. It is my considered opinion this amendment is not a situation in which minority rights are being adversely affected or taken away by a majority.

As previously stated in the House, there is no single denomination that dominates numerically. In this instance each of the seven main denominations is affected equally by the proposed changes. After the amendment has passed, if that is the final result, there

will still be denominational schools in Newfoundland and Labrador and they will be entrenched in the new term 17.

It has been suggested by some that by adopting this motion the House may be setting a dangerous precedent for future use. For that reason we must clearly state this amendment and this process is clearly set out in section 43 of the Constitution Act, 1982.

It is one of a number of procedures set out for amending the Constitution, each with differing degrees of difficulty. Under section 43 it is an issue between the national government and the provincial government and is limited to the case where a province approaches the federal Parliament for a bilateral change affecting that province only.

By Parliament's agreeing to the request of the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, we will not be binding future Parliaments to automatically agree to future requests under the same section. We certainly would not be binding future Parliaments to agree to any requests made under other amending sections of the Constitution.

It warrants re-emphasizing at this time that any amendment made under section 43 will in no way threaten minority language or aboriginal rights, which cannot be changed bilaterally and which are entrenched and protected by other sections of the Constitution.

We know there have been strong opinions expressed on both sides of this issue, from inside the province of Newfoundland and Labrador and from without. These views have been expressed within our own caucus and this matter will be proceeding on the basis of a free vote.

I acknowledge the views of both sides of the issue are genuine and deeply felt opinions. I do not want to suggest those who have opinion contrary to mine are wrong, but I wish to say to them we must put this matter behind us because it is in no one's best interest to see our communities and our families and our friends divided on the question of religion.

We must put this public debate behind us and move to pass what is at best a reasonable compromise between those with differing views. The changes are needed, the process has been fair and the cause is right. I will therefore be supporting the motion.

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5:05 p.m.


Mary Clancy Liberal Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, I compliment my colleague, the hon. member for South Shore, on his very lucid and erudite comments on this matter.

I compliment him particularly on his comments with regard to the protection of minority rights and what proposition 17 does not do. It bears repeating. The hon. member and I have a long history in fighting to protect minority rights. In both our support for this proposition there is an acknowledgement that neither one of us would support this if we felt minority rights were in any way under attack.

With regard to religious education, it might come as a horrible warning for some of the people who are against the amendment to know that I am a product of Catholic religious education from age 5 until I graduated with an honours degree in English literature at the age of 22. Be careful, gentlemen from the Reform Party, you may get in more trouble.

That may account in some ways for the fact that I do speak very strongly for minority rights. Nonetheless, I want to put a specific question to my colleague from the South Shore.

The hon. member for Delta spoke a few minutes ago a fuzzy question. I ask the hon. member for South Shore, a practising lawyer, what he thinks about the following question, whether he thinks it is at all fuzzy, as a practising lawyer, as a former schoolteacher, as someone born in Newfoundland.

Does he support revising term 17 in the manner proposed by the government to enable reform of the denominational, educational system, yes or no? As it was put to the people of Newfoundland, I ask the hon. member for South Shore if he thinks this is a fuzzy question.

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5:10 p.m.


Derek Wells Liberal South Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, with that preamble I dare not say I find the question fuzzy.

I raised this question with myself. I raised it with the people in Newfoundland whom I called to discuss this issue. I read the question. I read the debate that took place in the House of Assembly in Newfoundland. I read the speeches of the premier at the time. I read the speech of the leader of the opposition at the time, Lynn Verge. It is an issue I took very seriously.

If I thought for a moment the people of Newfoundland did not understand for what they were voting I would have some concerns in supporting this motion. There is no doubt in my mind, having reviewed the question, having reviewed the debates, having discussed the issue with residents. I am not saying we will not find an individual who may have been confused. I am not saying we will not find individuals who will say they did not realize this or that was part of the issue. On balance, I am happy with the question and I am happy with the result.

The ConstitutionGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.


Clifford Lincoln Liberal Lachine—Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Mr. Speaker, if we share one unanimous concern and position on this side of the House regarding the amendment to term 17 it is that Newfoundland's educational system fully deserves to be modernized and reformed to make it more efficient and more responsive to a changing world.

However, if many of us on this side of the House have reservations about the amendment, some with very strong reservations, it is not regarding the need for reform but the process used to achieve the worthy objective of reform.

The Government of Newfoundland holds that a constitutional amendment is essential to achieve reform. However, eminent experts are convinced the required reforms are quite possible within the present framework of term 17.

A framework agreement is already near reality. As recently as April 24, 1996, a mere five weeks ago, Newfoundland's education minister, Mr. Grimes, spoke thus of the framework agreement: "I am confident this framework agreement will allow us, working with stakeholders, to assist in the planning, to move forward in an efficient and reasonable manner and be consistent with the objectives government set out prior to the referendum".

Today, only five weeks after, the Government of Newfoundland would have us believe no agreement is possible and were one to happen it would be challengeable in court. Learned constitutional expert Colin Irving disagrees firmly with this presumption.

My strong objection to the present term 17 amendment relates to its real and potential effects on minority rights. Certain constitutional experts of high repute and credibility hold that in transferring to the legislative powers of the Newfoundland government certain prerogatives now enjoyed by specific parties by constitutional right, these rights and prerogatives are thereby diluted and left to the discretion and vagaries of any majority government of a provincial parliament.

Reform, no matter how praiseworthy, must never happen at the expense of acquired rights. If any rights are diminished then the reform is flawed in its very essence. The Government of Newfoundland, as indeed our own federal government, holds there is no consequence or relation to comparable minority rights under the Constitution. I beg very respectfully to differ.

