Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Issue 23 - Evidence - Afternoon Session
ST. JOHN'S, Tuesday, July 9, 1996
The Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs met this day at 2:00 p.m. to continue its consideration of the resolution to amend the Constitution of Canada, Term 17 of the Terms of Union of Newfoundland with Canada.
Senator Sharon Carstairs (Chair) in the Chair.
The Chair: Good afternoon. Before we begin, Senator MacDonald would like to raise a point of order.
Senator MacDonald: Ladies and gentlemen, during the noon break, I spoke to a number of people who were rather confused about my questions this morning. I thought I should clarify this. We have a strange habit in the Senate that the Tories sit on one side and the Grits sit on the other. I am a Conservative but there was not enough room for me on the other side, so I am sitting with the Grits. Besides, I wanted to sit near Bill Rompkey.
The Chair: We welcome various witnesses from the Catholic education system in Newfoundland. Please proceed.
The Most Reverend James H. MacDonald, D.D., Archbishop of St. John's, Chair of the Catholic Education Council of Newfoundland and Labrador: I represent the Catholic Education Council as chair. On behalf of the Roman Catholic community of Newfoundland and Labrador, thank you for this opportunity to appear before you.
There are many others from the Catholic community who requested the opportunity to appear before you. Apparently they could not be accommodated. I refer to the Knights of Columbus, the Catholic Women's League and school boards, all of which will have representatives here today or throughout the hearings. As well, we recognize the presence and support of many individuals, some of whom, no doubt, will avail themselves of the walk-on opportunity.
We hold that Catholic schools have a unique and special philosophy. Our schools seek to provide the highest academic standards but, at the same time, to address every aspect of the students' growth and development. Education concerns the whole person; spiritual and moral, intellectual and imaginative, physical and social formation. We refuse to separate spiritual growth from intellectual growth, faith from life, values from knowledge. No one of these develops in isolation from the others.
The Catholic school, animated by its teachers, forms a partnership with the home and the parish. These three form the basis for the experience of the Christian community in the lives of our young people.
The Christian community is not an isolated one but functions as an effective part of the wider society. Thus Catholic students take their place with other citizens in contributing to the overall wellbeing of the world. They do this by bringing the care of Jesus Christ to their fellow human beings and to the earth itself.
As Roman Catholics, we are deeply committed to quality education in its fullest meaning. The records of our Catholic schools will demonstrate that the stress on spiritual and moral formation in no way detracts from academics, athletics, music or art or from social concern and community involvement.
If young people are not given the means to develop their full potential as human persons or if they have not the knowledge, skills, attitudes and values to function well and happily in a changing world, every Newfoundlander, every Canadian, should be very concerned.
It is precisely for that reason that the Roman Catholic Church is involved in education, for Catholics believe that they can contribute to the values and attitudes that will serve young people in the living out of their lives and in the building of a better, more just, more peaceful and more compassionate society.
Mr. Gerald P. Fallon, Executive Director, Catholic Education Council of Newfoundland and Labrador: Honourable senators, having sat through the presentations this morning of the Pentecostal Assemblies, I am compelled to say that we fully support the position they have put forward. You will find that certain sections of our brief will parallel much of what the Pentecostal people have said since we have collaborated in drafting positions on a number of issues.
This submission will outline the process in which this province has been engaged over the past six years as it pertains to education and, in particular, as the process affects Roman Catholics, a flawed process in many ways. The move toward education reform can be categorized as one which ignores the repeated desire of the Roman Catholic minority, among others, to preserve their present constitutional rights.
Regarding the Royal Commission, the experience of participating in the remodelling of the education system of Newfoundland and Labrador has been a most frustrating one for supporters of Catholic education.
From the beginning, we openly and with goodwill joined with the Newfoundland government to reform our education system. We said the following on April 30, 1991, to the Williams Royal Commission, the study from which all succeeding activity to reform the education system has emanated:
This Council recognizes...that, within the framework of these constitutional guarantees, we have a grave responsibility to work for the continuing improvement of education in this province and to cooperate with other agencies in the educational interests of our young people...we are committed to quality education in the fullest meaning of these words and our record in cooperating, whenever it is in the best interest of the young people we serve, speaks for itself.
Honourable senators, we stand by that commitment today. The Royal Commission issued, in March of 1992, a report which made some 211 recommendations. The vast majority of these recommendations received our immediate support because of their potential impact on children in the classroom.
We have noted, however, that now, four years later, few of those classroom-related recommendations have been implemented, even though they fall entirely within the purview of government.
Unfortunately, we could not endorse all the recommendations of the Royal Commission report because some 16 recommen-dations and 25 associated recommendations impinged upon the educational rights held by Roman Catholics as a class of persons under Term 17.
The net effect of these recommendations is twofold: the removal of all rights and privileges held by Roman Catholics and others, and the establishment of a non-denominational public school system.
That Royal Commission received, during its full year of hearings, some 1,041 written and oral submissions representing over 3,600 individuals and 384 groups and organizations from some 173 communities from all parts of the province.
These submissions, declared the commission:
...represented a broad spectrum of society, including parents, teachers, school boards, business and industry, churches, education and health associations, and community groups.
Of all the evidence gathered, 76 per cent of the presentations supported the existing system, while only 9 per cent were opposed to the denominational system.
Most important, presentations which came from Roman Catholic individuals, groups and communities were overwhelmingly supportive of Catholic schools. Dr. Williams and his commissioners decided, however, to ignore the views of those who made presentations supportive of denominational schooling. Instead, they chose to base their recommendations on a few highly selective answers to certain questions in an opinion poll of some 1,000 individuals conducted in September, 1991.
What did the commission conclude? Again, just as with the briefs and personal presentations of supporters, the commission concluded that those in favour of the denominational system felt that way in name only. In effect, the Royal Commission showed little respect or understanding of those classes of persons who believe in the appropriateness of educating their children in their religious traditions.
Honourable senators, so began the story of how the views of the Roman Catholic people in this province for education reform were cast aside. It is a story which has been repeated over and over again during the last four years. Today, our people are wondering if, once more, their wish to preserve their constitutionally protected rights to Catholic education will be ignored.
I would like to draw your attention, honourable senators, to the section of our brief dealing with cost and duplication. I hope that, during the question period, the opportunity will arise for us to deal with this issue in more detail.
I now move to the political process which you will find at page 14 of our brief.
The release of the Royal Commission report triggered a political process aimed at the implementation of its recommendations. While statements were continually made by government about its wishes to work with the churches on the implementation of the recommendations of the Royal Commission report, the evidence is clear that it was government and not the churches, as is commonly held, which was responsible for the failure of the process.
In retrospect, it appears that former Premier Clyde Wells had not changed his opinion as expressed as an MHA on April 15, 1969, in the House of Assembly when he called for the abolition of denominational education and advocated the holding of a provincial referendum to give legitimacy to that position.
When church leaders, for example, presented their "Coterminous and Cooperative School Districts Model" and provincial structure for education reform in November of 1993, it was rejected immediately by government.
Just three days later, on November 25, 1993, government presented its own model for education reform entitled "Adjusting the Course", in which the full extent of the government's intent was made obvious.
"Adjusting the Course" advocated, in effect, the abolition of the denominational system as it had been known and its replacement with a public, secular system of education.
Following the presentation of "Adjusting the Course", sporadic discussions were held between government and the denominations. Indeed, over the period from November 1993 to June 1995, there were two periods of six months and nine months in which no discussions took place at all. The nature of the discussions which were held consisted largely of an exchange of correspondence and a few face-to-face meetings held between the premier and church leaders. Nevertheless, during these brief encounters, substantial agreement was reached on the reduction in the number of school boards, the establishment of a single school transportation system and the establishment of provincial school viability guidelines, as well as a single construction board to administer capital funding for school renovation and construction.
Despite substantial agreement in these areas, Premier Wells rejected the Catholic position because he felt that the agreed-to areas were not enough. First, he tried to force Catholics to accept reforms contrary to their constitutional rights by threatening legislation and, when that failed, by threatening to change the Constitution. We could not agree to this proposition.
Premier Wells' response to our position was an announcement to call a referendum to give political legitimacy to his intention to remove constitutional rights.
I turn to the referendum itself. From the beginning, honourable senators, Roman Catholics opposed the referendum as an inappropriate process in that it was seen clearly as a means whereby the government would allow the majority to decide on the rights of minorities.
The referendum question was cleverly phrased, by government alone, to induce an affirmative response. Who is not in favour of reforming any education system or indeed a great many of our public institutions? The question clearly suggested that the only way to substantially reform our education system was to amend Term 17.
Throughout the referendum debate, government assured voters, in a brochure which was sent to every household in the province, that the new Term 17 will provide for schools for the separate denominations where numbers warrant.
The Chair: We have a copy of that pamphlet and I will ensure that it is distributed to senators.
Mr. Fallon: The referendum was held on September 5, 1995. We all know the results. Of the 52 per cent of the eligible voters who participated, approximately 55 per cent voted "yes" and 45 per cent voted "no". Only 28 per cent of the eligible voters in the province actually voted in favour of the government's position.
There is no example in Canadian history where constitutionally protected minority rights have been taken away by a decision based on a general vote of the electorate without the consent of the minority affected.
Roman Catholics in Newfoundland and Labrador represent a minority. They represent approximately 37 per cent of the population. The initiative to amend the Constitution was taken notwithstanding the absence of any agreement from them. It was also taken notwithstanding Premier Wells' statement in the House of Assembly on March 12, 1993, prior to his calling a provincial election when he said:
Mr. Speaker, in response to the church leader's concerns that implementing certain recommendations of the Royal Commission Report would jeopardize their traditional rights, government has assured the leaders that it is not seeking change to the Constitution that would remove the constitutionally-protected rights of classes of people specifically provided for.
Honourable senators, a low point in the political process leading up to and during the referendum was the manner in which government -- largely Premier Wells and his Minister of Education Chris Decker -- denigrated the level of academic achievement of students in this province. Constantly, they harped on the negative. On several instances, they stated that our students were the worst performers in the country.
This poor performance, they said, was the fault of the denominational system of schooling. In reality, government controls all areas of education dealing with student performance: teacher education; graduation requirements; the curriculum, with the exception of religious education; the evaluation of students; the length of the school day and the length of the school year; and resources.
It is particularly disconcerting, as you heard this morning in testimony, that on this matter of student achievement, Messrs. Wells and Decker were wrong.
We have in our brief, Madam Chair, an outline of various points which were made by the Pentecostals and which we wish to repeat in this brief. We will leave them for you to read.
Regarding student achievement, a statement was made in the red book entitled, "Ready For A Better Tomorrow." That book contained the platform of the provincial Liberal party before the last election in Newfoundland including the statement that sine Confederation we have made tremendous progress in education, that Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have built an educational system in which we can all have pride.
Honourable senators, there is ample testimony from government documents, from substantial analysis of standardized tests, of an education system in this province making extraordinary strides to provide a quality education to students in Newfoundland and Labrador and to confirm our concerns about the distortion by the former Wells administration during the referendum campaign which was repeated in the Newfoundland legislature and, recently, in the House of Commons during debate on the resolution to amend Term 17.
With respect to the framework agreement, I would say one thing: Roman Catholics in this province support the framework agreement which was reached between government and the school councils in March of 1996. I will not go into the details in the interests of time. The details were read into the record this morning by the Pentecostal Assemblies.
Let me just say that the Roman Catholic council continues to support the framework agreement and stands ready to enter into further discussions in an effort to resolve all outstanding issues.
My final remarks will deal with the federal and provincial lack of response and support. As representatives of the Roman Catholic people, we strongly object to the process by which the amendment to Term 17 has been considered by Parliament. The process thus far has been conducted too swiftly -- 12 hours of debate in the House of Commons -- to give the resolution the level of deliberation deserved by a change to the Constitution of Canada and to ensure that the Roman Catholic position with respect to this matter is adequately heard.
We point out in our brief the refusal of the Prime Minister, the Minister of Justice and Premier Tobin himself to reply to letters which were sent on a regular basis by Archbishop James MacDonald of St. John's. We make note of that in our brief on pages 28 and 29.
We are indeed grateful to the Senate that we are now holding public hearings on the issue of education reform in Newfoundland. For the first time in this process, we have the opportunity of being heard.
Archbishop MacDonald: The Catholic Education Council is a statutory body established under the authority of section 15 of the Department of Education Act, 1990. The council is an organization of representatives of the Catholic community at large with members from the four Roman Catholic diocese of Newfoundland and Labrador. We are the recognized spokesbody for Roman Catholics in educational matters in Newfoundland and Labrador.
We appear before the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs because the rights and privileges held by the Roman Catholic people under Term 17 of the Terms of Union between Newfoundland and Canada are being taken away.
Our legal advisors will lay before you the nuances of law as they pertain to constitutional rights, although this is not our chief task in this presentation. We are here because we care passionately for Catholic education and resent mightily those who would deny us our right to continue to have the full protection of the Constitution of this country for a school committee which reflects the religious beliefs and practices of the members of the Roman Catholic faith.
