Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Issue 23 - Evidence - Evening Session
ST. JOHN'S, Tuesday, July 9, 1996
The Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs met this day at 7:00 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 evening and welcome back. I wish to give a brief explanation for the benefit of the unusual panel whom we have asked to come before us tonight. The idea was the brainchild of Senator Pearson, an idea which was certainly abetted and supported by your Chair.
To give you a bit of background, Senator Pearson has a lifelong experience working with young people. I have spent some 20 years of my life teaching high school students. We decided it would be good to hear from the young people about their system. Some of them have graduated recently and have gone on to university; they are still young enough to remember and to have some ideas about their system and about what they want for their children, should the day come when they have their own.
The rule is no direct participation from the audience. We consider these hearings to be an extension of the Senate chamber when we make trips like this to places such as St. John's.
I understand that some of the students will just say a brief "hello" before we get into a discussion; others have a brief oral presentation to make. I would ask you to make that presentation as quickly as you can.
Mr. Dwayne Pilgrim, Student Council President, Deer Lake Pentecostal School: Honourable senators, I am the president of the Student Council at Deer Lake Pentecostal School. In my short address, I would like to cover two major areas. First, I will share the history of our Pentecostal school and then talk about some of the actions taken by the students to keep it a unidenominational school.
DLPS was a dream come true for the Pentecostals in Deer Lake. Until 1986, the Pentecostal students attended the integrated system and made up about 25 per cent of the student population. However, there were no Pentecostal teachers on the board. After many attempts to persuade the board to hire some qualified Pentecostal teachers, some parents decided to start their own school. They approached the Pentecostal school board and found there were no funds for a new Pentecostal school. The parents decided to build it themselves.
The congregation of Emmanuel Pentecostal Church took an initial loan of $700,000. Volunteers cleared the land. Some local businesses donated materials. Some tradespeople within the church built the building. The result was a modern school facility of which we are extremely proud.
In the first year, there were 10 teachers and approximately 200 students ranging from kindergarten to Grade 9. Today, there are 21 staff members and 320 students enroled from kindergarten to Grade 12. The school has undergone three major extensions and plans have been approved to build a $2.7 million extension to complete the church-school complex.
Since 1986, the parents at our school have paid $14,000 a month, plus school taxes, to keep our school and to pay off our debts. As a result, the initial debt, including interest, of over $1 million was paid off this past year.
In addition to the payments, our church budgets money each year to operate the school. It also help to address specific needs. For example, it donated all the musical instruments to the music program. It repairs and maintains a 24-passenger bus for sports teams and field trips at no charge to the school. This past year, it made available space within its church to fund and to start a daycare program, something which has been an overwhelming success.
In addition to the church, the DLPS enjoys the regular support of 16 businesses and of many parents. At the first PTA meeting, more than 300 parents attended. Since then, that number has tapered off, but there is still a great deal of support by parents.
Last year, it was decided that we needed a new elementary computer lab. After approaching the parents and the business community, a $70,000 facility was completed. One business, EDM Consulting, donated 10 computers, a large-screen TV and a large amount of software.
Not only do the parents of our school feel strongly, but the students do as well. I would like to list a few activities which we have done to show how much we like our school.
First, former student Jody Lush appeared before the Williams Royal Commission on behalf of the students of DLPS. She gave a brief in favour of unidenominational schools. After the Williams Royal Commission released its findings, two of our students spoke on an open-line radio show on CBC in favour of denominational schools.
In 1994, a petition was circulated by the student council and was presented to the House of Commons on our behalf by the Honourable Rick Woodford. He also visited our school and held a question-and-answer session surrounding the situation involving us.
We have had delegations meet with education minister Chris Decker. Once, when we could not get an appointment with him, a group of about 300 people met him at the airport.
Over the past Easter holidays, students participated in a telemarketing campaign. We had students man seven telephone lines. It was an idea which was thought up by a parent. We made 2,000 telephone contacts across Canada in which we asked people to phone or write their MPs to express their concerns. We had so many student volunteers who wanted to help that we had to turn away many of them.
Two Grade 11 students started a student petition which was sent to all the Pentecostal schools in Newfoundland. It was then forwarded to the Pentecostal school board.