Take the example of Quebec's religious educational commissions now protected under section 93 of the Constitution. It certainly would be one thing to amend this provision to implement linguistic boards-today in Quebec there is a consensus around linguistic boards-by enshrining these linguistic boards with equivalent protection within a constitutional amendment. It would be quite another thing to delegate any of the existing protections and safeguards now held under section 93 of the Constitution to the National Assembly of Quebec.

The important warning and caution expressed by Professor Patrick Monahan of Osgoode Hall Law School should not be taken lightly. I will quote: "The amendment of Term 17 would create a risk to denominational school guarantees in other provinces that did not hitherto exist".

Such an important question should not be the subject of a two-day summary debate in this House. It should be the subject of a full debate and a thorough examination, which is certainly the case for any measure before any legislature in Canada.

We must also take into account the fact that the referendum in Newfoundland was held at the end of the summer and that those opposing the issue did not have the necessary funding and infrastructure to argue their case. It was the big government machine supported by public funds on one side against the volunteers who were doing their best to fight a vague question that read as follows, and I quote:

"Do you support revising Term 17 in the manner proposed by the government to enable the reform of the denominational education system, yes or no?" I know lawyers might find it very straightforward but I know a lot of ordinary Newfoundlanders who feel differently about it.

The Newfoundland government claimed it did not have to hold a referendum. However, having decided to do so, it had to give equal opportunity to its opponents, to ask a clear question and to avoid holding the referendum during the summer months. The result was a poor turnout of only 52 per cent of voters, 54 per cent of whom voted in favour of the government position, representing only 28 p. 100 of the total number of eligible voters in Newfoundland.

It is certainly not the most convincing exercise in democracy, especially when you consider what is at stake here, namely a constitutional amendment affecting minority rights.

Minority rights are our most precious cause. As a Liberal, I consider them paramount within the exercise of my mandate as a parliamentarian. There is no more sacred trust. No one can predict how the future will unfold. Of course it is always possible that my fears and concerns may prove completely unfounded. I hope so.

However, if there should be the slightest risk that minority rights in this case may be impaired or that of other minorities be affected by creating a precedent, then the course of wisdom and equity becomes one of extreme care and caution.

Having informed myself as faithfully and intelligently as I can on both sides of the issue, I am convinced the amendment as presently framed and worded has a real and potential impact on minority rights.

As a committed Liberal, I cannot in all conscience support it and I intend to vote against it. Although I am convinced the amendment will pass handily, with the Bloc and others voting for it, I keep hoping that before it is sanctioned, the voice of caution will be

heard and there will be further debate and rethinking along the way so that a wiser solution may emerge.

When minority rights exist and are involved, the precautionary principle should always and must always apply. When minority rights exist and are involved, wisdom and equity tell us loudly and clearly that we should make haste very slowly. May care, equity, wisdom and patience prevail in the end. The cause of minority rights deserves no less.

Finally, I remind the House of the eloquent warning of a famous United States jurist, Ramsey Clark, who said some 20 years ago: "A right is not what someone gives you, it is what no one can take from you". I can hear the voices of many of the groups affected by this amendment of Term 17 asking members of this House: What right have you, have us, have we, to be taking our rights, their rights away from us, from them? This in my view is a subtle question.

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5:20 p.m.


Yvan Bernier Bloc Gaspé, QC

Mr. Speaker, first of all, I would like to say that I find it amusing to have to defend an argument coming from the former fisheries minister, Mr. Tobin, because when he sat across from me we did not always see eye to eye.

For that matter, I also find it amusing to be comparing my ideas or my view of Canadian democracy, or the democracy of each of the provinces, with a representative of the Liberal Party. He made a great point of saying that, as a good Liberal, he believed in democracy. But how is it that, when something does not suit members across the way, they always say that people took advantage of timing. They said the former premier held the referendum during the summer. The member also said that the question they used was vague. Why, then, did 54 per cent of the population of Newfoundland vote in favour? Someone must have understood something somewhere.

All that aside, if the people of the province of Newfoundland asked themselves the question they wanted to ask-because we must not forget that it was, after all, the people of the province of Newfoundland who elected the premier of Newfoundland and the government of that province as being capable of governing them, of administering what concerned them-I believe that the present premier has everything he needs, just as his predecessor did, to be able to administer and to continue to do so as the public wishes.

What I would like to ask is this: Would the member across the way not agree that once a province says that it has consulted its people, that it has agreed that democracy requires that Ottawa be asked to respect and implement the decision, it is wrong to question the validity of the referendum, to call into question the exercise of democracy in that province? I think it is insulting to the people of Newfoundland. They are mature enough to say what they want.

What they are telling us is this: Let us implement what the referendum, the consultation of the public, told us.

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5:20 p.m.


Clifford Lincoln Liberal Lachine—Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to start with a correction. I do think like a Liberal, but we are a democratic party here, one that is totally open minded. I have other colleagues, for instance my colleague stting to my left and my colleague sitting behind me, who think quite differently from me.

In this party we respect each other, we are free to think as we wish. There is a free vote. Some will vote yea, some nay. That, to me, is democracy. I do not speak for all Liberals, I speak for myself alone, as a Liberal. I totally respect the views of my colleagues who think differently. That is what makes this party great.

Second, on the question of 54 per cent of Newfoundlanders supporting the referendum, you are not too good at calculating. The majority is 54 per cent of voters. The percentage of Newfoundlanders who voted was 52. Taking fifty-four percent of fifty-two gives you 28 per cent of Newfoundlanders who voted in favour of this referendum. You have to admit, 28 per cent is a pretty small minority.