Pope John Paul II spoke eloquently of the rights of parents when he addressed the Catholic community here in St. John's on September 12, 1984. He said:
All men and women -- and all children, have a right to education. Closely linked to this right to education is the right of parents, of families, to choose according to their convictions the kind of education and the model of school which they wish for their children (Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Art. 26). Related as well is the no less sacred right of religious freedom.
In a society such as Canada's, people's freedom to associate and enter into certain groups or institutional endeavours with the aim of fulfilling their expectations according to their own values is a fundamental democratic right. This right implies that parents have a real possibility to choose, without undue financial burden placed upon them, appropriate schools and educational systems for their children.
Unfortunately, the move toward education reform over the past six years can be characterized as one in which the repeated desire of the Roman Catholic minority to preserve their present constitutional rights has been ignored.
Ms Alice Prim-Furlong, Vice-President, Association of Roman Catholic School Board of Newfoundland and Labrador: I am a Catholic parent and an elected trustee. On behalf of the association of which I am vice-president, I wish to applaud the Senate of Canada for its decision to provide this opportunity for a public hearing into the matter of the proposed amendment to Term 17. We are pleased that you have had an opportunity to hear from the elected school boards which have been recognized in law as representatives of the Roman Catholic class of people on the matters of education. I might add that this it is the first time in this whole process that we have had such an opportunity to speak with our legislators.
We wish to use this opportunity to present to you our position on the following: Who controls Catholic education; the proposed amendment to Term 17; the retention and exercising of rights of Catholic people through Catholic schools and appropriate governance of them; and the evolution of our system of education and how it reflects our acceptance and commitment to the need for education reform.
The Association of Roman Catholic School Boards of Newfoundland and Labrador has a membership of nine Roman Catholic boards. Each is represented here today along with some of their students, teachers and parents. These nine boards are responsible for the education of approximately 44,000 students from kindergarten to grade 12. The majority of these students attend Catholic schools while others of them attend joint service schools. The distribution of this population shows that a concentration of 62 per cent of these students reside on the Avalon peninsula. The remaining 38 per cent are distributed throughout the island and Labrador.
Our elected boards have memberships comprised of two-thirds elected trustees and one-third appointed trustees. We wish to make it very clear that we are on record as supporting fully elected school boards.
An important question which needs to be addressed when speaking of "church control in Catholic education" is "Who is the church?" Contrary to public opinion generated by individuals who should know better and, perhaps it is fair to say, who use this misinformation to reinforce their case for the removal of our constitutional rights, the institutional church does not control either school boards or the day-to-day administrative running of our schools.
Boards have functioned autonomously in exercising the rights of our people who entrusted them to these positions. You would see from the records of our school board meetings that the debate and the decisions are not influenced by the alleged machinations of the institutional church.
In addition, we say it is ludicrous to think that a collection of clerics would have either the inclination or the opportunity to interfere in or control the day-to-day running of our schools. In this day, that is something neither board trustees nor parents would tolerate. Lay people comprise the overwhelming majority of our trusteeships, virtually all of our teaching and administrative positions and all of our board staff positions.
When we speak of our entrenched constitutional rights, we are not speaking of the rights of the institutional church or its hierarchy. We are referring to the constitutional rights of a group of people who, in this instance, are Catholic. Without doubt, we have serious concerns with the proposed amendment to Term 17 in that the amendment compromises or eliminates the rights of the Roman Catholic class of people in the education of their children. Further, it makes any remaining rights subject to the whim of the provincial legislature.
Should this amendment prevail, any remaining rights could change from government to government and within the term of office of any one government. The whole exercise of our rights would be placed within the political domain. That is totally unacceptable to us.
The specifics of our concerns with the proposed amendment have been clearly described by the Catholic Education Council and our legal counsels.
We wish to state without hesitation that we support those parents and persons who wish to choose for their children schools based on other philosophies. Never have we said or proposed that the only system of education in this province must be a denominational one. In keeping with our position of the right of parents to choose the type of education they want for their children, we support that right of choice for others.
Our position on the proposed amendment is that it should be either rejected or further amended so as to maintain our constitutionally guaranteed rights to make Catholic schools available to our children where parents so choose and where numbers warrant and to allow appropriate and effective forms of government enabling our people to exercise these rights. We recognize that there might well be degrees of governance when and where numbers do not justify highest levels of management such as the creation of a Catholic school board or the designation of unidenominational schools.
We hold that a Catholic education is more than 40 minutes of instruction for a set number of times per school cycle. The Mahé decision in the Supreme Court of Canada in 1990 stated that the linguistic minority held not only language rights but also the right to preserve and promote their culture. As Catholics, we also hold that our core values are not only expressed in religion classes but also in the ethics and the ambience our schools where we aim to live the message of our faith. Our schools are vital to the appropriate exercise of our rights.
The 1984 Supreme Court decision in Caldwell v. Stewart noted that Catholic schools are significantly different from other schools mainly because of the doctrinal basis on which they are established. Our schools have or should have as their objective the formation of the whole student including education in Catholic faith.
The teacher in the Catholic school is considered to be a vital force in the creation of this school community. The Caldwell v. Stewart decision further noted that, in a Catholic school the religion or doctrinal aspect of the school lies at the very heart and colours all its activities and programs. The role of the teacher in this respect is fundamental to the whole effort in the school, as much in its spiritual nature as in its academic.
The culture surrounding religious rights are as significant to us as those cultural realities which surround linguistic rights.
Also in the Mahé case, the court observed that in the matter of linguistic rights, the general right of "as numbers warrant" encompassed a sliding scale of institutional requirements. The idea of a sliding scale approach described in that decision guarantees rights and levels of services to those holding rights. We see a correlation with our education rights.
This approach reflects the measure of management required in varying circumstances, depending on the number of students to be served. Depending on the number, this could warrant an independent board, a unidenominational school or, where numbers are few, a guarantee of representation on local boards in numbers proportional to the number of minority students for whom the board is responsible.
What is required is centred around where and what the numbers warrant. "Numbers warrant" has been interpreted to be the number of persons who will avail of the proposed program or facility. The appropriate education services needed and the cost of delivery of these services must be taken into consideration.
The government has emphasized that the cost of our education system is a primary factor in the removal of our denominational rights. Yet, in the instance of minority linguistic rights, costs were deemed not to be the overriding factor.
The Association of Roman Catholic School Boards has always espoused the cause of reform in education. This effort is not new to us. We have endeavoured to set a standard for excellence and have always striven, often under constraints, particularly of a financial nature, to provide the best educational opportunities for our children.
We recognize that, because of dwindling student populations, the viability of many of our schools is in question. In light of these things, boards have continually closed and consolidated schools. In the past 27 years, we have gone from 270 boards to 27. The number of schools has significantly dropped from 1,046 in 1967 to 492 in 1994, and was further reduced to 470 by 1995. In 1994, of our 469 communities, only 293 had schools.
All of these circumstances are obvious to us. Our denominational representatives have indeed recognized all of these factors. In fact, our representatives accepted a report in 1993 which outlined the realignment of school board districts into 10 regions. Within that same year, there was a basic agreement between the government and the Catholic Education Council that a provincial construction board would be established.
Each of these were achieved through mutual agreement so as to achieve savings. The framework agreement was also agreed upon for similar reasons. With reference to the framework agreement, all Catholic school boards agreed with that framework and, I might add, continued to agree until we were informed of its demise. It represented what we believed to be a compromise to solve this impasse.
These agreements, in addition to the right of a government to create a non-denominational system of education within this province for those who desire it, make this constitutional amendment completely unnecessary.
Our education system has been in a state of evolution as modifications and delivery have been made over the years based on population decline and geographic and economic realities.
Joint schools have been established by mutual agreement between Catholic boards, integrated or Pentecostal boards so as to maintain a high standard of education in those geographic areas of the province in which Catholic, integrated or Pentecostal student population would not, by itself, be sufficient to maintain a unidenominational school capable of offering first-class educational opportunities.
This commitment of the denominations to economic efficiencies and effective education was noted by Mr. George Furey, legal counsel to the Williams Royal Commission in 1992 when he said that one of the underlying principles of the Commission's recommendations is that future planning be done along interdenominational lines. While this may appear to be a significant departure from the present system, in many respects, it merely reflects what is happening in rural Newfoundland today. Numerous changes are occurring as a result of consensual agreements between the various denominations in many parts of the province. In fact, these arrangements have resulted in the fact that 89 per cent of Newfoundland and Labrador communities have only a single school system.
Unfortunately, it would appear that the natural evolution of our system, driven by the common sense of our people, in the spirit of cooperation and respect for entrenched rights and with the good of our children in mind, was not sufficient for the Wells government. It is tragic that the government believes that the only tool it has at its disposal to effect change is a hammer. That approach is in keeping with the adage, "When the only tool you have is a hammer, then everything begins to look like a nail."
Our denominational rights in education were recognized as one of the bedrock agreements in the 1949 Terms of Union with Canada. These rights are now being trampled. Our rights are not being freely relinquished by the Roman Catholic minority who hold them but are being removed by the will of 28 per cent of the eligible provincial voters.
In our view, this is a travesty of our democratic rights and it emphasizes even more the need for constitutional protection for minority rights.
All of this debate has been conducted under the guise of some unproven link between the denominational system and low-quality education. This link has never been proven and, in our estimation, does not exist. Even the government's use of the argument faulted over time as noted in the quotation given to you by Mr. Fallon. Standardized tests vary from time to time, from test to test, from school to school and from one area of the province to another. Our variations in performance are reflective of similar variations in the rest of Canada.
The debate on this whole matter and the roughshod tactics used have served no purpose except to give rise to an atmosphere of sectarianism with an emphasis on difference. Money spent on this constitutional debate and the referendum would have been better spent on our schools and in implementing the critical changes agreed upon by all partners of education.
What is the purpose of constitutional entrenchment? Will the Newfoundland amendment reveal constitutional entrenchment to be an empty promise, a guarantee without substance?
We ask the Senate to protect our rights and permit us to retain our rights in education and to exercise them no more or less than Roman Catholics in other parts of Canada who also held rights at the time of Confederation.
Ms Janet Henley-Andrews, Alliance for Choice in Education: On behalf of the Alliance for Choice in Education, I would like to thank the Senate for holding these hearings. We have tried over the last three years, since the formation of our group in 1993, to bring our views into this debate. It has been difficult enough for members of school boards and for the Catholic Education Council and the churches to get their views through to governments at the provincial and federal levels, but it has been almost impossible for parents. No one has cared what we think or what we want. Yet, it is our children who are being affected and it is our rights which are being sacrificed.
We have prepared a brief in two versions. I have provided three copies to Ms Lank. The first version is a very thick document which has the text of the brief and the appendices.
In keeping with the difficulties which we have had over the last number of years in dealing with the truth on duplication, on performance and on other issues, I have provided as attachments to several copies of the brief, statistical information generated by the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador and copies of the various documents which are referenced and the statements which have been made.
I gather there was a discussion this morning on performance. I have provided extracts of Government of Newfoundland publications on results of Canadian Tests of Basic Skills, on SAIP exams and on other performance indicators.
In addition, we have provided, along with one copy of the brief, a videotape. It is a videotape of several programs available in local schools. This was done at the last minute. School is out and we could not get as much information as we would have liked. However, if a picture speaks a thousand words, then perhaps when you listen to the performance of two of our school bands and look at the public service advertisements generated at a media class at Gonzaga High School, you will be certain that our schools are modern and that the quality of education which they are generating is more than satisfactory.
In addition, you will see, on the far wall, a map of Newfoundland with different coloured dots. The red dots are the integrated schools in the province. The green dots are the Roman Catholic schools in the province. Yellow and blue dots show the location of Pentecostal schools. In addition, joint service schools are marked by a connection of dots and are specifically marked "joint service".
I realize that it is difficult to see, and I should like to thank the gentleman who phoned me to tell me that he had done this exercise based upon a list of existing schools he had obtained from the Department of Education. If you look closely at the map, you will see that the concept of many schools in communities is a fallacy.
First, you will also see that in Newfoundland, population is grouped to a large degree by denomination, except in the St. John's and Avalon Peninsula area, which is in the upper left-hand corner in the plan. You can see sections which are green and sections which are red. This should help visualize the location and the issues of duplication.
The Alliance for Choice in Education was formed in December 1993 to provide a voice for those members of the public, particularly Roman Catholics, who opposed the recommendation of the Williams Commission to implement a non-denominational system in Newfoundland. The alliance is committed to education reform which will effect real improvements in the quality of education in Newfoundland while preserving the choice for parents where numbers warrant.
We are opposed to the current proposal to amend Term 17. It is poorly worded. It is confusing. It does not contain provisions which guarantee what we were promised during the referendum campaign.
The Alliance for Choice supports the right of parents to choose the kind of education they want for their children. In more populated areas, this should include the right to fully funded separate, denominational, interdenominational and public schools where numbers warrant. In areas where only joint or interdenominational schools exist, or can exist, parents should continue to have the right which they now have, where numbers warrant, to publicly funded religious education and family life programs, as well as accommodation of religious exercises and observances.
The first protected minority rights in Canada were religious education rights. From its inception, the Canadian Constitution was designed so that the majority in any one province could not trample the educational rights of the minority, whether Roman Catholic in Ontario or Protestant in Quebec.
