Mr. Speaker, today we are debating again the Newfoundland schools issue. It is an issue which the government seems to slip in and foist upon the House without due notice. I must say it certainly caught me by surprise that it was going to be discussed again today. I find that most disturbing because I think that the issue itself is an issue of significant importance not only to Newfoundland but also to Canadians from coast to coast.
This morning my leader gave an outstanding speech on this matter in the House. We would do well to listen to the cautions that he raised.
He suggested three things. He proposed three tests which should be considered before any constitutional amendment is passed by the House. The three tests which he suggested are the test of democratic consent, the test of the rule of law, and the test of the Canadian national interest.
I would first like to take a look at the test of democratic consent. He asked questions about that. Was there a clear majority result from the referendum respecting the term 17 amendment? He asked if the referendum process was fair and if the question was unbiased. I have a lot of problems with the whole process.
I would like to read into the record some of the problems that Harold Flynn, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Catholic Education Association, printed in an advertisement in the Ottawa Citizen . He noted that the government's conduct during the referendum compromised the democratic process. He said: “We urge you to consider all the facts before making a decision”. The first point that he asked us to look at was this.
The first point read:
The proposed amendment will bring about profound social change in Newfoundland, and deprive denominational minorities of the same religious education rights that are currently enshrined in the Constitution.
I will get on to this point later in my speech but he has raised an important point, the legality of the issue. The second point read:
The referendum was announced only on July 31, leaving too little time for thoughtful analysis and informed debate.
The next point read:
The text of the proposed Constitutional amendment was not presented until August 24, precluding an opportunity to consider its merits and implications.
Another point read:
Government spent significant amounts of tax dollars to promote the YES side, but refused public funds to those with different views.
Those points he raised question the validity of the process used. It is important to note that if we are to conduct referendums; if we believe in the referendum process; if we want the referendum process to solve certain issues whether the issue be capital punishment, the abortion issue or so on; and if we are to use the referendum process, we must ensure the process is run fairly and there is no bias built into it.
By allowing for as little time as was allowed for in this vote it precluded thoughtful analysis of the issue and precluded honest debate. The fact that the government financed one portion of the debate is not healthy in a referendum process. If the government is proposing a referendum it should leave the discussion of the issue and the financing of the matter to the citizens. It is wrong for the government to involve itself in the debate in that manner.
The next point read:
Government has allowed voters to cast their ballots outside their electoral districts, increasing the opportunity for electoral abuse.
And the next read:
Government refused to allow scrutineers at polling stations, denying advocates an opportunity to observe the voting process to ensure that it was fair and democratic.
Mr. Flynn went on to note:
We regard the Canadian Constitution and its safeguards as a sacred compact. We believe the procedure to change it must be equally sacred—especially when they affect minority rights and referendums.
By exploiting this referendum “mandate”, the provincial government plans to subordinate the rights of religious minorities to the tyranny of the majority.
I could not agree more with what Mr. Flynn noted in this talk.
The last point he raised is another point raised by the Leader of the Opposition this morning, the test of the rule of law. It is important to address that issue. Inherent in that test of responsibilities is that the government has to protect minority rights, and it is something that it has not done.
In addressing that particular issue I think it is worth noting section 93(3) of the Constitution in particular:
Where in any province a system of separate or distinct schools exists by law at the union or is therefore established by the legislature of the province, an appeal shall lie to Governor General in Council from any act or decision of the provincial authority affecting any right or privilege of the Protestant or Roman Catholic minority of the Queen's subjects in relation to education.
That statement puts a heavy burden on the government. It means that the government cannot change the Constitution with regard to education rights willy-nilly. It must reflect carefully on its responsibility.
When Newfoundland entered into Confederation in 1949 the terms of the union gave special protection to the Newfoundland denominational schools. The protection given in term 17 of the terms of union was in addition to the general protection of denominational schools given in section 93 of the Constitution of 1867, what has always been known as the British North America Act.
The amendment of the Constitution of Canada proposed by the Government of Newfoundland before the House today would remove the special protection negotiated in 1949. More than that, it would exempt Newfoundland from the general protection found in section 93. That section applies to all Canadians.
This amendment would remove the protection available to all other Canadians. In one fell swoop Newfoundland would go from giving the best protection to its minority denominational schools to giving the least.
Section 93 makes the federal government a guarantor of minority denominational schools, which means the federal government has a responsibility in the matter of minority denomination schools. This Parliament has responsibility to protect minority denominational education. It cannot simply allow the Constitution to be changed in that manner.
Beyond that particular point of law is the next point addressed by the Leader of the Opposition this morning: how this would affect other Canadians. This point is important.
Ted Byfield in a recent column in The British Columbia Report noted that it is one of Canada's current ironies that the kinds of schools the Government of Newfoundland is desperately trying to institute and make compulsory people in other parts of Canada are trying just as desperately to escape.