I have no objections to the fact that there was a referendum. All that I am saying is that it is up to the Parliament of Canada to judge this question, under the Constitution. This is no longer the question of the Newfoundland legislature. Tody it is the Parliament of Canada which is discussing this, not the Newfoundland legislature.

As a member of the Parliament of Canada, I must examine the entire issue, and I conclude that I do not consider it normal that the acquired rights of certain minorities be transferred from constitutional protection, from Parliament to a provincial legislature, whether it be the legislature of Newfoundland, Ontario or elsewhere, because at that point, the rights protected by the Constitution are watered down.

That is my point of view. In fact, as I have said, I am 100 per cent in favour of the formation of school boards by language in Quebec. But I would not like to see the language protection found today in section 93 of the Constitution transferred completely to a provincial legislature, whether the party in power there is Liberal, PQ or any other party.

That is my position and I am sticking firmly to it, but at the same time I respect the point of view of everyone else, including the Bloc Quebecois, and their right to vote in favour, for their own reasons.

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5:25 p.m.


Francine Lalonde Bloc Mercier, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today on this amendment, because the people of Newfoundland and Labrador have made their desire known, and I put it this way because I read it this way. I read it in the referendum question.

On September 5 the people of Newfoundland and Labrador will be asked to vote on the following question.

No doubt Newfoundland's long transition from British colony to self-government, even if it was off by itself, forged qualities permitting Newfoundlanders to be described as a people. This people voted in a referendum to make this request. They therefore decided politically that they wanted the provisions of the referendum question put to them to apply in the future.

While I am delighted to speak to this question to defend the political will of the people of Newfoundland, I would also like to point out that the Bloc Quebecois invited the Government of Newfoundland to use the occasion of the revision of its education legislation to, and I quote the letter our leader, Michel Gauthier, sent to the premier of Newfoundland. He said: "The Government of Newfoundland should use the occasion of the revision of its legislation on education to ensure the francophones there have total control over their schools, both legislatively and administratively".

I would add that history, which I have been a student of at other times, the history of Quebec and Canada reveals that, in fact, the francophone minority, which Daniel Johnson senior called "the French Canadian nation outside Quebec", has always suffered the fate chosen for it by the government of the province in question. In fact, and I will look at this point in the time remaining, section 93 originally intended to protect the protestant anglophone minority in Quebec, was cited on many occasions to protect francophone minorities. Nothing ever came of it, however. The bottom line is the pressure that may be brought to bear on each of the provinces.

This is why we took this opportunity to ask the premier to give Newfoundland francophones full control over their schools.

I would also like to point out that section 93 itself has a curious history. In 1866, while the Parliament of Canada was studying the bill to be recommended to London, Alexander Tilloch Galt, a member of the National Assembly for the Eastern Townships asked a francophone member there to introduce an amendment to protect the protestant minority in Lower Canada.

When members saw that, they proposed a subamendment that francophone minorities in Upper Canada be protected, too. May I remind you that, at the time, there were 165,000 Protestants in Lower Canada and 285,000 Catholics in Upper Canada, not all of them francophones, but 285,000 nonetheless. When the subamendment was tabled, Alexander Tilloch Galt, a member of Parliament, withdrew his amendment rather than see it applied to the Catholics of Canada West, most of whom were francophones.

So how did we end up with section 93? Simply because Alexander Tilloch Galt was among the members of Parliament sent to Her Majesty to prepare what would become the British North America Act, and when Canadians saw this act, they found section 93.

Section 93 brings back the spirit of the amendment Galt wanted passed. It provides guarantees that the rights and privileges enjoyed by denominational schools at the time of the union will be maintained. Should these rights been infringed upon, an appeal may be made to the governor general, who can recommend a piece of legislation. If the province refuses, the Government of Canada may pass remedial laws. In fact, this section was invoked quite often to protect not English Canadians in Quebec but French Canadian Catholics outside Quebec and, may I remind you, used repeatedly and persistently without success.

Let us look at the various cases, starting with the New Brunswick schools in 1871. By cutting all subsidies to separate schools, the New Brunswick legislature was forcing less fortunate Acadians to either accept double taxation or shut down their schools, under penalty of seizure. History has it that the superintendent responsible for enforcing the law was known to be, if not a fanatic, at least an extremist.

Acadians, who had taken a stand for Confederation, against the Protestant majority, which, may I remind you, was in opposition-so much so that they had to be called to order by London-were convinced they would be successful in their appeal to the federal government concerning the application of section 93.

Did Cartier not promote the Constitution, saying that the protection offered under the said section extended to all minorities? Imagine their surprise when Sir John A. MacDonald handed down his verdict, saying that New Brunswick's law was undeniably constitutional and that he had no cause or right to disallow it.

Naturally, Quebecers took issue with this decision. On that occasion, historians became aware of Acadians again. The people's feelings were so inflamed that Sir George Étienne Cartier, the great Sir George Étienne Cartier, ran into trouble in the August 1871 election, eventually being defeated.

Without getting into details, suffice it to say that, to resolve this issue, Mgr. Taché had considered getting Louis Riel elected and then having him give his seat to George Étienne Cartier so that he could settle the matter of the Metis as well as that of the separate schools in New Brunswick. This goes to show that this issue of

schools and their relation to the Constitution has always been a source of tensions in Canada.

In 1895, the issue of schools in Manitoba again profoundly troubled French Canadians who accounted for half of the population of Manitoba, in 1870, and for close to a third, in 1890. In 1895, the government decided to abolish the French catholic school system, claiming once again that it was too costly. To Quebec's utter surprise, the compromise arrived at by Laurier, the first French Canadian Prime Minister, compelled French Canadians in Manitoba to levy a second tax on themselves to pay for their own school system.