It has been argued that neither the House of Commons nor the Senate should be concerned about minority rights or precedents because the proposed amendment only affects Newfoundlanders and Newfoundland. Are religious minorities in Newfoundland somehow less deserving of protection than religious minorities in other provinces? If so, on what basis? Surely, being Canada's poorest province does not render its citizens less deserving of constitutional protection.
The Newfoundland government also argues that this will not set a precedent. We are not stupid. We hope that you are not either.
Senator Rompkey: That is quite a hope.
Ms Henley-Andrews: What will happen in two years if the majority does not like the reformed system? Will there be another referendum? How can Ottawa turn down future requests to eliminate all denominational education rights in Newfoundland if this request is granted? Similarly, how could Ottawa turn down a similar request from Ontario, Quebec or Manitoba?
Every province in this country faces economic constraints today. Which minority rights will be immune from that argument? We are Canadians. Newfoundland Roman Catholics, and others, are entitled to protection of their constitutional rights. Newfoundlanders are not second-class citizens in this country.
The Newfoundland government has argued that the referendum was valid because the 96 per cent of the electorate who have protected education rights voted on whether they should be changed. The fallacy of this argument is that there is no class which comprises the 96 per cent. It is the individual classes of persons of the eight denominations who hold rights. It is not the right of the churches. It is the right of the members of the churches, the grass roots of the organizations, to access denominational education. Only the individual groups could vote to amend their own rights.
On a personal note, I am a parent, and a Catholic. I was educated in a Roman Catholic school. It has done me no harm. In fact, if anything, it has aided me tremendously in my everyday life. I have three children; my youngest is four. Therefore, I have to access the Newfoundland education system for the next 14 to 15 years. Many in this room will be gone by the time my youngest child reaches high school. Please ensure that his rights and the rights of his family are protected so that he receives the same opportunities that his brother and sister have already received.
We believe that a significant majority of Roman Catholics voted "no". Some 47 per cent, or 46 per cent, depending upon which results you use, voted "no". That amounts to some 91,000 Newfoundlanders. An analysis of the vote by district demonstrates that Roman Catholic and Pentecostal areas strongly voted "no". If you look at the lengthier version of the brief, you will find that I have highlighted the appendix which deals specifically with some of the areas.
For example, in one riding in St. John's, which is very much a mixed religion area, there was a 71 per cent voter turnout. In other areas of the province, voters turned out at the rate of 50 per cent, 47 per cent, or less, and some of those areas are very unidenominational.
There was also a problem with the question. During the referendum campaign people said, "We do not understand the question. We do not understand the issue. We do not know whom to believe." Many of them said that they did not intend to vote. At best, for all intents and purposes, the question asked the voters of the province if they wished to eliminate Catholic and Pentecostal schools.
The denominations which make up 55 per cent of the Newfoundland population already have a joint system, including interdenominational schools and school boards.
The Newfoundland government has also argued that it cannot now make changes to the proposed Term 17 because that is what the people voted on in the referendum. A close look at the proposed amendment demonstrates that it is not the proposal put to the people in the referendum. Several changes have been made, some at the instigation of government, and others, I understand, at the request of the integrated churches. There is no reason further changes or amendments cannot be made to the proposed wording in order to accommodate the reasonable objections of Roman Catholics and others.
Over the last five years our politicians have demonstrated time and time again that their primary concern is the majority who will re-elect them, a majority that already has a joint system.
The brief deals with the machinations of politicians during this whole debate. Mr. Fallon has already addressed that issue, and I will not repeat it. However, I would like to say that religious rights and education rights should not be partisan political issues.
Some have suggested that two elections have reinforced the views of the population. Mr. Wells went into the election of 1993 with a promise that no constitutional change would be made without the consent of the churches. At the time of the election call in January of 1996, we were between the proverbial rock and a hard place -- there was no party, and no party leader, which supported at that time the protection of our rights. When you are a minority, elections are not good places in which to fight your battles.
We had indicated our willingness to create efficiencies. In April 1996, representatives of the Roman Catholic, Pentecostal and integrated education councils reached an agreement with the Newfoundland government to streamline the education system, to reduce the number of school boards and to reform the system. Since that time, United Church and Anglican Church leaders have tried to disassociate themselves from this deal under pressure from their congregations. The government now says that the deal is dead. There is no constitutional requirement for the agreement of all classes having rights.
The purpose of Term 17 as it presently reads is to protect the various classes from unilateral action by the province. The fallacy is that it is necessary to amend Term 17 to affect all church groups. If there are groups who are prepared to consent to the reduction or removal of their rights, then Term 17 can be amended to remove or eliminate their rights.
We wish to have choice. A considerable part of the brief deals with the issue of choice. At pages 12 and 13, you will find a discussion of the types of representations that were made to the people by the government during the referendum campaign.
We do not have any problem with choices for others, whether their choice is public schools or interdenominational schools. We want to reiterate that the churches do not run the schools and the school boards in Newfoundland; we, the parents, do that.
Governance is an important issue in any jurisdiction. To have effective choice there must be reasonable control over the unidenominational school and what happens in it. To have effective religious education programs and observances in interdenominational schools there must be real authority in relation to those rights. These rights have been guaranteed to francophones by use of the term "where numbers warrant". That phrase has an accepted meaning in Canada. We are satisfied that it would give us adequate governance and protection.
It has been argued also that the change will put Newfoundland's education system in line with the rest of the country. If that is the intent, then repeal Term 17 altogether and leave us with the rights that every other province has under section 93.
An incredible argument that we have heard from Newfoundland is that you must pass this measure now because they have acted on it. That is like telling your boss that you have to have a raise because you have already spent the money. Anything that has been done can be undone. In addition, the government can reduce significantly the number of boards along denominational lines by increasing minimum board size from 2,000 to 6,000.
A bee in my bonnet, and one in the bonnets of many parents, has been the significant disservice to our students by our government and by some very uninformed members of the House of Commons on the issue of educational performance. Our children are competing for entry into mainland universities. At the same time, due to the lack of jobs in Newfoundland, they are competing for jobs on the mainland. It is a crime that our children and their performance has been slammed time and time again for political mileage.
If you look at the section in our brief on educational performance, you will find that, since 1991, the performance of Newfoundland students on national tests such as the Canadian Test of Basic Skills and the Standard Achievement Indicators Program has improved dramatically. It is not perfect. We are a small province in which, due to traditional lifestyles in some areas, there has not been a strong emphasis on the importance of education. That is changing.
In 1991, Newfoundland Grade 6 students scored at the 37th percentile on the CTBS. In 1992, Newfoundland Grade 8 students were at the 40th percentile. In 1993, Newfoundland Grade 4 students were at the 43rd percentile. In 1994, Newfoundland 13 and 16 year-olds performed at or above the national average on various subtests in reading and writing on the National School Achievement Indicators Program.
In relation to the constant reminder of Newfoundland's illiteracy rate, I would like to cite from the national document analyzing the Newfoundland results on that test. Results of the reading assessment for Newfoundland students at all levels are essentially the same as the results for all Canadian students in the English language assessment. In Newfoundland, most students read well. In other words, they are able to interpret, evaluate and explore complex written material and demonstrate personal understanding and appreciation.
Our music programs and our other programs are second to none. Today, as we sit here, the Holy Hearts of Mary Chamber Choir is one of two finalists in an international music competition in Germany. We have nothing of which to be ashamed. However, there are some who have a lot to be ashamed of in respect of what they have said in the national press and in national venues with regard to the performance of our children.
The duplication issue has been largely a red herring. If you look at the extracts from the Williams Commission report which I have provided as part of the brief, you will see that 84 per cent of the savings come from the elimination of teaching and administrative positions as a result of reducing the number of school boards from the then 32, which is now 27, to 9. As I indicated, the map is a good visual demonstration of the limited duplication in provision of schools.
In conclusion, the proposed amendment of Term 17 is a minority rights issue. Religious groups had minority rights in Canada long before the concept was in vogue. It appears they may be the first to lose them.
The Newfoundland government argues that the change should be rubber-stamped because the Newfoundland government and the slim majority of the people want it. If that was the intent of the Constitution and of the Terms of Union of Newfoundland with Canada, there would be no need for input from the House of Commons and the Senate. The Senate is intended to provide sober second thought and to be the protector of minority rights. If minority rights are at the whim of a majorities in the province, then what right is sacred?
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
Senator MacDonald: Madam Chair, I gave notice that I would ask the same question of all the witnesses, so if Your Grace, Mr. Fallon or anyone would care to help me out on this, I would be most grateful.
There is a great similarity between your brief and the brief from which was presented to us this morning. I am reading from page 26 of your brief which states, in part:
On April 18, 1996 the Education Minister announced publicly that a Framework Agreement had been reached between the Newfoundland Government and the other stakeholders in education, providing for the implementation of education reform in the key areas of governance noted above, the consolidation of schools, and school construction spending.
On April 24, 1996 the Minister of Education provided to the Newfoundland people further details of the Framework Agreement and said: "These changes represent a significant first step to implement changes recommended by the Williams' Royal Commission....Over the next few months other recommendations will be phased in within a reasonable time frame"...
If you take from April 18 until June 5, that is only 9 weeks -- and less than that if it is from April 24. We received from the Leader of the Government in the Senate, Senator Joyce Fairbairn, a copy of a letter sent to her from Mr. Grimes, in which he starts by saying:
You have asked for a report on the status of an agreement...
You have asked for a report. We received this in the Senate within a couple of days.
You say that you were surprised to learn that in a letter to Joyce Fairbairn the Education minister advised the Senate that the framework agreement contained only two points of agreement. Without going into that, you say this is clearly not the case in terms of the latter two agreements. There was a commitment to continue to discuss the outstanding issue as the minister stated in his news release of April 18, 1996.
In the same letter the Education minister also indicated that leaders of several of the churches of integration had withdrawn their support for the framework agreement. You say if this is so, it has not been discussed with your council.
You state further in your brief:
The Catholic Education Council continues to support the Framework Agreement and stands ready to enter into further discussions in an effort to resolve all outstanding issues.
Mr. Grimes ended his letter by saying:
However, almost three years of intense discussions between representatives of the government and the denominations have proved futile.
That was when there was a commitment to continue to discuss the outstanding issues.
You mentioned truth. It is really difficult for me to draw a charitable interpretation from those facts. You have more power than we. All this committee can do, if the committee decides to do it, is to give a six-month suspensive veto to this measure. That is all we can do.
Senator Jessiman: The clock is already running; it is more like four months.
Senator MacDonald: The power is yours. Can you get this thing back on the rails within that length of time to eliminate the necessity of an outrageous constitutional amendment? If you can, then what are the impediments to achieving that objective? Have you an impartial chairman? Have you any thoughts on this? What will you do?
Mr. Fallon: Senator MacDonald, first, during these several years of dealings with the provincial government, we have always said that education reform can be achieved by negotiating an acceptable system for the students of this province. We have always stated that the most appropriate process to follow is one of negotiation. We hold to that position here today.
In Archbishop MacDonald's letter to Mr. Tobin after the election campaign, we said to the government, "Let us get back to the table. Let us continue discussions to resolve this matter here in this province and preclude the need for a constitutional amendment". By the way, we have not yet received a response to that letter.
In our view, the framework agreement was a good-faith response by the provincial government to that request. During the election campaign, this did not become an election issue because we had an understanding with Mr. Tobin that we would not make an election issue out of this matter and that, following the election, there would be an opportunity to sit down to discuss the whole issue in an effort to reach an agreement. In fact, that was in the provincial red book to which I referred earlier. There were to be discussions with all parties, all constituencies, after the election was over. The framework agreement was a bona fide response to our request during the election campaign and soon thereafter.
You asked this morning, Senator MacDonald, what went wrong during that period of nine weeks. In our view, what went wrong was the opposition that grew from among the constituents of the churches in integration. They opposed the framework agreement. Through political activity, they precipitated a move by the government to distance itself from it.
We have stated in our document, and we state here today, that Roman Catholics are still in favour of the framework agreement. In fact, we have never been notified by Mr. Grimes that there is not a framework agreement. We have not received any correspondence, any official notification, that there is not a framework agreement. We were as surprised as you to see the letter which was penned to Senator Fairbairn. We had not seen it until just a couple of weeks ago.
In our view, the framework agreement is a means by which we can compromise, a means by which we can reform the education system in this province.
Can we get back to the table? That is up to the provincial government.
Senator MacDonald: A great deal of what you have said is history, while a little bit is not. Have you taken any initiatives? What do you mean when you say it is up to the government?
Mr. Fallon: What I mean is that we have continued to tell government that we are prepared to negotiate. We said it after the election. We said it during our discussions with respect to the framework agreement. We say it again here today. We will continue to negotiate.
Senator MacDonald: The government has said that three years of intense discussion between representatives of the government and the denominations has proved futile.
Mr. Fallon: How could the government say that when we had this framework agreement?
Senator MacDonald: You tell me. That is why I am asking.
Mr. Fallon: I do not know the answer to that. You will have to ask the government that question.
Senator MacDonald: How will you get it back on the rails? Do you know any of the representatives of the churches of integration?
