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Crucial Fact

  • Her favourite word was system.

Last in Parliament April 1997, as Liberal MP for St. John's West (Newfoundland & Labrador)

Won her last election, in 1993, with 55% of the vote.

Statements in the House

The Constitution June 3rd, 1996

Mr. Speaker, unfortunately I do not have the wording of the amendment in front of me. My understanding from a reading of it is that where numbers warrant, denominational schools will be permitted.

The Constitution June 3rd, 1996

Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House today to give my support to the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador's wishes to amend term 17.

When Newfoundland joined Confederation in 1949 the terms of union were very specific to that province. Term 17 guaranteed the rights and privileges of the religious school system as they existed in 1949. Today the Anglicans, Presbyterians, Roman Catholic, Salvation Army, Seven Day Adventists and United Church denominations hold the same rights they held in 1949.

In 1987 these rights were also extended to Pentecostal denomination. Since that time Newfoundland's educational system has been organized along these lines and administered by individual churches or groups of churches. Today Newfoundland and Labrador has four separate education systems and administrations serving a population smaller than that of the city of Calgary, dispersed over several hundred small communities.

The amendment to term 17 would permit the removal of costly inefficiencies and would free up resources which will inevitably lead to extensive improvements in Newfoundland and Labrador's future educational system.

The province of Newfoundland and Labrador can no longer afford to continue with its current educational system, and unless its system is reformed the quality of education will continue to decline. The Newfoundland and Labrador school system has resulted in a large number of small inefficient schools. The following statistics have been quoted a number of times but they warrant repeating.

The province has 27 overlapping school boards governed by four denominational groups or groups of denominations. Some students are bussed to a school of their denomination even if they live next door to a school of another denomination. In addition, Newfoundland and Labrador has the country's highest illiteracy rate and its students have significantly lower average scores on international and standardized testing despite the fact that a higher percentage of its total expenditures is spent on education than that of any other provinces.

The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador has decided removing cost inefficiencies and freeing up resources rather than spending additional money is the most effective way to improve its education system and provide its students with an opportunity to compete on an equal footing with other Canadian students.

Amendment to term 17 would permit the province to do this and will lead to extensive improvements in its future educational program. The reforms will streamline the present overlapping denominational school boards into 10 interdenominational boards. The role of the churches in operating school boards and schools will be reduced and many schools are expected to become interdenominational with all students having the right to attend.

However, schools for specific religious denominations will continue to exist where they are requested by parents and where the number of students warrants doing this. Religious activities and education will continue to be a core element in the province's school system.

In 1992 a royal commission concluded that the Newfoundland and Labrador school system was in need of reform and the government immediately entered into intense negotiations with the church leaders. These negotiations took place over a three-year period, after which time the government was unable to reach an agreement with church leaders. Recently a last ditch attempt by the province's minister of education on key elements of the educational system also failed.

The government did not act arbitrarily in this matter, nor can it pass educational legislation under term 17 to diminish the educational rights held by churches.

On September 5, 1995 the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador held a referendum on the proposed changes to term 17. The referendum question was clear and direct: "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?" It was direct and not in any sense misleading.

Despite the extensive campaign mounted by the no side and the government's policy of actively not campaigning, Newfoundlanders voted in favour of the proposed amendment by a margin of 54.83 per cent to 44.95 per cent.

On October 31 the Newfoundland House of Assembly adopted a resolution which seeks to amend term 17 of the terms of union. The matter was brought into the House as a government measure with relaxed party discipline. There was support from all parties in the House and the resolution passed by a margin of 31 to 20. The Newfoundland and Labrador government is seeking to modernize its existing educational system to achieve better education for its students within its available financial means.

At the same time it is determined to preserve the denominational character of the system. The government does not intend to eliminate term 17 to abolish denominational education or to

extinguish the role of the churches in education. Single denominational schools can continue where the numbers warrant.

Those who speak against term 17 attempt to cast it as an infringement on minority rights. This suggestion is preposterous. The rights provided for in term 17 are common to all denominations holding them, and those denominations collectively represent more than 95 per cent of the province.

The proposed changes will affect all in precisely the same way. Those opposed to those changes argue each denomination is a minority. This is an argument that can be made about any constitutional or legislative change affecting several groups that were each less than 50 per cent of the population. The simple fact is the proposed change will affect the eight denominations making up 95 per cent of the population in precisely the same way. The true minority, the remaining 5 per cent, will have its position slightly enhanced.

By amending term 17 the government will neither abolish denominational education nor extinguish the role of the churches in education, as I have said before. The role of the churches will be modified to allow for the establishment of a more efficient system of interdenominational school boards while preserving a role for the churches in religious education, activities and observances.