Imagine the indignation and the rebellion of English speaking Protestants if Quebec had even given a thought to doing the same for their own schools, even though they were not as numerous as French Canadians in Manitoba and, I might add, generally richer.

In 1915-1915, it rings a bell, does it not?-Ontario passed regulation 17 essentially banning the teaching of French in schools. French speaking Catholics did not get any support from English speaking Catholics. This debate was extremely upsetting for Quebec, just at the time when the issue of the conscription of young people to serve overseas was stirring up a huge controversy in the population. I believe that English Canada does not know to what extent the issue of regulation 17 started the ball rolling towards Quebec voting against the government on conscription.

The great French Canadians who, at that time, were defending Quebec, namely Henri Bourassa and Armand Lavergne, were linking both causes, and Armand Lavergne was one of the heroes in this fight. I will just read a quote from one of the speeches he gave in this House: "If we must fight for our freedom, we must stay here. I am saying, and I do not care where my comments are repeated, that any French Canadian who enlists is not doing his duty-"

That means that there was a link between the right to French schools and the teaching of French and the defense of freedom. It is that simple.

Laurier, torn between Canadians and Canadiens , resorted to appealing to Canadians' sense of fairness with regard to enlisting: ``If I ask that English be taught to the young people of my race, are you going to deny them that they also learn their forefathers'language? This is all I am asking, nothing more''. But it was too much.

Prime Minister Borden, pushed into influencing the Ontario premier by French Canadian bishops, was told that "any government giving in to French-Canadians would be thrown out of office within 24 hours". The federal government passed the compulsory military service legislation during the summer of 1917, against the advice of Laurier, then Leader of the Opposition, and in spite of the agitation in Quebec. What was the result? You know what happened. In December 1917, there was an election, Borden was elected by a majority, but all of Quebec, except for three English ridings in Montreal, voted massively against him.

For the first time, a government was elected without the participation of the French-Canadians. Quebec was highly criticized in English Canada, but New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island had also voted against the conscription party. It is in this context that J.N. Francoeur, whom certain hon. members do not know perhaps, presented his resolution.

On January 17, 1918, J.N. Francoeur tabled a motion in the Quebec provincial legislature which raised quite a storm and which he withdrew on January 23, after having obtained results he considered satisfactory, given the circumstances; the motion stated: "That this House thinks the province of Quebec would accept the abrogation of the 1867 covenant if other provinces were to consider it is an obstacle to the union, the progress and the development of Canada".

Why bring back these facts? I could go on and on. Because what happened afterwards, the Official Languages Act, and the charter later on, did not succeed in giving the federal government the power to "protect" minorities.

History will show us that, even with the adoption of the charter, Catholic francophones who want to manage their schools will have to go to the Supreme Court. Basically, we take the opportunity given by this debate where we support the people of Newfoundland to remind them they are the only ones who can make a difference.

We must remember that, when the Official Languages Act was passed, assimilation had wrought havoc, but since the act was passed and since the charter, assimilation has been increasing, in some cases, at an increasingly accelerated pace, as we learned recently from Statistics Canada.

In the case of Newfoundland, it seems important to us for Premier Tobin to say clearly he will give francophones control over their schools and, while we respect the will of the people, we really think, hope, and wish that Newfoundlanders will take their responsibility, as Quebec did, and protect their minority.

I think it must be recognized it is not the Constitution that protects English Canadians in Montreal and in the whole of the province of Quebec, but indeed Quebec's own charter, Bill 101, which recognizes rights that francophones are far from enjoying elsewhere in Canada.

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5:40 p.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened with some interest and was not sure whether the member of the Bloc Quebecois was really speaking in support of the province and the people of Newfoundland. Often in this place

members of the Official Opposition have shown very little sensitivity to the rest of the country.

I will be brief in my question because I do not want to lose it in rhetoric. The issue for the Bloc Quebecois concerns the referendum. The Bloc and the hon. member know fair well that only 52 per cent of eligible Newfoundland voters turned out to vote. Of those who voted approximately 55 per cent or 28 per cent of the population voted in favour of the referendum question.

Would the member care to admit to the House that the situation in Newfoundland in which a small minority of the population voted in favour of the question would be used by the Bloc Quebecois, by Lucien Bouchard and by the Parti Quebecois to support their contention that 50 per cent plus one of the voters who actually turned out to vote would be enough for Quebec to separate from Canada?

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5:40 p.m.


Francine Lalonde Bloc Mercier, QC

Mr. Speaker, I expected a question on the referendum, but not one phrased like this. It goes without saying that the Bloc Quebecois supports this referendum. It is in this House that I heard for the first time some say that it is not representative. Yet, the generally recognized rules of democracy were complied with. I did not hear anyone say it was a disgrace. When 52 per cent of the population votes and comes to a majority decision, you cannot say the referendum is not valid.

In Quebec, as I recall, 94 per cent of eligible voters did vote. We are convinced that, in the next referendum, the same proportion of people will vote. We do not want to invoke this fact, this is not the reality to which we are used when it comes to the issue of sovereignty.

As regards this issue, in Quebec, we have always strongly supported a democratic exercise involving the population. Obviously, we cannot compare the results of the referendum held in Quebec with those on the restructuring of the school system in Newfoundland, because the latter issue may seem less important to the general population. We cannot force people to vote.