Senator Rompkey: Some of them are Catholic.
Senator MacDonald: This morning, I said, "Would it not be dandy if we went back and said that we heard a lot of good arguments. We came to the conclusion that Newfoundlanders cannot get their act together. They cannot devise for their children a system that meets all their standards and which avoids a constitutional amendment." God forbid that we should have to do that.
Ms Henley-Andrews: Senator, you talked about the ability of the Senate to suspend the matter for a further four months before it would have to go back to the House of Commons. We see the Senate's role somewhat differently. One of the opportunities that the Senate has is to make recommendations on amendments. The Catholic and Pentecostal legal advisors have discussed ways to amend this proposed constitutional change. I must say that I do not know a great deal about this. However, one of the ways would be to substitute the words "where numbers warrant" for the provision that deals with provincial legislation on unidenominational schools.
Catholic parents would like to see dialogue with government continue. We would like to see a deal reached. We have been in limbo now for years. Every year, parents and children ask, "Will they still be going to this school next year?" That is due to all the talk about turning the system upside-down, making people register all over again and this type of thing. We need to have a fall-back position. We have tried to negotiate. We thought we had a deal.
The important thing now is for the Senate and us to do the best we can to take whatever reasonable steps can be taken to make the language of the Term 17 amendment clear so that we will not have to spend a fortune in time and energy in the courts of this country trying to figure out what are our rights. That is an important aspect of it all.
The four-month delay of which you speak may be what is necessary to provide an opportunity to get back to the table and to bargain in good faith. However, realistically speaking, as long as the government is taking the position that it needs the agreement of all the churches, and in light of the political activity that has taken place over the last couple of months in some areas, it may be difficult to reach an agreement with all of the churches.
Senator MacDonald: I am afraid I sound a little more exasperated than you do.
Ms Henley-Andrews: I am tired.
Senator MacDonald: I will let it go. Thank you very much.
The Chair: For purposes of the people in the audience who might not be aware of the constitutional role of the Senate, let me briefly explain that the Senate only has what is called a suspensive veto over any constitutional amendment. This means that from the day we receive the amendment, which in this case was June 3, we have only six months to dispose of it. We can, as you have suggested, make recommendations for amendment. We can make recommendations for rejection. We can make recommendations for passage. We can do all those things. However, if, at the end of that six-month period, the House of Commons takes a new vote, the Senate has at that point no further role to play.
Senator Jessiman: My concerns are the same as those of Senator MacDonald. However, having heard from you and from the others earlier, I do not think it is a question of you getting back to the government. I think it is a question of you getting back to the integrated schools.
Is there any communication between the integrated schools and yourselves? From what I now read, they are the ones who seem to have backed away on this thing. I did not understand that earlier today, but I do now.
Mr. Fallon: We have had no communications with the integrated school system since they issued a news release at the end of May advocating the abolition in this province of Catholic unidenominational schools.
Senator Jessiman: I guess that is where we are at. There is no question but that you are a minority and that you had an agreement, as I understood it, with the government and with the integrated schools. As I now understand, it is not the government in the first instance which backed away from this; it was the integrated schools. Am I correct?
Mr. Fallon: Yes. The government, the Catholic Education Council, the Pentecostal Education Council and the Integrated Education Council all agreed to this framework. As we understand it, the Integrated Education Council, which is the churches in integration, have withdrawn from this. However, we have not been notified officially in that regard. We understand that they have withdrawn from it.
Senator Jessiman: You said today that was because they had some pressure.
Mr. Fallon: They issued a news release at the end of May, a copy of which I can provide to the members of the committee. In that release they indicate that they advocate a single system of education for the province, that there should not be any unidenominational schools in the province and that they will work to pressure the government into moving in that direction.
Senator Jessiman: Thus far, they have been successful in that respect.
Mr. Fallon: Yes.
Senator Kinsella: Your Grace, I could not help but reflect upon my experience garnered over the past 32 years as a professor in an Atlantic Canada university -- indeed, the university where you and I were faculty members a few years ago. My experience is that the students who attended our university from the high schools of Newfoundland were exceptionally well-prepared. Quite frankly, based on that personal experience, I cannot understand the argument as to the quality of education. Indeed, when this debate began in our chamber in the Senate, my experience told me that this is a myth. Nevertheless, the Leader of the Government in the Senate stated that there was something wrong with the quality of education in this province. Senator Doody and I disagreed with that contention. However, it has come up several times today.
Is this purely a political tactic on the part of the government to denigrate its own educational system for which the taxpayers of this province are paying? Or is there any element of truth to it, contrary to my experience and that of many others?
Ms Prim-Furlong: There is no doubt that the Catholic school boards in this province have been dismayed greatly by the accusations. As is mentioned in our brief, the variations in achievement are from school to school and district to district. Aside from that factor, the amount of time school boards have spent on this particular issue and the distress caused by the proposed constitutional amendment have impacted upon the type of work that we are really about, that is, the education of our children.
Throughout all this discussion and the stress and the distress caused to the parents and the boards, we have striven constantly to improve the academic achievement of our children. Thus, we are dismayed. We have reached the conclusion that it is nothing more than a purely political ploy.
Mr. Fallon: On the one hand, individuals within the Newfoundland government have denigrated the system, in my view for political reasons, in order to convince the people of this province that the denominational system is inferior and, therefore, must be changed. On the other hand, individuals have made statements such as those contained in a news release of March 4 of this year. The news release to which I refer was issued by the Honourable Chris Decker, Minister of Education.
You referred to how students in Newfoundland are doing at the post-secondary level. The news release is entitled, "Major Gains Announced in Newfoundland's Post-Secondary Education Levels". It states, specifically, that the province's young adults have made considerable improvements in their educational levels, with gains in post-secondary participation by 18 to 24 year-olds almost doubling those gains for Canada as a whole. It goes on to state that the Honourable Chris Decker, Minister of Education and Training, points out the gap in higher education between our province and the rest of Canada is becoming a myth. General education levels for 18 to 24 year-olds are now virtually the same as the Canadian average, he states. If the present trend continues, Newfoundland and Labrador will soon have education levels equal to the best in the country.
We have conflicting reports here. On the one hand, Mr. Decker and the premier made statements denigrating the system during the referendum campaign. On the other hand, as set out in our brief, there have been news releases from the Department of Education in which it is stated that our education system is a system in which we can all take pride.
What is the answer? We believe our system is improving at a tremendous rate and that our students can compete with students anywhere in this country.
Senator Kinsella: Therefore, is it your testimony that should we decide not to adopt this resolution and should we decide to recommend to the Government of Canada that it not reintroduce the resolution into the House of Commons, that the high school graduates who come out of the current system will not be at any great disadvantage until this is resolved in a way that is mutually agreeable to everyone from the standpoint of the quality of education in the here and now?
Mr. Fallon: Absolutely. The point I made during my presentation is that our students are competing with the best in the country.
Senator, I sat through the 12 hours of debate on this issue in the House of Commons. I was distressed greatly by the type of rhetoric we heard with respect to the education system in this province. That rhetoric did not come only out of the mouths of members of the House from other provinces, it came out of the mouths of members from this province who had their facts wrong and who had incorrect information. Our students can hold their own with any students in Canada.
Senator Kinsella: I wish to return to pages 28 and 29 of your brief. Your Grace, if Saint Paul had the same record as you in terms of letter writing, he would have been shipwrecked more than on the Island of Malta.
What is your sense as to why you received no reply from the Prime Minister of Canada, and others, to whom you wrote a couple of times? Have members of Parliament from here not been able to intervene? Quite frankly, I am surprised because, generally, there is better communication than what is indicated in your brief. Is there something behind this? Why are you telling us this?
Archbishop MacDonald: I suppose that one of the reasons we are telling you this is to show you our frustration and how hard we have tried to make our position known. We wish to show that it has fallen on deaf ears. I would not want to impugn motives; however, it is not beyond me to have a few in my mind.
Ms Henley-Andrews: I am prepared to impugn motives, if I might. The timing of the announcement coincided with Mr. Wells' retirement. From my perspective, our constitutional rights were his retirement gift.
Senator Kinsella: We heard reference to the testimony of the Honourable Minister of Justice, Mr. Rock, who appeared before this committee. I take it that you have read his testimony. What do you make out of his reading of the proposed Term 17 and his conclusion that denominational schools remain? Is there a problem with terminology here? Is there a distinction to be made between the use of the term "denominational schools" in that context and the use of the term "denominational schools" in the context of the present reality?
Mr. Fallon: In dealing with the issue of unidenominational schools, the amended Term 17 makes these schools subject to provincial legislation. Therefore, it does not provide constitutional protection for these schools. They will exist subject to provincial legislation. That is uniformly applicable to all schools.
Allow me to give an example of a piece of provincial legislation with respect to this issue. I refer to a bill that was made public in January of this year by the Wells government. Let us consider this piece of legislation and see what it has to say about unidenominational schools.
With respect to single school communities in this province where there are now Catholic schools, under the new legislation Catholic schools could continue to exist only if 90 per cent of the students attending that school are Roman Catholic. That is an example of the "subject to provincial legislation" that we are talking about. We know that this bill was withdrawn by the Tobin government. However, we have not seen the legislation which the Tobin administration wants to put forth. That issue was raised this morning and we have asked: Where is it? Let us see the legislation. Let us see what this new system will look like. We do not have it.
The second point with respect to unidenominational schools and legislation and what we have been told comes in the form of a news release issued by Mr. Grimes on April 24 of this year in which it is stated that all new schools and schools which consolidate will be designated interdenominational. What he is saying is that in the future there can never be a new Roman Catholic school established in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Senator Kinsella: Do we have a copy of that?
Mr. Fallon: We can provide you with a copy, senator.
The point I am making is that the term "subject to provincial legislation" gives the power to the legislature to pass laws that could affect detrimentally the establishment and the continued existence of Roman Catholic schools in this province. That is the crux of our problem with the amended Term 17. That is why we say you should delete the term "subject to provincial legislation" and substitute the term "where numbers warrant". That would give us the constitutional protection that we desire.
The Chair: You made reference to three pieces of documentation you have which I think would be most useful to us. The first was the press release of the interdenominational schools following the breakdown of the framework agreement. Can you provide us with a copy of that, as well as the two most recent releases to which you referred?
Mr. Fallon: The proposed bill to revise the Schools Act was brought forward in January.
Senator Kinsella: What was the number of that bill?
Ms Henley-Andrews: That bill, Madam Chair, is attached to Appendix 7 of our materials.
Senator MacDonald: May I tell a brief story I heard two years ago? Premier Smallwood, who was campaigning in a Catholic neighbourhood, needed some support up there and he called up his great friend Father Donahue to accompany him to the church fair that particular day. The turkey shoot was on. One of the parishioners got pretty drunk and was roaming around with his rifle. Mr. Smallwood and Father Donahue had to take that rifle away from him. The old fellow came to them at the end of the picnic very mad and upset. He looked forward to this event the whole year long. He said, "You broke my heart, Mr. Smallwood and Father Donahue." He said, "Effective immediately, I am resigning from the Catholic church." He also said, "Mr. Smallwood, I am thinking damn seriously about leaving the Liberal Party."
The Chair: As you can see, honourable senators, Senator MacDonald has a certain licence with the Chair. I have known him all my life. There was a time when he was an adult and I was very much a child.
Senator Doody: One of the questions raised first by Minister Rock in an exchange with me in the Ottawa hearings, and subsequently by others, was who speaks for the minorities. That was demonstrated to us this morning, dramatically, by the numbers that the Pentecostals cited, 85 per cent and so on. The Seventh-Day Adventists are a very small religious group, but nonetheless worthy of protection, and perhaps even more so because they are smaller and even more vulnerable.
For the sake of the record, perhaps Ms Henley-Andrews and Ms Prim-Furlong could tell us how many people are in their organizations, when they were organized, and where they operate in the province; whether it is only in St. John's or in other areas.
I am interested in the parent involvement in this as well as the student involvement. I was particularly impressed with the young lady from Gonzaga who was in Ottawa with you on your expedition.
Ms Henley-Andrews: The alliance never set out to have a membership list per se. When the debate started, it was being cast very much as a church versus state issue. There was constant reference to the churches. Every time Mr. Fallon or the Archbishop spoke, or for that matter any member of a Catholic school board, the accusation was being levelled at them that they were only protecting their positions and not speaking for the people. Therefore, a group decided that it was important to illustrate the views of the people.
The alliance started with a fairly small group of parents, some teachers and some other members of the public. We put out a call for volunteers. An office was donated to us for a very short period of time, and 3,000 people volunteered to help. That is not indicating their support; that is volunteering to help.
We ran a postcard campaign to the provincial government in early 1994. Over 7,000 postcards were sent to the provincial government by people signing for the alliance.
Since that time, we have been invited to speak all over the province to various school groups and parent-teacher groups. The alliance does have representation on its board from a variety of parent-teacher associations and schools.
We have also encouraged schools to write to Ottawa, to write to Premier Tobin, and also to do some polling within their own schools to determine how many parents wished the schools to remain Catholic and that type of thing. Not every parent-teacher organization has chosen to make that determination in their schools, but the 10 or 12 in the St. John's area which have done that found over 90 per cent support for remaining Catholic schools. We got a significant response in all of those schools.