Lastly, this spring, there was a federal by-election held in Humber--St. Barbe--Baie Verte to fill the vacancy left by Brian Tobin's departure. I was part of a delegation who visited the victory celebration of Gerry Byrne to express our concerns and to invite him to our school. I also spoke with Senator Rompkey a few months back at the Forum for Young Canadians.
These are just some of the activities taken on by our students.
Mr. Jonathan Curlette, Seventh-Day Adventist Schools: Madam Chair, I am here to represent the Seventh-Day Adventist schools and, in particular, the students. I would like to welcome honourable senators to St. John's.
I want to say that this Term 17 issue means an awful lot to me. I am a Level 2 student, heading into Level 3 next year. Hopefully, I will graduate from that school. However, for the students coming up, this matter is a big change for them. The real purpose of our school is to provide a Christian atmosphere in which students are being taught. We have a very low student-to-teacher ratio; it is approximately eight to one. The teachers have lots of time for their students.
As you learned this morning, on our CTBS and public exams, we always score higher than the national and provincial averages.
The teachers are more than teachers; they are our friends. We can confide in all of them. The atmosphere is great. The students are always relaxed. We have few discipline problems.
Amending Term 17 would cause an end to our small school of approximately 75 students. This would put a lot of students back into big schools which they left because they did not like the teachers, did not like the atmosphere and had trouble with other students.
On behalf of the Seventh-Day Adventist schools, I ask you to vote this amendment down. Thank you.
Ms Deirdre Cooper, Catholic Schools: Madam Chair, I graduated recently from Gonzaga High School here in St. John's. I was president of the Student Council. I was also a student representative on the Keith Gonzaga Jesuit Committee. Recently, I travelled to Ottawa with a group of concerned parents to lobby the government against amending Term 17.
I would thank the senators for coming here to Newfoundland for these hearings. I thank them especially for having this particular panel.
As students, we are living and experiencing the education system here in Newfoundland. As everyone knows, we are the voice of the future. We are the future politicians, the future teachers and, most important, we are the future parents. I have many more ideas, but I will hold on to them.
Mr. Brad Hodder, Integrated Schools: Madam Chair, I graduated recently from Bishops College in St. John's. Thank you for this opportunity.
I am representing the Integrated Education Council and, in doing so, the integrated schools here in the province. Our basic concern with the revised Term 17 is that it does not guarantee religious education programming as currently enjoyed. With respect, a revised Term 17 is no guarantee of anything; nor are the letters of assurance which we have received from former Premier Clyde Wells, no matter how well grounded in good faith or how well-intentioned they were.
Our concern is that the written legalities around the revised Term 17 are really no assurance of continued religious programming.
We feel that religious education is extremely important within the education system of Newfoundland and Labrador. We do not want to become a public system; nor do we want to be a denominational school system. We feel that there can be one system, an interdenominational one. We feel this is very important.
We want a system in which a religious education course or curriculum is offered, one in which religious holidays and observances are respected but not forced upon the students or taught in every subject. We feel this should be a student's choice. We have some problems with the proposed Term 17 revisions.
Ms Jeannine Benoît, Franco-jeunes de Terre-Neuve et du Labrador: I am the president of Franco-jeunes de Terre-Neuve et du Labrador. I represent the French-speaking community of Newfoundland and Labrador. I thank the senators for being here today.
Mr. Marc Hulett, Student Education Alliance: Madam Chair, I am here on behalf of a group of students who probably have not had their voices heard as of yet on the recent issues concerning Term 17.
Our group represents many thousands of students. It was formed recently by students across the Avalon region. The problem is that we have a wide variety of students in the group from many different denominational backgrounds. I will not be speaking on their behalf as their opinions are too widespread. Therefore, I cannot represent them all here today.
I will speak on behalf of students who believe that the proposed new Term 17, although a little vague in some areas, is necessary. If all goes well, if it is implemented properly and if we can consult with the government as has been done over the past several months and as we saw during the referendum, then we will see a great benefit to our educational system. We expect numerous benefits to flow from the making of a more efficient educational system, one which will be more efficient than the one which we have right now.
We are supportive of this new Term 17 if all runs well. We feel it is our best bet and we are behind it.
Mr. Robert Mendoza, President, Council of the Students' Union, Memorial University: Madam Chair, I graduated from Bishops College in 1992 and then went on to Memorial University. I am now in third year at Memorial where I am president of the student council. I bring a little different perspective to you in that I graduated four years ago; however, it was still from the same school system in which changes are needed.
