Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my colleague from Compton—Stanstead.
There is a need today for religious denominational schools like I have probably never seen in the last 25 years. We just have to come into the House of Commons and take a look at what has happened here. We cannot say the Lord's Prayer for the first time in 131 years in the House of Commons. I am really appalled that has happened here. When that was going to happen I was on call-in shows from British Columbia to Newfoundland about the fact that the word God was being taken out of the prayer of the House of Commons as well as not saying the Lord's Prayer.
I got a call from the hon. member on the government side saying: “Elsie, we are going to put “God” back in the prayer tomorrow morning”. And I said thank God for that.
Just take a look at our young people and the pressures they are under today. I took my two sons out of the regular school system in Saint John, New Brunswick. I am Protestant but I put my sons into the Catholic school because they had the teachings there that were needed. The peer pressure in our society today is unbelievable. I am appalled to think that we would even talk about not allowing our denominational schools, our Catholic and Pentecostal schools in Newfoundland to exist.
I believe that all of us in the House of Commons have received correspondence from the Hon. Kevin Barry, a retired judge of the Supreme Court of Newfoundland. I am going to refer to the Hon. Mr. Barry's correspondence because he spells it out just the way it is.
He is saying that the new amendment proposed by the government would provide for religious courses which it would compose itself from whatever sources it deems appropriate. He says the only condition it would have to observe in so doing would be that the content of such courses must not be specific to any denomination. In effect, with that sole limitation the government would then be in complete charge of religious education in schools.
We know this country was built on good Christian values. We have respect for all cultures. That is why we open our doors here in Canada, for people to come from all over the world, and we expect them to respect our culture as well, which was built on Christianity.
According to the Hon. Mr. Barry, there would be no obligation on the government to consult with leaders of the principal denominations or any of them. For Catholics religious education for their children in school is a vital part of their educational development and it has been part of the school system in Newfoundland for the past 200 years. To eliminate it because 38% of the population voted for a questionable saving in the cost of education would be a very grave injustice to the parents who wish to educate their children in a denominational school. It was never intended by our forefathers that democracy would be used to crush minority rights in this way.
In the course of the Newfoundland government's campaign, the government had declared that religious education would still be available after the passage of the amendment. Let me say that this could be no more than a pious hope on its part since term 17 as amended provides absolutely no such guarantees.
The fact is that if the proposed amendment becomes law, government will have the exclusive authority and control over religion in all schools without obligation to consult any outside party as to its content.
Just take a look at us right here. Government decided to move in and we cannot say the Lord's Prayer in the House of Commons. What is going to happen in the school system?
Although the government received many requests for a judicial interpretation of the text of the amendment before the referendum vote, it steadfastly refused to consider it.
It keeps referring to the fact that it is going to save money and that it is going to be a better school system. As far as I understand it and have been told, the Newfoundland school system, as it exists today with the denominational schools and the other public school system, rates third across the country. They cannot do much better than that unless they come up to second and first. If we leave them alone in the system they probably will.
The government declared as one of its reasons to abolish denominational religious education in schools that its standard of pre-university education was intolerably low. When we have a referendum and this is what we are telling the people, that it would be greatly improved by getting rid of church influences in our schools, I pray that we will have more church influences in society in the future. I mean that.
I look at the pages who are here today and the young people I see on the streets. I look at the young people who are lost in my own city. They need to have church influences. As I started to say at the very beginning, they need it more now than in the last 30 years.
The truth is that the standard of education for schools in Newfoundland ranks the third highest in all of Canada. The government also informed the public that the cost that denominational schooling adds to the general system of education is intolerably high. We have been informed that the cost of education on a per capita basis in Newfoundland is the lowest in Canada.
We have been hearing from our people that they are going to save money. We heard from Premier Tobin that this is why we have to do it. Yet the cost of their education on a per capita basis is the lowest in Canada the way it is now.
From the day it announced the referendum, Premier Tobin's government utilized public moneys and resources to finance and support its campaign to abolish denominational education. At the same time, it denied any requests from the other parties for funding to assist them. It campaigned as though the referendum was a political election. It did not permit any scrutineers to be present in the ballot booths during the voting process, during the counting of the ballots or to oversee the measures taken for the scrutiny of the ballot boxes. I have never heard tell of this before. No, sir. That is a very serious situation.
While I am not aware of any allegations of fraud or improper dealings with the ballots, it is an old saying that justice must not only be done but must also appear to be done.
I am very concerned, just like the hon. Kevin Barry is, and many other people. Educated and intelligent people over there can see that this is going down the wrong road. It is going in the wrong direction. I am in favour, as we are here, of having a committee. Senators should be on it because they have people there to assist them.
I appeal to all members in this House to not let this happen. Do not go in this direction. Think about the children. Put them before politics and before anything else and keep the denominational schools in Newfoundland.