Also, the 5 per cent of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians who do not currently hold term 17 rights will actually see their rights enhanced under the new system. I repeat this because I think it is very important. This is because religious education for all groups may be provided in the interdenominational schools. In the present system if students do not belong to a religious group operating their schools, they have no rights to their own form of religious education. Students who do not wish to participate in a form of religious education will not be forced to do so and parents will be allowed to decide whether they want their children to participate in the program.

Term 17 is unique to Newfoundland and Labrador and is a matter that both the Newfoundland and federal governments believe to be purely the concern of the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. Changes to the school system in Newfoundland have no bearing on the status of denominational schools in other provinces because education falls under provincial jurisdiction and the majority of provinces have different constitutional provisions respecting denominational involvement in education. In each case the province entering Confederation decided on its respective denominational involvement. Newfoundland has ended up as the only province without a secular public system.

As term 17 affects only the province of Newfoundland, it can be amended under section 43 of the Constitution Act, 1982 which is used for amendments that apply to one or more but not all provinces. In such circumstances an amendment can be made when a resolution authorizing the amendment has been passed by the legislatures of the provinces or provinces affected and subsequently by the House of Commons and the Senate.

The denominational rights in question in Newfoundland and Labrador have a different history and constitutional context than those in other provinces. There is no direct counterpart to term 17 in any other province. Denominational rights are protected by section 93 of the Constitution of Canada and by individual terms of union in the remaining provinces. These arrangements are in no way altered or affected by the proposed changes to term 17. The situation in Newfoundland and Labrador with regard to denominational involvement in the school system differs significantly from the system that exists in any other province.

For example, the province has the only exclusively denominational school system in the country. Furthermore, in no other province do churches have such a degree of control over matters relating to capital expenditures, school construction, the hiring of teachers and related matters.

In the House of Assembly in Newfoundland and Labrador all political parties unanimously agreed to adopt the resolution. We in the House of Commons should respect the wishes of the people of that province.

Petitions May 31st, 1996

Mr. Speaker, I rise to present a petition today on behalf of my constituents who call on Parliament to consider the advisability of extending benefits or compensation to veterans of the wartime merchant navy equal to that enjoyed by veterans of Canada's World War II armed services.

Youth Employment May 31st, 1996

Mr. Speaker, training our young people for success in the competitive economy of the 21st century is the most important investment Canada can make in its future. Over the past month, in conjunction with the ministerial task force on youth, I have held round table meetings in Trepassey, Mobile, Mount Pearl and St. John's to discuss the obstacles facing our young people as they make the transition from the classroom to the job market.

Young people are sometimes hindered by outdated curriculum and a lack of practical experience. They are hindered by a system which encourages a lack of confidence in themselves and in their abilities. Young people have the energy, drive and potential that all employers value. They simply need a foot in the door and a chance to prove themselves. Given such an opportunity youth quickly learn how to apply their knowledge in the workplace.

Government, educators and business leaders all have a role to play in the education of our youth. If each sector can do its part, Canada will reap a fine profit from its investment in young people. Government must provide the environment so that educators and business leaders can do the rest.

Fisheries May 13th, 1996

Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House today to congratulate Mr. Fred Woodman on his recent appointment as chair of the Fisheries Resource Conservation Council.

Mr. Woodman has been involved in the fisheries for over 40 years. He has held numerous important positions such as chairman of the Fisheries Council of Canada; chairman of the Fisheries Association of Newfoundland and Labrador; and chairman of Newfound Resources Ltd. He has been an active member of the FRCC since May 1993.

The FRCC will give immediate priority to the development of a groundfish conservation strategy and the development of a criteria for the reopening of the fisheries on a sustainable basis. Mr. Woodman's leadership skills and solid background in fisheries and conservation will be a guiding force for the council in his upcoming term.

Cyril O'Reilly May 6th, 1996

Mr. Speaker, I rise today in the House to congratulate Mr. Cyril O'Reilly from St. Edward's Elementary School in Placentia, Newfoundland. Mr. O'Reilly has recently been awarded the 1995 Prime Minister's Award for Teaching Excellence in Science, Technology and Mathematics.

Teacher Cyril O'Reilly and his grade seven and eight students at St. Edward's have made Placentia, Newfoundland a cleaner place to live. Since 1990 Mr. O'Reilly has demonstrated great initiative by getting the school and the community as a whole behind a variety of recycling programs. For example, a trash-a-thon in 1993 taught students about the town's litter problems and how to correct them. It was this enthusiasm which helped St. Edward's win the provincial Youth Environmentalism Award in 1994-95.