Ms Prim-Furlong: Senator, as I stated in my presentation, there are 44,000 children in our system, and we feel that we represent the parents in matters of education. We feel very strongly about that because over the past four years we held countless meetings with parents and parents represented by PTAs. We have addressed parents in schools and we received their input. We realize that not all parents wish to retain the system as it now exists; however, we believe that for the most part we represent the parents in their support for this system.
In turn, the representation from the parents is communicated through the boards on to the Catholic Education Council. We carry out the wishes of the parents in that fashion, so I can say without reservation that we feel we have heard from the parents.
To illustrate that, with only one or two days notice, 400 parents from all parts of this province gathered here to greet the senators as they arrived yesterday and to show you what system they support. That took no effort.
Senator Doody: Your Worship, did you wish to say something?
Archbishop MacDonald: The 1989 public opinion poll showed that 65 per cent of Catholics supported the denominational system of education. A 1990 substantial survey of the Catholic education community, Catholic Education in Newfoundland and Labrador, a survey designed and conducted for the Catholic educational council by Dr. Robert Crawford of Memorial University, showed a very strong support by Catholics for Catholic schools.
While Catholic support for denominational education remained constant at 65 per cent when compared to the 1978 public opinion poll, 71 per cent of Roman Catholic parents agreed with the statement that Catholic schools were the most appropriate place in which to educate Catholic children. Approximately 85 per cent of Roman Catholic parents also stated that schools have a major responsibility for the education of children in the Catholic faith, and approximately 88 per cent indicated that it is not possible to have truly Catholic schools without the active participation of home, parish and school. When asked about their overall commitment to Catholic education, 79 per cent of Roman Catholic parents said they were firmly committed.
In the same study, teachers also showed a very high level of support for the Roman Catholic system. Approximately 80 per cent of the teachers said they were firmly committed to Catholic education, 92 per cent said that it is not possible to have truly Catholic schools without the active participation of home, parish and school, and 87 per cent described the partnership between family, church and state as an appropriate way to educate children.
It is significant that a single weekend petition in March 1993, resulted in 55,000 signatures in support of Catholic education.
Senator Doody: Thank you. That is very helpful.
Mr. Fallon, a little while ago you described to us the mechanism under the original proposed legislation by which a community comprised 11 per cent of one denomination would cause the existing Catholic school to become an interdenominational school, or a non-denominational school, depending on which code word you want to use.
It occurs to me that another one of the myths that surrounds this is that all these schools have been built with public money and that only taxpayers' money has gone into them. I know from my experience going to school here in St. John's that a tremendous amount of money is put in by the religious orders. The church has donated the land in many cases.
Has there been any discussion about or indication that, if the worst scenario happens, there will be compensation? Is it simply to convert from a Catholic school to an interdenominational school with no compensation for the original owners? I am not talking about the spiritual compensation, but the bottom line.
Mr. Fallon: Senator, we first saw this proposed amendment on January 3. This document deals with church property or land on which schools are built. There was no discussion between the government of this province and the interested denominations about the matter of church land.
The Catholic Education Council did an assessment in 1991 of the value of land on which Roman Catholic schools and board offices were built. The assessed value was $22 million, of which the church's input was $17.2 million, or 78 per cent of the total. That is land alone and does not include buildings.
There was no discussion between His Grace the Archbishop, the Catholic Education Council and the government with respect to the issue of land. This document does, however, indicate how the Catholic schools will be turned into interdenominational schools without any discussion or compensation for that property.
Senator Doody: Even those that have been built substantially with parish funds?
Mr. Fallon: Yes, even those. Ms Andrews referred to the Holy Heart of Mary school, the largest school in the province. It was built 35 years ago and is still being used to educate students in this province. It was built for $7.5 million 35 years ago, and 86 per cent of the cost of that building was provided by the two religious congregations which operated that school when it was founded.
As well, a significant amount of the infrastructure in this province was funded by the parishes and is still being used to educate the students in this province, yet the provincial government has not had the courtesy to even discuss this issue with us.
Senator Beaudoin: Next to sections 91 and 92 of our Constitution, history shows that section 93 or the equivalent, which is section 17 here, is perhaps the most important article in the Constitution.
I agree that we cannot isolate the question of Newfoundland from Quebec and Ontario. There is no doubt that what takes place here will have political consequences, although not necessarily legal ones, in Quebec and Ontario.
My question is on the "subject to provincial legislation" clause. I have exactly the same concern as you. When I first read it, I thought that some powers were transferred from the confessions or the classes of person to the state. The more I read this section (b), "subject to provincial legislation", the more I see that it is uniformly applicable to all schools, and this is in respect of denominational schools.
It is very ambiguous. I should like to hear a little bit more on your concerns about this clause. Any article in a Constitution dealing with education must be very important. The same is true with articles relating to rights and freedoms, and denominational rights are perhaps in an even higher category of rights and freedoms.
In passing, I must say that the Charter of Rights does not apply to denominational rights. Section 29 is very clear. It is a category in itself.
It will be interpreted by the courts, no doubt, as it has been in Quebec, Ontario and Manitoba and other places in this country, and it will continue. The debate that we are hearing today was also heard to a certain extent in Manitoba, and we had the same debate in Quebec before Confederation.
Why is there this question of the provincial legislation? I repeat my question. Does this mean that for legislation in this particular field, the legislature is above the Constitution of this country or of your province?
Ms Henley-Andrews: That is one of the concerns. The "subject to provincial legislation" clause is a major concern. You must pardon me for being cynical, but over the last four years I have acquired ample reason for being so.
The provincial government could put in place universal viability guidelines such as it proposed in January. Let us say it established a minimum school size, which is what it did in its proposed regulations in January of this year, and it set such a high threshold that the overwhelming majority of Roman Catholic schools and all Pentecostal schools in the province would be eliminated. At the same time, it would also be eliminating a great many integrated schools, because no one denomination has a hold on small schools and they are scattered throughout the province. The problem is that if the government did that for one year and was prepared to withstand the political outcry, schools would be changed. Students would be in different schools. The next year, the threshold could be lowered to bring back some of the schools that had been closed, but by that time the denominational schools would be gone.
Senator Beaudoin: As a famous American chief justice said, the Constitution is what the judges say it is. When the courts are interpreting sections 91 and 92, they say what criminal law is and what civil law is. They say what is education in section 93, what the presumption of innocence is and what denominational rights are. They have the last word. Of course we could amend after that, but with the success that we have in the field of amendments, obviously the Supreme Court of Canada will continue to rule. It will be invited to do so.
Senator Doody: They will not have the last word on this.
Senator Beaudoin: They will have to interpret that.
In my opinion, if there is to be an amendment to this, it should be done here. It is very strange to say that denominational rights as protected in a section of the Constitution are subject to provincial legislation.
Do you have something to add?
Mr. Fallon: Again I refer to the proposed bill to amend the Schools Act of January of this year. I will just read two sections from it to indicate how the provincial legislation can impact. I have already quoted earlier from this document with respect to the single school communities. There are two other areas in here where I will show that "subject to provincial legislation" could have a detrimental effect on unidenominational schools. One such area is clause 79(2), and it reads as follows:
A board may, or upon the written request of 10 parents of students shall, conduct a registration process for the purpose of determining or altering the designation of a school as a unidenominational school.
At any time ten parents can say, "We would like to alter the designation of the unidenominational school", and have a vote. It does not say that ten parents can come and ask to alter the designation of a so-called interdenominational school. You can see how this legislation is skewed to mitigate against the continued operation of unidenominational schools.
The second point I would like to make is in subclause 111(1); regulations:
The Lieutenant-Governor in Council may make regulations ...
(rr) respecting the designation and registration of schools as uni-denominational, French language and aboriginal schools;
My point is that the unidenominational schools become totally subject to provincial legislation. There is no constitutional protection for unidenominational schools in this proposed amendment.
Senator Beaudoin: The Supreme Court has always been generous in the interpretation of rights and freedoms and denominational rights, so in that sense it may give the benefit of the doubt to those who have denominational rights. However, we are not at that stage now. We are at the stage of the legislation, or, more than that, we are at the stage of a constitutional amendment. It cannot be higher than that.
Senator Rompkey: I have two points, and one is on the numbers. Mr. Fallon, what are the appropriate numbers for the establishment of unidenominational schools? What would you say is an appropriate percentage?
Mr. Fallon: In discussions with government, we operated from what presently exists, which is where I think we must take it from. In single-school communities, where 50 per cent plus 1 of the population of that school wants to retain it as a unidenominational school, that should be the case.
Senator Rompkey: Is that 50 per cent plus 1 per cent of the people in the community?
Mr. Fallon: We are prepared to accept either the people who are served by the school or the whole community, but the people are served by the school, so parents of students in the school.
Senator Rompkey: How would the government conduct that analysis?
Mr. Fallon: If that were done, it would be done between government and the school board.
Senator Rompkey: I also wish to ask about bussing and transportation.
Ms Prim-Furlong: In addition to what Mr. Fallon has said, the government had also established viability numbers for schools. We agreed with those numbers, so that is over and above the input of the parents desiring to keep that school as a Catholic school.
Mr. Fallon: Yes. We have always maintained that the schools must be viable. We do not want to continue to operate non-viable schools in this province. We want to have them where numbers warrant and where people want them.
Senator Rompkey: The brief says "presumed excessive transportation". Does that mean you do not think that transportation costs are excessive in the province?
Mr. Fallon: That is correct. There has been no study of which we are aware which has definitively shown that the savings would be as the government purports and that they would be a result of the non-denominational nature of the system.
There was a study released on August 30, 1995, just several hours before the advance poll in the referendum. This study was incomplete. It dealt with transportation costs which have absolutely nothing to do with the denominational nature of the system. The savings which this particular study reported would result from double bussing, fewer stops along the way, fewer children being transported, and things like this, which have absolutely nothing to do with the denominational nature of the system. You still have to transport students in a public sector system.
Senator Rompkey: You were quite critical of the Williams Commission. According to your brief, he reported bus savings in the order of $134,000. You do not believe that they did adequate research and you call into question their findings.
Mr. Fallon: That is correct. We do not believe they did adequate research on this issue either. I think Dr. Williams indicated that in his testimony in Ottawa. I was present at those hearings. I believe the record will indicate that he did not have the opportunity to study fully the bus transportation system in the province.
Ms Henley-Andrews: I have before me a copy of the bus study which was released on the eve of the referendum and was supposed to have been the definitive word on bus savings. If you look through it, you will find that it was done on a provincial district by provincial district basis.
In the Mobile-Trepassey area, there are only Roman Catholic schools, so there is no cross-bussing, and they estimated that they would save $280,000.
In the district of Stephenville-Port au Port, they estimated they would save $227,100, but only $23,700 of that was from cross-bussing. They looked at every community and every school and identified which schools are bussing across from one community to another and then worked out the cost.
The problem with taking the gross number of $8 million to $10 million -- and I use that term in all of its senses -- is that this study does not deal specifically with the duplication due to the denominational education system. This is an analysis of how bussing costs are be saved, period. A very small percentage of it, perhaps 10 per cent, is from cross-bussing, but much of it is from saving capital costs by having one bus rather than three and having triple routes. Kindergarten to Grade 4 would be bussed at seven o'clock in the morning, Grade 5 to Grade 8 would be bussed at eight o'clock, and Grade 9 to Grade 12 would be bussed at nine o'clock. They would also stagger the times at the end of the day in order to use only one bus. People went ballistic over that.
Ms Prim-Furlong: One of the greatest outcries in this whole debate was from the parents in response to this bussing report. They were incredulous at the recommendations of the report. They were so displeased that such inconveniences would be imposed upon them and their children that they actually forced the government to put a stop to these measures. At that point, the government withdrew that proposal.
Senator Rompkey: You are saying there is not adequate empirical evidence. We have had anecdotal evidence for a long time of cross-bussing. The classic case is Harbour Grace and Bay Roberts where the buses pass each other on the hill. I do not know how Carbonear fits in, but that area of Conception Bay is usually used as an example of how a great deal of money could be saved on bussing.
In the absence of solid empirical evidence, it is your position that there are not really savings to be made in bussing?
Ms Henley-Andrews: Do not get me wrong. There might be some savings to be made. The $134,000 estimate by the Williams Commission is much closer to reality when it comes to duplication caused by the denominational system. There are other bussing savings that have nothing to do with the denominational system, but they will inconvenience parents.
With regard to anecdotal stories, and you are quite right that Carbonear, Harbour Grace and Bay Roberts are areas to which people refer. However, many of those students will be bussed any way, regardless of whether they are bussed from Carbonear to Harbour Grace, or from Bay Roberts to Harbour Grace. If you live more than 1.6 kilometres from a school, you are provided with a bus.
Senator Rompkey: But you would be bussed within the community rather than from community to community.
Ms Henley-Andrews: You would not be bussed quite as far. You would still have some of the costs because you still have to provide the buses. The thing you would be saving is distance and time.
Senator Rompkey: That would be a savings for the students too. That would be an education improvement, would it not?
Ms Henley-Andrews: Depending on the distance that children are being bussed, yes.