When the majority expresses its views and wins, we do not see why we should not recognize such a result. You may think the result was close, but just remember the extremely narrow margins in Europe regarding the Maastricht treaty. Decisions affecting major nations with a lot at stake were taken, based on differences as small as 0.05 or 0.06 per cent.

We cannot question the results of this referendum, whereby the Government of Newfoundland seeks to be the sole and only government involved. I do not say this out of fear that the next referendum in Quebec might not draw a large percentage of voters.

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5:45 p.m.


John Bryden Liberal Hamilton—Wentworth, ON

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate my colleague from Mercier on her excellent speech. I listened to it with great attention.

I noted that the speech dealt obliquely but nevertheless very really with the question of distinct society. Implicit in everything the member said was the recognition, at least I felt so, that the people of Newfoundland are a distinct society in terms of their traditions, their culture, their educational system and their religion.

I was very much encouraged by the expression of support and confidence in the people of Newfoundland by the member. It is entirely appropriate in a question dealing with religion and education that she and the Bloc Quebecois support the premise a distinct society, whether defined by language or region of the country, has a right to have its need for self-determination heard and decided upon by the House.

I take great encouragement in this point. I am the first one to agree that Quebec represents a distinct society and that Newfoundland is a distinct society as well.

I ask the member to comment on the desire of the people of Newfoundland. Their national assembly through their provincial parliament, I point out to the member, voted unanimously to take this matter to the federal Parliament. It is not just a matter of a referendum. Indeed I think the referendum is a secondary issue here. It is a matter of the rights of a distinct society to have desires for change or for the status quo expressed by its government to the Parliament of Canada when the desires become constitutional issues. Consequently it is right and proper for Newfoundland to do it.

I would be very interested in the views of the member.

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5:50 p.m.


Francine Lalonde Bloc Mercier, QC

Mr. Speaker, perhaps we could come back to the status of Newfoundland another time. Newfoundland was for a long time a distinct British colony. It is in 1949 only that its inhabitants finally decided to join Canada. I think this gave them a strong sense of belonging, something I can attest to. I have often been pleased to see that politics is as important for Newfoundlanders as it is for Quebecers. So I am told, when Newfoundlanders meet on Sunday mornings, discussions are as lively as they are in Quebec. So much for the first part of the question.

I also know that Newfoundland, through its premier, strongly opposed the recognition of Quebec's distinct society, while the Newfoundland government is not seeking the recognition of its

own distinct society. On the contrary, the people of Newfoundland have tried very hard since 1949 to define themselves as Canadians and to even assume the leadership of this Canadian nation in which Quebecers do not feel at home.

Our history being different, if we support this motion it is because we are told that the people of Newfoundland voted for it as only they can do so. We ask them to take care of French speaking Catholics because provinces are ultimately the ones who can give French speaking Catholics a minimum of tools to slow down assimilation.

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5:50 p.m.


Mauril Bélanger Liberal Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak on this issue. There are three points that I wish to point out: first, the substance of the motion now before us; second, the issue of precedent; and third, the rights of francophones of Newfoundland and Labrador.

On the matter of substance, what is before us is a request from the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador to amend the terms of the union, section 17, to have a greater say in the administration and governance of the school system in the province.

I admit to a certain amount of sympathy for that. For instance, in the Ottawa-Carleton area which is essentially more populous than Newfoundland we have six school boards. Very often we hear people in the community griping about there being too many and so forth. Newfoundland which has a lesser population than the Ottawa-Carleton area has 27 school boards. One can imagine certain elements of administrative costs the government would perhaps want to better control. On that basis there is a certain amount of sympathy among the people of Ottawa-Vanier.

The notion of trying to reduce the number of school boards seems to have some merit. From the arguments we have heard and the facts in this case, even the representatives of the various denominations that have control of the school boards have negotiated with the government to arrive at a different situation.

I have been advised there was certainly a willingness on the part of the various representatives of the denominations to come to terms with what the government wanted to do. On the basis of the willingness to move it would indicate a need to do so. On the basis of the substance, therefore, I would be hard pressed to say there is no merit.

The simple fact is that the government was elected and this was at the forefront of its campaign. It has the approval of an overwhelming and perhaps even unanimous majority of members of the legislative assembly. The fact that it is supported by all party leaders would indicate a certain amount of willingness to move in that direction and to modernize the school system in Newfoundland.

On that basis I have to admit a certain amount of sympathy for the request.

As far as the question of precedent is concerned and the fact that a precedent could jeopardize the linguistic rights of minorities elsewhere in the country, I must say the answer to such a question is a firm no.

The bilateral constitutional amendment that Newfoundland is asking us is possible pursuant to section 43 of the Constitution of Canada and does not affect in any way section 23 of the charter, which protects the rights of linguistic minorities. The amendment deals only with the situation of Newfoundland and gives the government the right to administer the school system. The right of church groups to operate schools is maintained.

As for affecting the rights of linguistic minorities elsewhere, that would require the application of the amending formula we know, which requires seven provinces totalling 50 per cent of the population, as well as the application of the regional veto rule we imposed on ourselves and the agreement of the Government of Canada, which is not easy to obtain when it is to reduce minority rights. I can hardly imagine a situation or circumstances that could lead to such a change. And I am not alone to think so.

I would like to quote the Minister of Justice who said in this House: "The instance we have before us is profoundly different from what would arise with a proposal to change minority language or native education rights". The minister made that declaration after consulting many experts. That is not to be taken lightly.

I would also like to quote a text sent to the Department of Justice by the respected company McCarthy Tétrault. It was signed by Ian Benny. Here is what it said in English:

In our opinion there is no realistic possibility that use of section 43 by Newfoundland and Canada to enact a proposed constitutional amendment would have legal implications for minority rights in any other province or under the charter.