I am in a position similar to that of Marc Hulett in that I represent 14,000 students from different denominations with different backgrounds and different histories. Many have come from different countries or from other areas of this country. I speak on behalf of those students who share a perspective similar to my own.
Term 17 is a step in the right direction in that, while it is vague and it could be a little bit better, it is the best that we have at the moment. Also, any process which has gone through consultation, as this one has, and which has been developed with concerned individuals, through a referendum, through consultation with denominational school systems, with the churches, with students, must have been developed on some semblance of truth and desire and should be implemented. The details should be worked out with the provincial government once it gains the ability to deal with the changes which it would like to implement.
That is all I have to say for now. I thank senators for inviting me to bring a bit of a different perspective than that of the high school students. Welcome to St. John's.
Ms Benoît: I wish to make a brief presentation. Our clientele is made up of students attending different schools in this province. We sincerely believe that the school reforms and this constitutional amendment are necessary to bring our current school laws in accordance with clause 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms which grants francophones the right to manage their own schools.
We must emphasize here the benefits which the French-speaking community would gain from the management of its schools, taking into account its linguistic characteristics which are as follows: one person out of ten generally uses French at home; the rate of ethnocultural continuity in the community is 7,9 per cent, whereas its linguistic continuity is 47 per cent. Our youth organization was given the mandate to maximize the linguistic experiences in young people, that is experiences carried out in French. In the present context, it's a great challenge.
For us, education is an issue of paramount importance, since our clientele is made up of all the young francophones attending the school system. We believe that a school reform which does not take into account the needs of the communities of both official languages in this country is nonsense. The legislation about education must provide for the creation of a francophone provincial school board which could look after the franco-newfoundlander and acadian realities. Once the appropriate changes to the school laws have been made, the provincial government will enter into negotiations with the federal government in order to get the financial resources needed for the establishment of that francophone provincial school board. Then, funding will have to be provided for programs which will allow community organizations like ours to try to make up for decades of injustice endured in the school system. Those inequities prevented us, our parents and grandparents, from fulfilling our potential in our own language. Cultural and sport programs will be the means by which a redress can be made.
Senator Pearson: I am delighted that you are all here. For those of us who have been looking at this situation from outside and those of us who are from away -- I believe that is the expression -- and who do not really understand the Newfoundland system, we felt it important to hear your point of view as well as that of your parents and others.
I am delighted that you have been able to come. I know that your contribution will help enrich our understanding of the situation.
I was quite excited by Dwayne's presentation because it is clear that when parents and communities really want something, they get together and do it. That is most encouraging.
On the other hand, I know that within Newfoundland communities there are probably people with less capacity to bring forward opportunities for their own communities.
One of the speakers here this afternoon who is not a Christian was talking about the difficulties of having a system which responds to his particular needs and rights. There is obviously a big continuum within the population of Newfoundland.
I would like to hear from all of you. Marc and Robert, it would be helpful to know what you think would be the benefits for you if Term 17 is accepted in all its vagueness. What is being impeded by not having it in place?
Mr. Hulett: What we see is mismanagement, not in all situations but in some situations across the province. We see communities in which students must travel to school, schools which are not always completely full. If we could have an integration of those schools, if it is possible for students to attend their neighbourhood schools, then we think this is where the system can be more efficient and more effective.
We must pool our resources. What we see presently with all the different denominations is that each brings an important aspect. With the pooling of these invaluable resources and along with government and all the stakeholders involved -- administrators, students, parents, et cetera -- we would start to see more cost efficiency and more efficiency in general. This money could then be put back into the system in a more effective way.
If we can bring Term 17 through and if things go as planned -- I am not saying it will all run smoothly -- we hope to see an education system which is more efficient, better managed and which has more input as resources are pooled together as a whole.
There must be religion courses available. We cannot say that religion is totally out of the picture. That is unrealistic. You have to be realistic in dealing with this issue. Provisions should be made whereby the different religious groups can have their say and have their input into religious education. As Mr. Hodder mentioned, with religious observances for different days, provisions must be made. However, if we can pool these groups together, we will see a system which is more efficient and which saves money, something from which the students can benefit.
This is what I hope to see in a future educational system which is non-denominational and in which provisions are made for different groups.
Ms Cooper: Madam Chair, one of the big misconceptions is that people think that those in Catholic schools do not agree with public schools. We do.