A series of questions have to be asked here. Who will educate my children? That is a key question. Who will be responsible for educating my children? Will it be the government, the teachers' union, a committee of the school or me, the parent? Who will be ultimately responsible for educating that child? Who will ensure that the values I teach my child at home will not be undermined when I send my child to school?
Newfoundland wants to move toward a public school system, a government run school system that tries to say somehow or another it can teach values without teaching them, that somehow it can instil in my children the kinds of values I want them to take into life, and that it can do it without doing it. That sounds almost contradictory but that in fact is what it wants to say.
I think that is wrong. I have a particular set of values that deals with things important to me. Those things might be my views on the abortion issue. They might be my views on same sex marriages. They might be my views on any one of a number of things.
When my child goes to school my values should not be undermined. The religious values I may want to teach my child are not contrary to the laws of the land. They are values that have long standing in the community, at least 2,000 years. They are values I hold dearly.
In saying that I am not setting myself up as some kind of paragon of virtue. Far from it. The only perfect man died 2,000 years ago. You and I know that quite well, Mr. Speaker.
What I am saying is that I try in the best way I can to instil in my child some values that I think worth while. I do not want to send my child to a school where those values would be undermined.
In the province of British Columbia that can happen and that bothers me greatly. In Newfoundland's current system there is choice within the community. One can pick a Catholic school, a Pentecostal school or one of the unified schools. I think that choice should be expanded.
The supreme court recently heard a petition from some fundamental Christians in Ontario who wanted to have some government funding to support their schools. That was denied. I think denying that is wrong.
Parents should have the ultimate authority on how they spend their money, on how they educate their children. That authority should be issued to them with a voucher. They should have the right to pick the school they want to educate their children in. There should be no questions asked.
It bothers me greatly to see the legislation before the House. In my view the government is treating lightly its responsibility to protect denominational schools under the Constitution. Not only that. It is trampling on my rights and the rights of the citizens of Newfoundland to educate their children as they see fit.
I raise another point. I feel somewhat reluctant to do it but I will do it anyway. It has to do with the trend in our society, the news media in our society and other factors in our society. I feel somewhat awkward raising the issue. I do not want someone asking who this guy thinks he is. As I said before I do not pretend to be perfect, but it bothers me greatly to see the continual beating up the Christian community has taken by the media and by the government in bringing forward the bill.
I could cite example after example, which I will do. The first example of government beating up on the Christian community is the bill. It is as clear to me as the sun rising in the morning that the bill is somehow simply denying people the right to have their children educated the way they see fit, and that way may be the Christian way. It bothers me that is true.
We could skip out to British Columbia to take a look at what has happened with the British Columbia College of Teachers. It is denying Trinity Western University, a fundamentalist Christian university, the right to train teachers for the public school system. Trinity Western University requires that its students take an oath to abstain from homosexual activity and to abstain from premarital sex, in other words to support a clearly Christian agenda.
According to the college of teachers, the taking of that oath should disallow that university from training teachers because teachers who have made a commitment to living up to these Christian ideals are somehow unfit to teach in the public school system of British Columbia.
I think that is absolutely outrageous. It bothers me greatly to think that could happen in this country. If that were a Muslim or a Sikh university I do not think we would see that action.
There is another example of this beating up of the Christian community reflected in the bill. It is the comments of the new host of the popular CBC Radio talk show Morningside . He said “The Catholic Church is the largest criminal organization in the world after the Mafia”. Michael Enright is the host who took over from Peter Gzowski.
I cannot fathom for an instant how a man could make that kind of comment, an outrageous statement like that, and then be allowed a place on a radio station in Canada, and not only that, a publicly funded radio broadcast. It is absolutely unbelievable that statement was made, and yet it happened.
The way the CBC conducted itself during this debate, it forgot for example that the first hospice for AIDS patients in the world was founded in New York by Mother Teresa. CBC does not mention that.
Canada's national newspaper, when it reported on Mother Teresa's death, spent most of it's column beating up on her rather than acknowledging that this woman had lived a truly Christian life and tried to help people who were suffering.
It beat up on her for a number of issues. It beat up on her because she was opposed to abortion and it beat up on her because she espoused the beliefs of her church and practised them like most of us could not begin to.
The CBC did that. The Toronto Globe and Mail did that and during the debate on this Newfoundland schools issue, the CBC twice aired the show The Boys of St. Vincent , a program which had to do with problems that occurred in the Catholic school system, in the boarding school system in Newfoundland.
I know it happened. You know it happened. Everybody knows that happened, but there is an issue here that seems to be forgotten. When somebody steals from the collection plate, you don't blame the church. You blame the individual who stole.
What the CBC wants to do is when something goes wrong, it wants to blame the church. That is reflected in this bill. The key fundamental problem with this bill is that it denies parents the right to educate their children the way they want to.
Fundamentally it denies the Christian community in Newfoundland the right to educate its children and to see that its views and beliefs are not undermined by the school system. I am talking about fundamentalist Christians, I am talking about Catholics, I am talking about the Christian community in Newfoundland. That is what this bill is about. It undermines that very right. That is why it is wrong.