Given these opinions, I would say that the rights of minorities in other provinces, particulary the rights of francophone minorities, are not threatened by the adoption of the resolution under consideration.

I would now like to speak about the rights of francophones in Newfoundland and Labrador. At the present time, there is no francophone school board, despite sections 16 and 23 of the charter. This situation led, earlier this year, to a court challenge on the part of six individuals, the Fédération des parents francophones de Terre-Neuve et du Labrador, and the Fédération francophone de Terre-Neuve et du Labrador against the Government of Newfoundland and that province's education minister. Since this case is now before the courts, I will refrain from commenting on it.

I will not, however, refrain from commenting on the fact that 14 years after the passage of the charter of rights and freedoms in 1982, there is still such a situation in Newfoundland. I was very encouraged by the remarks of the premier of Newfoundland, the hon. Brian Tobin. I would like to quote from an article that appeared in Le Droit on May 30 or 31. The article quotes Mr. Tobin as saying: ``Once the constitutional amendment required by Newfoundland has been passed, we will be able to make provision for a school board serving the francophone community of Newfoundland and Labrador''.

A little further on, Mr. Tobin continues: "I am prepared to see that the francophone minority of the province of Newfoundland and Labrador is given the means to manage in the province". Let us therefore hope that the situation will be corrected before the fifteenth anniversary of the charter if this amendment is passed today.

I would also like to add that last weekend I took part in the annual meeting of ACFO, the Association canadienne-française de l'Ontario.

It is very interesting to note that the topic was not raised, even though the meeting took place on the eve of today's debate. I, however, took the opportunity to discuss the issue with a number of people who were there, and, on the whole, those I spoke with seemed to be in favour of the resolution before us.

In conclusion, in light of what I have said about the substance, about the fear of setting a precedent, especially with respect to linguistic minority rights across the country, and on the strength of the argument advanced by the premier of Newfoundland, Brian Tobin, I would indicate that, in the vote later this evening, I will be supporting the resolution.

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6 p.m.


Gilbert Fillion Bloc Chicoutimi, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have listened attentively to what my colleague has had to say. As you know, we in the Bloc Quebecois are rather concerned about francophone minorities.

The hon. member has spoken reassuringly, and I trust that the government of Premier Tobin will take his words into consideration, and that the Bloc's concerns about this minority will be lessened as a result, when the time comes to effect the reform. School reform is a provincial responsibility.

Despite his support of the project, the hon. member has not mentioned the referendum held in that province. That is what I want him to tell me. I would have liked to find out what my hon. colleague considers a democratic majority in a parliamentary regime such as ours. Normally, a democratic majority is a plurality, that is 50 per cent plus one. Is my colleague questioning the legitimacy of the public consultation held by the Government of Newfoundland last September 5?

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6 p.m.


Mauril Bélanger Liberal Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, my colleague is quite right. I did not raise the matter of the referendum, because, in my opinion, it has no place in this debate.

What counts is what the Government of Newfoundland wants, the amending formula before us. The current Government of Newfoundland was elected with a platform that included this bill, this reform of the education system and bilateral amendment. They received a majority mandate. The fact that this support was reinforced by the other members of the Newfoundland legislature augurs well and that, given the amending formula chosen, ought to be enough.

I understand my colleague tried to trip me up, to make me say things I did not want to. Unfortunately, he will have to try again, because it will not work.

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June 3rd, 1996 / 6 p.m.


Russell MacLellan Liberal Cape Breton—The Sydneys, NS

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me this evening to speak on the motion. It is an extremely important issue. I think we could say that about all constitutional amendments. This one has evoked a lot of interest and a certain amount of controversy.

We are talking about term 17 and change thereto. In the Constitution Act, 1867 section 93 relegates education to the provinces but it does so with the proviso that we respect the denominational rights in the school systems and also the religious views.

What we are doing here we are doing under section 43 of the Constitution Act, 1982. Where there is a bilateral interest where one or more provinces, but not all, wishes to make a change relating only to that province or provinces, the amendments have to be dealt with by the provinces affected and the federal government.

In this case we have one province affected, Newfoundland. What we require is a resolution in the legislative assembly of Newfoundland, which we have. We also require, because the other party is the federal government, a motion through the Senate and the House of Commons of the Government of Canada. This is what we are doing at the present time, dealing with the resolution in the House of Commons.

We have to look at this very carefully. It has been said the resolution is a rubber stamp as far as the federal government is concerned. That is not true. It has been said this affects only Newfoundland and Newfoundlanders should be the ones to judge whether this part of the Constitution should be changed. That is not true.

Newfoundland is a province of Canada. As such there is an interest of all Canadians in what takes place in Newfoundland. If it were just a rubber stamp, why would the federal government even be involved? Why not allow the legislative assembly to pass its resolution and then have it acknowledged by the House of Commons and the Senate? That is not the case. The federal government, through the House of Commons and the Senate, is asked to consider this resolution, which we are doing very carefully.

There has also been a lot said about minority rights, that there is an infringement here of minority rights if we go ahead and pass this resolution. That is not true. There is an infringement on minority rights now as the matter stands in Newfoundland. The school system in Newfoundland is run by seven religious denominations. There are four separate school boards. Four of the denominations are in one school board, the integrated school board, and three other denominations have their own school boards.

Here we have a province with a population the size of the city of Calgary spread over an infinitely wider area, with a tremendously large rural area, with an incredibly high unemployment rate and a low per capita income. We have four school boards, none of which is controlled by the province of Newfoundland. Where the minority rights are being infringed on now is that these seven religious denominations represent only 95 per cent of the population. Therefore 5 per cent of the population of Newfoundland does not have any school board representing its interests.