Senator Rompkey: There would be more time in the classroom or gym, at music, band or choir.
Ms Henley-Andrews: That is really where the issue of choice comes in.
Senator Doody: You have no argument with improving the system. This is not an issue.
Senator Rompkey: The point that has been made, I think, is that if bussing were done within a community rather than between communities, savings would be achieved. It is my understanding that buses are travelling between communities so that students can attend the school of their denomination.
Ms Henley-Andrews: There was a point at which Premier Wells himself chose to send his children to Catholic schools. One attended Gonzaga and one attended Holy Heart. They were not refused because they were not Catholic. I think there are parents in rural Newfoundland and parents in the urban areas who are choosing to send their children to the nearest school, and the schools will take them as long as there is not an overcrowding problem. In some areas, there is an overcrowding problem.
To get back to anecdotes, one of the examples that Mr. Decker constantly used on bussing was Goulds, just outside St. John's, where there is a Catholic school complex from kindergarten to Grade 12 and an integrated school from kindergarten to Grade 6. The rest of the Avalon consolidated board students are bussed into schools in the centre of St. John's for junior high and high school.
The problem is that there is not enough space in the schools in Goulds to accommodate all of those children in any event. If you said that there will be no more bussing into St. John's and that all of these children will now be able to attend school in Goulds, you will either have to build a new school building to accommodate the Grade 7 to Grade 12 students or you will have to build a major extension to one of the existing facilities, and that has a cost.
That is one of the problems on this whole bussing issue. It is easy to talk about eliminating bussing, but schools have been built based upon the number of children that were anticipated. You need to be careful, when talking anecdotally, that emotion does not take over from reason.
Mr. Fallon: We have also indicated to the government that we are prepared to discuss the issue of any cross-bussing. We have not had the opportunity to do that. We said, "Let's sit down together and look at issues like this and see if we can reach an accommodation." The government has absolute control over bussing.
Senator Rompkey: Is that entirely true? School boards let contracts, do not they?
Ms Henley-Andrews: No.
Senator Rompkey: They did in my time.
Mr. Fallon: The government has to approve these contracts.
Senator Rompkey: I certainly called for tenders on bussing when I was a superintendent.
Mr. Fallon: I will give you an example from last year. In 1995, the Minister of Education declared that all transportation routes for the next year had to be retendered as a means of achieving reduced costs immediately, and of course that was done. The result was an increase of $685,000 for the same routes over the previous year.
The point we are making here is that the government has control over the tendering process. Also, we know there was an overall increase in transportation costs last year of $2.2 million. The government has control over the transportation budget in the province, not the denominations, and the government can decide how much money it will spend on bus transportation.
Senator Rompkey: The problem is that the government does not have the latitude to decide where the schools are and who will go to what school.
Ms Henley-Andrews: That is correct. You cannot have a denominational system if the government has authority over all of those issues. You cannot have a unidenominational school if the government has complete control over the schools.
Senator Rompkey: That is one of the important questions with which we are wrestling.
Senator Pearson: I come from the province of Ontario where there is a Catholic system, so this is not an issue for me.
My interest is partly to follow up on the response I received this morning from the Pentecostal church with respect to my question on open admission, because all rights exist in the context of other rights, including the rights of children and their rights to education.
When I read this and was trying to get a sense of the proposed new term, I noticed that it refers to, in subsection (c), student admission policy. I do not think I fully understood the Pentecostal answer. I thought they said that there had to be an open admission policy. Is that right?
Ms Henley-Andrews: It is right in relation to students who are not covered by one of the existing denominations. For example, if you are Sikh, and therefore there is currently no school in the province specifically for your religion, you must be accommodated at an existing school, whether or not there is space.
Senator Pearson: The parents would choose which school they wanted their child to attend.
Ms Henley-Andrews: That is right. In my children's school, there are children who are not specifically provided for.
Senator Pearson: Would the Catholic school system have the right to refuse a Pentecostal child?
Ms Henley-Andrews: Only if there is a Pentecostal school in the area.
Mr. Fallon: However, we do not refuse any children from other religions, if we have room. We take them all.
Senator Pearson: It was helpful to clarify that. That was not a criticism, only a question.
In the same section are the points with respect to the curriculum. There is the curriculum affecting religious beliefs and then the general curriculum. How does that break down? Is the Department of Education non-denominational?
Ms Henley-Andrews: That is right.
Senator Pearson: Does it set a general curriculum for the province?
Ms Henley-Andrews: Yes.
Senator Pearson: Within that, the denominational schools can adjust?
Ms Henley-Andrews: Yes.
Senator Pearson: To what extent?
Ms Henley-Andrews: They can adjust matters affecting religious beliefs.
Ms Prim-Furlong: The Catholic boards do not adjust the curriculum as such. The adjustments over the accommodations are made with reference to religious education. I can give you an example of past experience.
It was recommended that we should increase the time for instruction in religion. The boards did not believe that could be accommodated because their primary concern was the academic aspects of the curriculum, so we had to accommodate both.
No, adjustments are not made to the curriculum as established by the Department of Education.
Senator Pearson: Have there been efforts by the Department of Education not to include in the curriculum any materials that might become controversial? I can understand that certain denominations might not accept certain things.
Mr. Fallon: Yes, the department ensures that we have an opportunity to review the curriculum before any new materials are produced for the school system. If there are materials that may be contrary to our beliefs and practices, we have an opportunity to be heard with respect to them. We have had no great difficulties with the Department of Education in this matter. They have been very accommodating.
Senator Pearson: Many of my questions are not denominational in nature. I am concerned with the issue of children at risk. Do you cooperate among yourselves with respect to children with certain learning or other disabilities?
Ms Prim-Furlong: Without hesitation, the answer to your question is yes. In the city of St. John's we have tremendous cooperation between the Roman Catholic, integrated and Pentecostal boards to address the needs of these children.
Senator Pearson: Would you share a remedial language teacher, for example?
Mr. Fallon: Senator, educational psychologists and itinerant teachers for hearing and visually impaired students are shared by different denominational boards. These people work within a certain geographic area. In the city of Corner Brook, the Roman Catholic board takes care of students with challenging needs at the lower levels, and the integrated board handles the older students. There is cooperation with respect to that throughout the whole province.
Ms Prim-Furlong: We just finished attempting to address the needs of gifted children in this area, for example, and it was all done through the joint and cooperative efforts of the school boards.
Senator Ottenheimer: This process, which has been ongoing for the past two or three years, will obviously be finalized some time, in some manner. As far as I can see, there are only two possibilities.
One possibility is that there could be a consensus, an accommodation, perhaps not everyone's preferred accommodation, but something acceptable to all which will result in an agreement with all the parties without a constitutional amendment, or an agreed-to constitutional amendment which I think would also have to have reference to "where numbers warrant" in terms of unique denominational schools.
The other possibility is that something will be put through whereby the 37 per cent Roman Catholics, the 7 per cent Pentecostals and the one-tenth of 1 per cent Seventh-Day Adventists will know that their minority rights given in the constitutional reference have been altered without their consent.
In order to get a consensus, as His Grace and others have mentioned, you could open negotiations, and that seems to be the only avenue. In other disputes or differences of opinion, there can be conciliation, mediation, but those hardly seem appropriate in this context. However, perhaps they are. I do not know if any thought has been given to mediation, conciliation or some kind of quasi-arbitration, but it appears that negotiation might be the preferred route.
Far be it from me to suggest what any of the parties should do. You are much closer to it and more knowledgeable about it than I. However, if negotiation is the only method, and if the other parties are not doing anything about initiating a negotiation, maybe the parents representing Roman Catholic children could take the initiative to see whether it is possible to keep one of the framework agreements.
I understand about the reduction in school boards and also that the financing for school construction will be on a needs basis. It might be possible to have some accommodation which may not be everyone's or anyone's perfect solution. It may not be good theology, but in politics, at least, the perfect is sometimes the enemy of the good. You could get something that everyone can live with. I put that forward as a question.
On the other aspect of it, if something is finalized which denies the rights of minorities, has sufficient attention been drawn to not just the abstract or philosophical concept of minority rights but to the constitutional reference being changed without the consent of those minorities? Also, what will flow from that in terms of how we get along with one another as a people and of the confidence we can have in recognition of our rights and respect for the rights of others? What results will this have in the overall sociopolitical civil life of the province?
A case could be made which states, "You may not agree with the way we exercise our rights. You may feel that you do not wish to exercise your rights, but we do. Surely, we should respect one another. We respect your right if you so decide not to exercise the rights you have or to give them up. Surely you can recognize our right to wish to exercise them even if you do not agree. However, hopefully you can agree to something which will not haunt political, social, church and fraternal relations in Newfoundland for a long time to come."
I do not whether my questions are clear.
Ms Henley-Andrews: Senator Ottenheimer, I understand your sentiment. I think the referendum did a great disservice to the people of Newfoundland for a number of reasons. One is that it became clear during the discussion after the framework agreement in April that almost every voter had a different interpretation of what they voted for or against. Some people thought they voted for the removal of all denominational schools. Some people thought they voted for interdenominational schools. Others thought they were getting unidenominational schools where numbers warrant. The result is that there are very different expectations within the population as to what can be accomplished even within the context of Term 17 before you now.
Archbishop MacDonald: Over the rather long period that we met with the Wells government, I never had the sense that we were trying to build a consensus. My sense was that the government was looking for consent to its plan, rightly or wrongly. That was certainly my perception.
We speak of negotiations. It seems to me that with the framework agreement, we had negotiated an arrangement where all three parties gave up the exercise of some of our rights -- for example, having denominational school boards. We suggested that we went along with interdenominational school boards. I think the other two councils did the same thing. What we did not acquire in the three years with the previous government, it took only a few weeks to acquire in negotiations on the framework agreement.
I do not know what Catholics can do to initiate negotiations, but you can understand our frustration when the denominational councils, which are statutory bodies representing the denominations in provincial matters, come to an agreement, and all of a sudden we hear that it is no longer in effect.
Mr. Fallon: I would like to make a comment with respect to your second point, Senator Ottenheimer.
We indicated to Premier Wells when the referendum was called that this particular exercise would be a very divisive issue in this province, and it has been. That has been borne out by the acrimony that has grown up particularly over the past several months. We are quite distressed by that, particularly when our rights are being taken away. Some people in this province feel that the Term 17 amendment before you now does not go far enough.
We are not asking for people of this province to agree with us. All we are asking is for them to respect our position with regard to the way we believe our children should be brought up in the faith and the way we wish to see the education of our children in this province.
As far as the establishment of non-denominational schools is concerned, nothing in the current Term 17 precludes that; nothing in the current Term 17 precludes that these schools be fully funded; nothing in the current Term 17 compels the government to provide additional funding for schools any more than they are providing now. It is just that the pie will be divided up amongst all types of schools in the province. All we are asking of the people of this province is please respect our wishes. We respect your right to have the kind of education system you want for your children. Would you please allow us to continue to do that for our children.
Ms Prim-Furlong: From a school board perspective, this process has been very divisive and has accentuated our differences. In the past years, the facts speak for themselves in terms of cooperation between the school boards and how we have attempted to address the needs of our children. Cooperative ventures have been put on hold. We have not been able to follow through on them because of the dreadful situation created by this debate.
Senator Anderson: To say that I have been fascinated by the discussion this morning and this afternoon is quite an understatement. Having attended only public schools and a one-room school until grade nine, and having survived the merger of a secular college with a sectarian university, I have had some experience in this area. In fact, I have been involved in education all my professional life.
Both Ms Prim-Furlong and Ms Henley-Andrews have made reference to joint service schools in your province. Could you elaborate about the success of this venture? For instance, how many such schools exist? How long have they existed, and how successful have they been?
Ms Henley-Andrews: There are currently 35 joint service schools in 25 communities. Many of them are joint ventures between the Roman Catholic and the integrated school boards, and others are joint ventures between the integrated and the Pentecostal schools. A further 10 or 12 joint service arrangements have been on hold for the last four or five years because the government has not provided the capital funding to accommodate minor building additions.
A school in Pasadena, I believe, this year became joint service. I think it only required the addition of one classroom, but it was on hold for a considerable period of time because the funding was not provided by the provincial government to construct that one classroom. That has now been done.
There are new joint service schools in Gander. The community of Gander is all joint service as of September 1995, this past school year. There are different arrangements between boards on joint service. Some of them have formal agreements in place. Others have informal arrangements. Some have been more successful than others in terms of the delivery of religious education and those types of things, but on the whole, they have been quite successful. At least, that is my understanding.
In answer to your question, my understanding is that the first joint service school in the province goes back to Fogo Island in Labrador in the late 1960s, but as populations and rural communities have declined, the need for further cooperative arrangements has increased.
Mr. Fallon: The present government provided funds this year for several joint service ventures. We are happy about that. Several others are waiting to receive funds, and four new joint service schools will come into operation this coming September. There will be more. The evolution of the system will be in that direction in rural Newfoundland without an amendment to Term 17. We do not need to amend Term 17 in order to move in that direction.
Ms Prim-Furlong: Not only is it happening in rural Newfoundland; we have a situation close to the city where we are presently looking at a joint service arrangement.