Congratulations, Mr. O'Reilly, on your initiatives and a well deserved award.

Workplace Safety April 29th, 1996

Mr. Speaker, on April 28 Canadians recognized a national day of mourning for all Canadian men and women accidentally killed in the workplace.

While accidental deaths and serious injuries in the workplace can never be completely eliminated, the federal government is determined to continue to work closely with provincial governments, businesses, unions and workers in the area of occupational health and safety to help identify hazardous and potential high risk situations and to ultimately find solutions.

To the families, relatives, friends and communities that have suffered the loss of a loved one or a friend to a work related accident, my thoughts and prayers go out to you. One work related accident death is one tragedy too many. We must never let up on our commitment to improve safety in the workplace.

Budget Implementation Act, 1996 April 25th, 1996

Madam Speaker, I omitted to mention at the beginning of my speech that I will be sharing my time with my colleague from Provencher.

When I began my speech I indicated that I would be referring only to elements of the budget that were very important to my riding. These dealt with the CHST and the seniors benefits.

Over the last two or three weeks I have spoken to a great many people in my riding about both of these matters. About 90 per cent of the people I spoke to will be better off under the new seniors program.

I am extremely pleased that the Minister of Finance and the House had the foresight to look at those who are most in need of the benefits that they will now receive under the new program.

Budget Implementation Act, 1996 April 25th, 1996

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak on the implementation of certain provisions of the budget, presented on March 6, which are very important to my riding.

While the 1996 budget meets the federal government's commitment of sustained deficit reduction, a balanced budget by and of itself must never be our only goal.

The Liberal government has the challenge of safeguarding and ensuring our social programs remain effective well into the next century. The new Canadian health and social transfers, which consolidate transfers for health care and post secondary education, began on April 1, 1996. Because it is block fund it offers more flexibility to the provinces, allowing, for example, for the development of innovative programs for people receiving social assistance.

Greater flexibility will reduce administrative costs and allow the provinces to adjust to the new funding levels while protecting program quality.

The 1996 budget introduced a five-year funding arrangement for the CHST for 1998-99 through 2002-03. The CHST will be stabilized at 1998-99 levels for two years. Then it will begin to grow.

There will be no cuts to the CHST beyond those announced in last year's budget. By providing predictable funding the government is demonstrating its commitment to safeguarding health care and other social programs valued by Canadians. The provinces will be able to plan programs with clearly set levels of federal funding in following years.

When the CHST begins to grow in the year 2000-01 federal transfers will increase for the first time since the mid-eighties. While the CHST will promote innovative solutions, established national principles will continue to be upheld. Provinces must still provide social assistance without imposing residency requirements.

The government will continue to vigorously defend the five principles of the Canadian health care system. It will also work with the provinces to develop other shared principles and objectives for the new transfer. Funding will remain constant at $25.1 billion for the first two years and will actually increase over the remaining three.

Although the cash component of the Newfoundland CHST will decline initially, transfers will resume growth sometime during the five-year arrangement. The federal government is guaranteeing the cash component of the transfer will never be lower than $11 billion during this five-year period. Newfoundland will benefit from the tax component as well as from the cash guarantee.

By putting a floor of $11 billion under the cash part of the CHST the federal government is ensuring the principles of the Canada Health Act can and will be enforced throughout Canada.

A new seniors benefit will replace the existing old age security and guaranteed income supplement. The new system is designed to help those who need it most. In my riding of St. John's West there are many single seniors and many senior couples who live on incomes well below $40,000 a year.

Over these past few weeks I have met with many of them and I have reviewed with them the new seniors benefit. It was found that they will be better off under the new system than under the old one. The new benefit will be tax free and fully indexed to inflation. The new system targets those who need it most and ensures the system is sustainable in the future.

Fiscal progress should always be the means to a greater public end such as lower interest rates, more jobs and then a more prosperous and secure nation. Fiscal progress must give us the green light to move forward on priorities such as the preservation of Canada's social safety programs, programs that have helped establish Canada as one of the most envied and respected nations in the world.

In order to meet this end, as the Prime Minister has said, we have to provide a long term funding arrangement for health and social programs and arrangements that are growing, stable, predictable and sustainable.

Racism March 18th, 1996

Mr. Speaker, last Thursday, March 14, B'nai Brith released its annual audit of anti-Semitic incidents. This report showed that anti-Semitic harassment is at its highest level since the group began keeping audits.

Could the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage please tell us what the government is doing to combat hate and racism?