It has been said this will affect minority language rights in Canada. That is not the case. Minority language rights are protected by section 23 of the charter of rights and freedoms. We have been told that if we pass this it will affect aboriginal rights. That is not true either. Aboriginal rights are protected by section 91.24 of the Constitution Act, 1867, section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982 and section 25 of the charter of rights and freedoms.

We have been told that if we pass this, religious institutions in other provinces will be affected and their rights forfeited. That will not happen because this is a stand alone resolution affecting Newfoundland. Section 93 of the Constitution Act, 1867 was put there to represent the four founding provinces of Canada. Each province that came in had its own arrangement and locked in. When Newfoundland came into Confederation in 1949 it wanted to have denominational rights entrenched in the Constitution. Now it wants that changed. That is not an unreasonable request, nor is it a request which will be unconstitutional.

The Constitution represents the rights of the Canadian people. It also represents the powers of the federal and provincial governments. Section 91 talks about federal rights. Section 92 talks about provincial rights. Section 93 talks about education as a provincial right. What we are talking about is who is to have jurisdiction over education.

Right now in the province of Newfoundland there are four school boards controlled by religious denominations, not by the province of Newfoundland. The province of Newfoundland pays the bills. The teachers are hired by the school boards. They decide what schools are to be built. They decide the curriculum.

The province of Newfoundland does not have a constitutional power in its own province. The schools are controlled by religious institutions. How can we say the province of Newfoundland cannot make an amendment which would enhance the power it has been granted under the Constitution? It does not make sense.

Not only that, there has to be accountability in education. Every province has a difficult time trying to get the departments of education to provide a level of education which is suitable, particularly to the parents, and which will be of benefit to the students. In this case there is no accountability. It is not that the churches do not listen to the people, but they are not accountable through the election process as are the provincial governments. The provincial government has to be held accountable for the education system in the province of Newfoundland. The only way it can be held accountable is if it makes some decisions and has some control.

The province of Newfoundland has said it is not doing away with denominational education. There will be interdenominational schools and there will be unidenominational schools where the parents and the populations justify.

The churches will still have a role in the curriculum. They will have a majority representation on the school boards. It is just that the school boards are to be reduced from 27 to 10.

We are talking about a province which has lost 35,000 jobs in the fishery. What are these families doing with their children? They have to rely on a good school system. It is the future for their children. They cannot afford to send their children to private schools. It is vital the school system represent the hopes and aspirations of the people who are not able to work. They are looking for a future for themselves and for their children. Education is the future for the young people of Newfoundland. If there is to be a future, the province of Newfoundland has to be accountable. That is what this resolution is about.

We want to pass this resolution. We want the province of Newfoundland to abide by what it has promised the churches, that they will be involved. It has tried since the royal commission of 1992 to reach an agreement. They were not able to reach an agreement, and so this is the only way.

People say why not pass a resolution in the legislative assembly. If we do that we are open to an action on the Constitution. The Constitution will still say the denominational school system is in place and that the churches are supreme in education in Newfoundland. That is why we have to change the Constitution. It is a very reasonable request and I support it.

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6:15 p.m.


Gilbert Fillion Bloc Chicoutimi, QC

Mr. Speaker, again, I have to congratulate my hon. colleague for his first comments, when he put us on the track by saying that such a resolution should not be passed blindly and that every step needed should be taken to debate it. So, today, the debate held in Newfoundland is now in this House and everyone wishing to take part can do so. This is a principle I recognize and I am proud to tell him that I liked his comment.

However, he avoided a basic issue, that is the recognition of the referendum held in Newfoundland on September 5. That is important. It is okay to talk about a school system and about minority rights, but it is out of the question to talk about a basic principle such as the recognition and the legitimacy of a referendum held according to the rules of democracy. Therefore, I ask my hon. colleague why so many members in his caucus are trampling on such a fundamental right, the recognition of a referendum held by citizens.

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6:15 p.m.


Russell MacLellan Liberal Cape Breton—The Sydneys, NS

Mr. Speaker, this is not about referenda. This is about education. It is about providing a suitable level of quality of education for the students in Newfoundland.

There was no requirement for a referendum. The Government of Newfoundland called a referendum because it wanted to show it was serious about having good faith in this matter. I cannot really talk about a referendum because a referendum was not something called for, it was really not part of the process.

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6:15 p.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member has made a very good presentation of the facts concerning the condition of the educational system in Newfoundland.

This situation was created in 1949 when Newfoundland joined Confederation. It is not a problem that has occurred in the past year or in the past five or ten years-the member is nodding in agreement-but it is a problem which has been around for some time and has to be dealt with.

I believe my facts are correct. Could the member enlighten me why in 1987 Newfoundland added two more boards to the already 25 boards when it had this problem? Why did it make it worse rather than dealing with it? The problem must have existed in 1987. There must be an explanation.

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6:15 p.m.


Russell MacLellan Liberal Cape Breton—The Sydneys, NS

Mr. Speaker, it is a mystery why two other boards were added, but it was a political decision. In hindsight, not all political decisions are what we would do at the present time.

There are 27 boards in a province with a population of approximately 600,000 people. In rural areas having a school bus driving for miles until it reaches the denominational school of choice for a student is not in the best interests of providing the best level of education.