Senator Lewis: For the purposes of the record, I presume several members of the Williams Royal Commission were involved.
Mr. Fallon: Yes, that is correct. There were three members of the commission.
Senator Lewis: Was there any dissent on the report among those members?
Mr. Fallon: No.
Senator Lewis: There was talk this afternoon and this morning by the Pentecostal Assemblies with reference to change to the suggested Term 17 dealing with the establishment of denominational schools. The expression "where numbers warrant" was used. What views do you have on that phrase? Would that make the proposed change more amenable?
Mr. Fallon: The answer is yes, but there is another matter as well. If the phrase "where numbers warrant" were to substitute for "subject to provincial legislation", that would make the resolution acceptable to a degree. As well, if we were to add the term "to determine and direct" with regard to student administration policies, religious education, and student admission policies, that would go a long way to satisfying our needs on this particular issue.
Senator Lewis: Which seemed to be the position of the Pentecostal Assemblies this morning.
Mr. Fallon: Yes.
Senator Lewis: Most other provinces seem to have a different system. I think Senator Pearson referred to Ontario. I am not familiar with it, but perhaps you can tell me. I believe they have a dual system. They have a public system and a denominational system.
Mr. Fallon: Yes, that is correct. They have a non-denominational system, and what is called a separate system, but they are mainly Catholic schools. In Ontario, the religious schools of other denominations are not funded.
Senator Lewis: Would such a system, from your point of view, be feasible and acceptable here?
Ms Prim-Furlong: Yes.
Mr. Fallon: Where numbers warrant, I think the opportunity should be there for people to have a non-religious ambience or a secular ambience in their schools if they so wish. I think it is possible. Any Catholics who would not want to have their children raised in Catholic schools or members of the integrated group could opt for the same thing. I think the opportunity would be there, particularly in the larger centres.
Senator Lewis: How will they be financed?
Mr. Fallon: They will be financed out of the public treasury. The total amount of funding allocated now would be allocated to this new system on a proportionate basis. As long as there is no discrimination against denominational schools, the funding can be readjusted. If you have this other system, students who want to move would move from the present system into this public system. They would take with them teachers and teachers' salaries. They would take with them student and pupil grants. They would even take buildings with them. We have indicated to the province that we are prepared to turn over the buildings we currently have. If parents want a secular system, the government does not have to go out and build a new building for them. We would consolidate and give them the buildings they need in order to operate.
The same thing happened in Ontario when the separate system received full funding. There was a flood of people from the public system into the separate system. The public system turned buildings over to the separate system. We would be prepared to do the same thing here to accommodate people who want non-denominational schools. There is no difficulty with that. We indicated that to Premier Wells at the time of our discussions with him.
Senator Lewis: In Ontario, is this system subject to provincial legislation?
Ms Henley-Andrews: No, it is not.
Mr. Fallon: There is constitutional protection in Ontario for minorities, for Roman Catholic schools in Ontario, and constitutional protection in Quebec, of course, for the Protestant minorities.
Senator Lewis: I take it that that protection comes under section 93.
Ms Henley-Andrews: That is correct.
The Chair: This morning the Seventh-Day Adventists were somewhat concerned about the phrase "where numbers warrant" because their schools probably would not qualify under an interpretation of "where numbers warrant". They proposed a situation in which they would be given operating grants on a per pupil basis. Is that something you have considered as an alternative to "where numbers warrant", or is it an unacceptable form of compromise?
Mr. Fallon: That matter was raised by the Seventh-Day Adventist Church during discussions with the government. I was present at the meeting at which that matter came up. We support the Seventh-Day Adventists in that position.
That is not our position and would not be acceptable to us. We believe that since Roman Catholics in that province pay taxes like anyone else, then our education system should be fully funded.
Senator Rompkey: I thought we heard that Seventh-Day Adventists were not consulted by the government.
The Chair: They were not part of the framework agreement.
Mr. Fallon: That is correct.
Ms Henley-Andrews: However, they did attend some of the meetings between the government and the churches.
Mr. Fallon: The Minister of Education indicated that he would consult with the Seventh-Day Adventists separately. With respect to the framework agreement, three denominational groups were involved in that discussion. He was quite aware of the fact that he would need to consult separately with the Seventh-Day Adventists.
The Chair: I did not mean to open a can of worms.
Senator Doody: The can of worms was opened some time ago. It would be better if the worms were left in the can.
In answer to Senator Lewis' question about the inclusion of the phrase "where numbers warrant" and to determine as well as direct, is it also necessary to delete the words "subject to provincial legislation"?
Mr. Fallon: Yes, delete "subject to provincial legislation" and substitute "where numbers warrant". That would give constitutional protection to unidenominational schools, in our view.
The Chair: Thank you to all members of the panel representing the Roman Catholic Church in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador.
We will now have brief presentations from the walk-ins. The maximum amount of time is five minutes.
Mr. Lawrence Jardine: Thank you, senators, for coming to St. John's to meet with us and hear our concerns.
I have the privilege of being the father of eight children, all of whom have been attending the Catholic school system here in Newfoundland. We are proud of their accomplishments. We have also lived in Ontario and Manitoba, and luckily my children were able to attend Catholic schools.
I am curious as to why these rights to Catholic education and unidenominational education exist in other provinces. I hope that the Senate will do whatever is in its power to maintain that opportunity for my children in the foreseeable future. My youngest child is two years old, so obviously I will be committed to education for a number of years to come.
With all due respect to Senator Ottenheimer, I feel strongly that my right to choose the form of education for my children is a fundamental right. I do not want it negotiated away or watered down for political consensus. It is a right that has to be protected. It is a right in the Constitution. It is a right that enabled Newfoundland to join this country almost 50 years ago.
Ms Dorice Marcil: Madam Chair and honourable senators, I am from Labrador City, Labrador. I have been asked to speak on behalf of the Catholic Women's League, which has about 1,400 members in this province and 110,000 across the country. Most of our members are mothers or grandmothers who believe strongly in a Catholic education for their children.
We have asked our bishops and other spokespersons to speak on our behalf. We support what they have said. We want to keep our rights; we do not want to lose them. We want to exercise them where numbers warrant. We would encourage any reform that would improve the educational opportunities for our children. We want them to be educated in a caring and loving atmosphere where they can be educated as a whole person and become what God wants them to be.
I am also chairperson of the Roman Catholic School Board for Labrador which covers 176,000 square kilometers, two-and-a-half times the size of this island.
I want to let you know a few other things that I have not heard yet today. For instance, all school trustees in this province are not paid. Unlike Ontario and a few other provinces, there is no salary attached to the position, and it is purely volunteer because we care. We try to do the best for our children.
A lot of things have been said about our educational system. I would like to refute them on the basis of my single district, which I know quite well. The national average for students continuing with post-secondary education is between 44 and 46 per cent. In our district, where we have Innu schools, francophone schools, English schools and French emersion, 86 per cent of our students go on to other universities and post-secondary education, and they do well. We are pleased to have a page in the House of Commons this year. She attended Carleton University and on her final maths exam got 100 per cent. Now you tell me that our education is not as good as that of others!
In Newfoundland, we spend about $1,000 per pupil per year less than the national average; yet, we still get results. We still do our best for our children.
A government survey in 1990 studied the question of dropouts. Apparently, the national average is that 35 per cent of children drop out of school before graduation. They wanted to include J.R. Smallwood Collegiate in Wabush, Labrador, only they were not eligible because they did not have any dropouts. Match that anywhere else!
We would like a religious environment. We do not like the secrecy of the proposed legislation. We have been taught not to trust but to know our facts. We beseech you to let us continue to have our rights, to have them enshrined in the Constitution and not let them be subject to provincial legislation.
Mr. William McKim: I too wish to congratulate the Senate committee, not necessarily on being here, but on your ability to maintain what appears to be singularly undivided attention for a long period of time. It has been a long day.
I have been involved in the debate on denominational education in this province for many years. I can assure the Senate that it is not hearing anything new. We have been agonizing over this issue for a long time, as long as this system has been in place, and that is approximately 150 years.
I have noticed a new twist recently, however, and that is the phrase "minority rights". For many years, I have been told, somewhat patronizingly, that we should not change our denominational system because that is what the majority of Newfoundlanders wanted. However, strangely enough, when the churches find out that they are a minority, that argument is forgotten in favour of the fact that minorities have rights that you cannot take away. It seems like a convenient flip-flop.
I am not entirely impressed with the sincerity of that argument, but let us take it seriously for a minute because it seems to be an issue that is repeatedly harped upon in such a way as to lead one to believe that such rights cannot be changed no matter what and should not be changed, that we cannot even consider changing them. That is the assumption I wish to talk about.
I would like to ask where minority rights come from. After listening to today's presentation, one might think they come directly from God. Not so. They were given to minorities by majorities in their collective wisdom. In the case of the Newfoundland school system, let me review a little history for you. I recommend that you go back and read as much history of the system as you possibly can. I can even recommend a good book, if you like.
Unfortunately, what happened back in the 1840s is that the Newfoundland legislature decided they would start a publicly funded school system, and they decided it would be secular and not denominational. That position was supported by the Catholic church at the time.
It was set up, but unfortunately the Anglicans gained control of school boards and started to force Catholics to follow their curriculum, which included Bible readings. The Catholics protested to the government and the House of Assembly, and they were granted their own system. In other words, the majority saw the need for protection and granted these rights at that time to an oppressed minority.
Now 150 years have passed. We now live in a completely different world. Do Catholics need the protection from extreme Protestants? I think not. Do any other minority groups need protection, just as the Catholics did 150 years ago? I think so. It is not unreasonable that we should, after 150 years, be re-examining the question, although I can see why churches like the Catholic Church are scared stiff at the process. It is very difficult for them to justify why they should have these rights to the exclusion of other groups like Jews, Muslims and Hindus in Newfoundland and other religions in the rest of Canada.
I wish to make one point. A lot of the arguments today make it sound like all religion will be completely removed from Newfoundland schools if Term 17 is passed. That is not true. Newfoundlanders, as I mentioned, have been debating this issue for a long time and in their collective wisdom, as represented by the House of Assembly, Newfoundlanders have decided they want to retain religion in schools. What they want to get rid of is church ownership. That is really the issue you should be talking about. It is not wanting to get rid of religion; it is wanting to get rid of church ownership. Do not let yourself be distracted by that particular issue.
In conclusion, let me point out that if Term 17 is passed in its present form, all churches in Newfoundland will have more rights to access to schools than they do anywhere else in Canada, with the possible exception of the Catholic churches in a few provinces, such as Ontario. The changes proposed in Term 17 do not strip all rights of all denominations. In fact, they spread them out to all sorts of denominations and all sorts of schools. It is probably the same sort of reform that would have been approved of 150 years ago by the Newfoundland legislative assembly that granted a minority right to the Catholics in the first place.
Mr. Azmy Aboulazm: I am here this afternoon to speak as a minority different from other minorities. I am not Christian. I have lived in Newfoundland for about 20 years.
I am here because I have three children in the school system. I do not have any control or participation or rights like everyone else. I am also a taxpayer. I am paying for the school system, and we have to understand that the school system here is publicly funded. My tax dollar is paying for the school system, as are the citizens across Canada because of transfer payments. Thousands and thousands of them are not Christian.
The questions are these: Should one minority have more rights than another minority? How do you define "minority"? Is "minority" related to numbers? How much power and how many rights should non-Christians have? Should they have any rights?
I do not see any rights for us. We do not exist. There is no recognition in the system to acknowledge a non-Christian. Should we have equal rights? I am not stripping anyone of their rights, but I am asking for the same rights that everyone else has.
Mr. Riley Fitzgerald: Honourable senators, I stand before you as a product of the Roman Catholic school system. I have two children in the Catholic school system. I am president of the Home School Association of St. Edwards in Brigus. I truly believe that a majority of people in Newfoundland voted to reform the education system in the referendum held last year. I do not believe that the electorate voted to take away the constitutionally entrenched rights of a minority. I believe that a majority of the public who went to the ballots perceived a religious group noted for their defiance to Liberal change that was determined to stymie any progression in the education system. That was a false perception.
Roman Catholic leaders are prepared to make a number of basic changes in the way education has been provided in this province. We are willing to change, for change is the only thing in this world that is constant. However, we are not willing to relinquish the rights granted to us as a condition to joining Canada.
Term 17 may have been used in 1949 as a persuader to lure the votes of Catholics sitting on the fence. Now that being a part of Canada is embedded in our minds and souls, a majority of voters -- a slim majority -- have decided to take that right away. Think about that. Consider, as defenders of the minority, as guardians of the Constitution, what kind of precedent you will be setting if you allow a majority to tamper with the constitutional rights of a minority?
The Quebec question is the example most quoted. If, as the government claims, this decision will not set a precedent in that situation, it will set a precedent. The constitutional rights of any minority that can be lobbied against effectively to a majority of the public will be in jeopardy.
The decision you are about to make will determine whether we as Catholics and Pentecostal Christians are masters of our own educational affairs or puppets that will not only have to play to the terms of this present government, who assure us that everything will be all right, but also to the whims of any future government which will have the constitutionally sound ability to determine what changes we need. A right that we now have will erode. The majority will continue to determine our educational course with each election, and our children and our children's children will always consider the term "minority rights" to be an oxymoron.
