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.