As I mentioned earlier, the major decisions are not made by the Government of Newfoundland which as government must be held accountable. Not only that but for every dollar put into a denominational school in one of the 27 school boards, the equivalent of that dollar has to be put into every other denominational school in that jurisdiction. If the roof leaks at one of the school boards, the other three school boards in the district get the same amount of money even though they do not need it. They put it in a bank account where it accumulates interest. The province has not been able to keep tabs on where this money goes or how it is spent. The situation is completely out of control. The accent has to be put back on giving the young people in Newfoundland the best education that they possibly can get for the dollar that the Newfoundland government can give them.

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6:20 p.m.


Dennis Mills Liberal Broadview—Greenwood, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to participate in this debate.

I would like to begin by going back to the very first piece of campaign literature that I put out in my riding, even before I was elected. At that time the constitutional debate that was evolving in the country was centred around the Meech Lake accord.

The then leader of our party, Mr. John Turner, and I had a meeting about the riding of Broadview-Greenwood which had been NDP for some 25 years. I asked his permission to seek the Liberal nomination in that riding. I said: "Mr. Turner, there is one issue that I would really like to make central in my campaign". It had to do with the Meech Lake accord. I said that I would like his permission to campaign on the fact that the Meech Lake accord was flawed and needed amending and I wanted that to be a central part of the reason why I would knock on doors and seek that riding.

Mr. Turner was very generous in his response. There was a nomination meeting which I won and I then began my campaign in Broadview-Greenwood. Just the other day I was handed that very first piece of literature which I put into the riding. The masthead of it states: "Why I want to be your member of Parliament" and underneath, which the person brought to my attention, I said: "I believe in a strong national government, one that protects minority rights and is sensitive to regional concerns. I am opposed to the Meech Lake accord because I believe that in its current form

Meech Lake weakens the national government's ability to manage these concerns".

When this issue was put before us in January and we learned that we were going to be asked to debate this issue in the House of Commons, I immediately started seeking the advice and counsel of people far more learned than I in this whole area of constitutional law. I found out that there were some concerns with this amendment. Not only was there the question of minority rights but there was the question of the precedent that was going to be established through this process which could or might have an adverse effect in the future in other provinces of our country.

Over the last few years the train of decentralization has been going very fast through this House of Commons. We have been dismantling, offloading, passing on responsibilities to provincial governments at a rate that I do not think many of us would have imagined possible.

I speak as someone who has always believed that the national government should have the capacity to act in the national interest and should have the instruments to maintain that capacity. Many of these instruments are being changed dramatically and slowly but surely, in my judgment, we are becoming nothing more than a glorified think tank. We are giving away instruments which I certainly do not believe is going to serve us well in the long run as we try to hold the country together.

No one in the House would argue that the status quo should be maintained when it comes to modernizing and reforming the educational system in Newfoundland. Nobody is talking about dictating or interfering with how that provincial jurisdiction manages education.

A framework agreement was put in place to which the province had agreed in principal. When progress is being made and a framework agreement is in place, I wonder why the need for a constitutional amendment.

I think of the progress that was made on the framework agreement. In spite of that there is this drive to put this through Parliament in almost one day. I wonder if members are studying and looking at the detail enough. I cannot for the life of me understand why, in the interests of giving everybody a comfort level, not just in the province of Newfoundland but other provinces, we do not take the time in committee to do that, especially when we know that we are setting a very dangerous precedent here.

One of the things the Minister of Justice said in his speech on Friday was:

The government of the province of Newfoundland and Labrador has also tabled draft legislation by which it would be provided that unidenominational schools may be created where numbers warrant and where the parents choose that for their children.

I have heard the same statement today from many members supporting this resolution. I have asked in the debate if members would support an amendment to the resolution that is now before the House that would reflect in specific terms those very words. It is with that in mind that I would like to move:

That the motion be amended in the schedule entitled "Amendment to the Constitution of Canada":

(a) by adding the words "where numbers warrant" immediately before the word "any" in paragraph (b)(i);

(b) by adding the words "determine and" immediately following the words "observances and to" in paragraph (c).

I would like to put that amendment forward.

In summary, I believe in the spirit of compromise. Many members in the House today have stated that there is a spirit of compromise. I am hoping that the government would see that and if it chose to support the amendment then it would go a long way in alleviating those minority rights that so many of us are concerned about.

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6:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Kilger)

The amendment put forward by the hon. member for Broadview-Greenwood is in order.

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6:30 p.m.


Derek Wells Liberal South Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, by way of clarification on the amendment, the member would add the words "where numbers warrant". Which body would decide if the numbers were sufficient? Would it be a school board, a church or the provincial legislature?

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6:30 p.m.


Dennis Mills Liberal Broadview—Greenwood, ON

Mr. Speaker, we are following the exact resolution that has been tabled here today. It specifically enshrines the words the Minister of Justice used in his speech on Friday. It gives further definition to (b)(i). That further definition is exactly what the Minister of Justice stated in his speech.

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6:30 p.m.


Joe Comuzzi Liberal Thunder Bay—Nipigon, ON

Mr. Speaker, I compliment my friend and colleague from Broadview-Greenwood on his very eloquent speech and for his well thought out amendment to the motion which will be voted on sometime this evening.

As the issue was being discussed over the past 10 days, we heard from many quarters the results of changing the Constitution of Canada. The Constitution has been debated for many reasons for many years.

We are changing an article of the Constitution. In the debate over the past 10 days we have heard that this will open the floodgates for constitutional change as it affects not only the province which was the last to enter Confederation, but Canada's many provinces

particularly those in the west. They will have the opportunity for constitutional change such as the one before the House today.

My friend has some knowledge in this area. Would he mind explaining to the House the potential for opening the floodgates with respect to this change and how it affects future changes to the Constitution of Canada?