Senators, if you are defenders of the Constitution, do not take away rights. Send the two sides back to the table. As Catholics, we are taught that sacrifice is good for the soul, and we are also taught that certain things are worth martyrdom. A solution can be reached with a little sacrifice. Do not let us be burned at the stake as 28 per cent of the population of this province suggests. If this process is to set a precedent, let it be one that confirms minority rights.
I truly pray you make the right decision. God bless.
Ms Suzanne Careen: Honourable senators, thank you very much for coming to our province of Newfoundland to hear our concerns. I am a level two student at Laval High School, Placentia. We, the students, are ready to accept reform and the amalgamation of the schools in our area, but if the amendment goes through, we are not ready to accept the possibility of the removal of the Roman Catholic religion from our schools.
In my opinion, the most important subject in our schools throughout our province is religion. Over the years, we have all actively and enthusiastically taken part in our religion classes and have learned that religion has indeed been an important part of our lives. Today, we must show our concern that, as in the past, we will continue to study and understand our Christianity.
I believe that in many cases the majority of our teachings of Christ have taken place in a classroom setting. If subjects such as religion are taken from our curriculum, the morals instilled in us by our teachers and perhaps even many of our principals will probably erode.
Physical, mental and spiritual health is critical for the overall development of an individual. We receive a good mental health from our education in our text books and our physical health through extracurricular activities, but what happens to our spiritual health if you take away our religion?
You may think that religion comes only from our religion textbooks, but that is not so. We also receive our religion from the atmosphere of our school community. This includes group gatherings to celebrate religious holidays -- for example, Christmas -- and to honour our Catholic leaders and Catholic faith. These celebrations, which we could possibly lose if the amendment goes through, bring us together as a family, which I think is important for us as young adults, for our schools and for our communities. We do not want to lose these opportunities and these very important highlights in our lives.
As you can see from the turnout here today, our youth feel very strongly about this issue. In our schools, all our students are taught the same values and experience the same type of family life. If our schools are made public, can you ensure that the values of the Roman Catholic religion will not be influenced by the different values present in public schools? For example, many students are trying to decide if safe sex and abortions are right or wrong. If this is not stressed in schools, there will be a lot of confused teens and a lot more pregnancy and abortions than there are now. Also, Catholic education is a good quality education, so why is change a good thing? In fact, the rest of Canada is fighting to get back the rights we are about to lose.
Ms Barbara Bartlett: Honourable senators, one of the roles of the Government of Canada is to preserve minority rights. I feel that the process that has taken place in this province has been to reduce and eliminate these minority rights.
As a minority in this province, we now look to you to ensure that these rights remain entrenched in our Constitution. A referendum whereby the majority votes on the rights of the minority is simply not appropriate.
The changes which the government insists must take place -- and we agree should take place -- can be done without tampering with fundamental rights presently enshrined in the Constitution of Canada. If a framework agreement could be reached in the short period of time since the Tobin administration came into being, surely a little more time could further resolve the issues at stake here.
I would like to talk a bit about the changes in the educational system. I come to you as an administrator of a Roman Catholic school in the province. I am a prime example of change in our area. Our group comes from the Brigus, Bay Roberts, Harbour Grace, Carbonear area, so busing is one of the issues with which we are always concerned. As an administrator, I spent many hours this year doing up bus routes, receiving phone calls at my office in the morning saying, "Barb, can you have busing ready for me in an hour?" I say to myself, "One hour?" They say, "Well, I really needed it this morning, before the hour, but if you can get it within the hour, I would appreciate it." That has happened at least five times this year.
The government has been looking at how many students we have, what bus routes they are on, and where the bus stops are located. I can assure you that in rural Newfoundland determining where bus stops are is a major problem. The students themselves have no idea where they get on the bus in the sense that we do not have bus shelters for the most part. We have "Uncle Paddy's garden"; we have "by my house" and "down the road two houses away". That is reality for us.
However, we are an example of change, and change is taking place in our busing system as of September of this coming year. We presently have nine buses come to our school for our students. That number will be reduced to four. We will have a double busing system with two other schools in the area. That change is taking place, and it did not require a constitutional amendment. As well, my school is being slated to close. It is one of the 100 schools in Newfoundland that are said to need changing. That change is coming through closure.
We have a population of approximately 275 students, but we are in an old structure. To accommodate efficiencies, that structure is being closed down. We are being bused a longer distance. We are being bused to another school area. As we speak, money has been allotted to that other school area, and construction is under way to accommodate our students. These changes are taking place without constitutional reform.
The Catholic school system we come from does not exist simply to teach doctrine. It is a system of education that promotes a culture. That is the Irish heritage that most, if not all Catholics in this province, come from. Irish Catholics comprise a community that identifies itself with church and school. Removing the rights of Catholic persons in this province destroys not just the education system but also a culture. I ask you to give serious consideration to this issue and to keep the rights of minorities in our Constitution. We can achieve change without constitutional change.
Ms Lisa Murphy: Madam Chair and honourable senators, I am a recent graduate of St. Stephens High School in Stephenville. We have heard a lot today about parents and the right to choose proper schools for students, but what about students themselves? What about their choices?
Many students across this province enjoy the system we have now. Our school system is much more spiritual than any other, and it turns out well-rounded people. I myself attended a retreat in my high school that changed me for the better, I hope. I have been more involved in my community and my church. I am a lot happier than I was before. Without the school system we have today, I and many others would not have had that chance.
I would like to say that I really hope our school system stays the way it is so students like me, who probably do not receive a lot of religious guidance in the home, can come to a school where they will receive it. As a result, they will become better people.
Mr. Mark Graesser, Professor of Political Science, Memorial University: I am a professor of political science at Memorial University. I understand that this morning Senator Rompkey introduced an article I had recently written on this issue. I would add a supplementary piece of information that came from the survey on which that article was based. My specialty is the analysis of public opinion. I have been looking at the particular question of denominational education for some 20 years now with a number of surveys. I was an advisor to the Williams Commission on the work they did in the public opinion area.
I would dispute the contention made by the Pentecostal Assemblies submission this morning that there was no evidentiary basis for the recommendations of the Williams Commission. Apart from the many submissions they received from individuals, they conducted a large and highly scientific public opinion survey which showed that some 60 per cent of the public in Newfoundland were in favour of a non-denominational system in contra-distinction to the present denominational system, which included a near majority of Catholics as well as Protestants, not of Pentecostals.
Coming to the survey done in St. John's -- and I should stress, only in St. John's -- after the recent referendum in September, which was reported in the article tabled by Senator Rompkey, we asked the respondents how they voted in the referendum, if they voted. That afforded us some analysis of the complexion of the "yes" and the "no" votes, particularly by religion. Overall, 65 per cent said they voted "yes", which is slightly higher than the actual "yes" vote in St. John's, which was around 58 to 60 per cent. That should be taken into account. Among Catholics, 48 per cent said they voted "yes"; 52 per cent said they voted "no". Among Protestants, the percentages were 81 to 19. That does not include Pentecostals, who are a very small group within St. John's. Therefore we did not segregate them and treat them as a statistical entity.
Those who did not vote, nearly 50 per cent, were asked how they would have voted. Among those, 59 per cent of Catholics said they would have voted "yes" and 41 per cent said they would have voted "no", for what that is worth.
I bring this point up not to insist upon the absolute veracity of those figures but to emphasize that what we are dealing with here is a complex issue. As Janet Henley-Andrews pointed out earlier, many people interpreted the question many ways during the referendum. However, the important thing is that with respect to the assertion of minority rights, it is critical to gain some sense of what is the group or the collectivity claiming the rights. When dividing society up into minorities and majorities or into categories and classes, there is a tendency to assume a kind of homogeneity among those groups. Certainly the spokespersons for those groups tend to do that. The point here is that in this survey and in all the surveys I have done, I have never seen anything close to unanimity among Catholics or Protestants on this issue. The closest thing I have seen to that is on the question of whether school boards should have the power or the right to dismiss or hire teachers based on religion. In that area, close to 90 per cent of the entire public -- and I am including the Catholic population here -- are against that within Newfoundland. Of course, that is one of the issues at stake here.
I think you have to bear in mind that there is a continuum of opinion on these issues among Catholics, as well as Pentecostals and the integrated groups you will be hearing from tomorrow.
The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Graesser. Perhaps if you can give the committee a copy of your study, we could distribute it to the senators.
Mr. Geoff Aylward: From the beginning of this debate, I have been a strong supporter of the Catholic school system. As a Catholic parent, I feel that the government of Newfoundland and the Government of Canada have not really taken stock of precisely what they have done and the precedent they are setting. I think that Canada has never been run on the basis of "the majority can do whatever it wishes". Up until this point in time, we have tried to proceed, where possible, on the basis of consent and consensus.
I had the privilege and honour of meeting a very short while ago with a number of MPs who are members of the Reform Party. They were very cool to the thought of doing anything at all to accommodate Newfoundland Catholics in the wake of the referendum precedent. One of them, an individual responsible for the referendum aspect of the Reform agenda, indicated that to do anything for us might set a dangerous precedent when the issue of native rights came up.
What has happened in this country is that we have moved from a general process of having respect for minority rights, for valuing and respecting rather than resenting our differences, to a situation where we now believe that a majority, provided they have 50 per cent plus 1, can do next to whatever it wishes. In the process of getting that 50 per cent plus 1, you can do whatever you wish as well. I do not propose to elaborate on that point, other than to say that I think the way the Newfoundland government conducted itself in this matter was less than fair and honourable. I am sure you have heard and received lots of other material dealing with that issue.
There are four things I would ask of the members of this committee. I have submitted a rather detailed brief. It is 11 pages long. From pages 7 to 11 of that brief in particular, I deal with a couple of issues from a legal perspective which I consider to be of the utmost importance to this debate. I would ask, if you can find the time in your schedules while you are here or when you return to Ottawa, to look at that particular part of my submission. I would be most indebted to you.
From the point of view of the wording of Term 17, I would ask the committee to do three things. I arrived at my conclusions and views on this subject without any discussion whatsoever with any other lawyers who have been involved in this process. However, as a Catholic parent and as a lawyer with some background and knowledge of constitutional issues, I ask that you consider deleting, as has been mentioned by the Catholic panel, the words "subject to provincial legislation" and substituting for those words the words "where numbers warrant". Second, I would ask that section 17(b) be amended to allow for publicly funded Catholic school boards which would have the powers necessary to administer the denominational aspects of the schools.
Third, in the case of interdenominational schools, you will notice if you look carefully at the new Term 17, it refers to members of the denominations having the right to provide for religious observances, education and activities. My concern, which I have expressed many times before, is that the practicalities of exercising that right make it meaningless. I feel rather strongly that there should be, in instances where numbers warrant, especially in interdenominational schools, provision for public funding of religious observances, education and activities.
Mr. Mike Tobin: Madam Chair, honourable senators, I am a state deputy for the Knights of Columbus of Newfoundland and Labrador. That translates to the provincial president.
I am here today to represent -- and I have submitted a written statement -- the feelings of the members from the Knights of Columbus across Newfoundland and Labrador, some more than 50 active councils and certainly more than 50 communities from Labrador and across the Island.
Our orders since the institution of the Knights of Columbus in Newfoundland and Labrador in 1909 have always stood for the protection and preservation of our holy Roman Catholic religion. I want to reiterate and confirm that today.
Honourable senators, thank you very much for the opportunity to speak here today.
Ms Catherine Shiwak-Snow: Honourable senators, I was born and raised in Labrador and received my education from an integrated system that was tolerant and understanding of my Pentecostal upbringing. I remember well the visits of the Moravian minister, my Pentecostal pastor and other clergy who had input into my religious education.
As the daughter of an aboriginal father, I am all too familiar with life as a minority. I can attest to the powerlessness and constant battle to prove one's worth and rights despite the stigma of race that others attach to me. However, today I stand in another battle -- the right of educating my children in a Christian day school motivates me like no other.
There are critics who say that Christian schools tend to be segregated, isolated, not showing our children the real world. Well, for our family, we sure know the real world well enough. As we move about in our community attending various events, listening to the evening news, reading our local papers, chatting with neighbours and friends, we are more than familiar with the painful events that often affect people's lives. In addition, television does more than an adequate job of portraying today's culture and social values. I see the Christian day school as a haven in this real world of social and moral unrest, a place where my boy and my girl are intellectually stimulated, emotionally supported and given spiritual hope.
I am told that a relay race is won or lost with the transfer of the baton, and today somehow I feel that the baton is threatened as I pass it to my children. That baton contains their rights to a Christian-based education.
Freedom of religion has been changed for its counterfeit, freedom from religion. The latter, I can assure you, has more devastating effects. In a society faced with mounting pressures against the family, the Christian day school for some may be their last hope.
Senators, my boy and my girl are not here today for you to see but I represent them. I can assure you that you and I will feel the effects of their belief systems and ideologies of the future. I want that ideology to be strong. Please do not abandon us as you give us sober second thought.
The Chair: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your participation.
The committee adjourned.