Like Mr. Hulett was saying, in certain cases, if it is more cost efficient and more helpful for the students, then they should have joint-service schools. That is an excellent idea. We should be allowed to have Catholic schools or Seventh-Day Adventist schools, et cetera, where numbers warrant. You would still be able to participate in the religion within the school. However, if you mix them all together, that will not happen because, technically, they will still be public schools, which will infringe upon people's rights.
In my Catholic school, and in others, not everyone is Catholic. People sometimes think that we only allow Catholics into our schools, but that is not true. In my school, there are Hindus, Sikhs and a great many more. If they want to take part in any religious activities, such as liturgies, then they are more than welcome to do so. If they do not want to take part, then they do not have to take part.
In my school, and in others, we are really trying to promote and to accept other religions. We are not the only religion.
This past semester, I took a world religions course. The primary focus that my teacher wanted to take was to break down the stereotypes between different religions. We had the opportunity to visit the Islamic mosque, the Hindu temple and the Jewish synagogue. I know it was a religion course and that this is not something that anyone would expect to hear, but it was definitely one of the most interesting courses I have ever taken. I hope to learn more.
That is the point I am trying to make. We are not pushing everyone out. We like accepting people. We just want to keep the values that we have and to keep on teaching what we are teaching. It is important to us and it is important to the parents who want to keep it that way.
Mr. Mendoza: You made the point that it would be good to eliminate the duplication in smaller communities and other such things. However, at the moment, there is no ability to eliminate such duplication. We have schools with an eight to one student-teacher ratio.
Ms Cooper: What about the joint-service schools? There are certain ones that have already been linked, are there not?
Mr. Mendoza: We have an eight to one student-teacher ratio; but there are other schools with a forty to one student-teacher ratio.
You mentioned the world religions course. I am of Jewish heritage, which I guess adds a new twist to this. I looked at the world religions course and found it really interesting in that Judaism was compared to Christianity, as were Hinduism, Islam and Sikhism. There was no comparison of Islam to Judaism, which might be an interesting comparison. I think that shows something about the religious denominational based school system that we have. The opportunity for discussion in that form does not exist. The comparison is always Christian-based.
Every year from Grade 3 to Grade 9 I had to get a signed letter from my parents exempting me from religion class. I joined in with the class only when Judaism came up. I could have benefitted from a studying a different religion.
I would like to comment on something Senator Pearson said. Term 17 does provide for a denominational or a unidenominational school. If parents and students want that, it can be done. It is not completely blocked.
Mr. Pilgrim: Ms Cooper talked about the viability of a school and whether there would be enough students to remain unidenominational. As Pentecostals, that is what we want, but the government's regulations are vague. In the newest set, only one school from Deer Lake to St. Anthony is termed viable, and that is about a 500-kilometre stretch. It is ridiculous to say that only one school in that whole area is viable. You would not bus the students to school; you would have to fly them.
Before the Pentecostal school was opened in Deer Lake, there was a Catholic school and three integrated ones, a big high school and two small ones. When the Pentecostal school opened, they shut down two of the smaller, older schools. Two or three years ago, because of declining enrolments, the integrated and Catholic schools decided to combine systems. There are only two schools there now. We share everything; bus routes, facilities and equipment.
We think that through cooperation we could make our system more efficient without changing Term 17, because it allows for the operation of our own schools where they are efficient.
Mr. Hodder: I think that an interdenominational or unidenominational system is definitely more effective simply because Newfoundland and Labrador is so spread out. Where numbers warrant, there will be denominational schools. In many places, numbers will not warrant. In those cases, we believe it can work to combine different cultures and religions. We do believe that religious education should be a part of those schools.
Mr. Mendoza spoke about the different courses that are offered and said that many students would not be able to take certain courses. The Integrated Education Council implemented an ethical choices course which focuses on the moral and ethical issues facing people of all ages throughout the world. It is not based on the Christian outlook. It includes all world religions and does not favour one over another.
We believe that courses like this can be beneficial to students of all denominations and would not discriminate against anyone. We believe that is very important.
Senator Ottenheimer: As I understand it, four of the panellists are opposed to the amended Term 17; three for pretty close to identical reasons. One has a somewhat different reason, wanting reference to religious instruction. Two of the participants are in favour of the amended Term 17.
Both groups put forward their arguments with reason and conviction, and they are sincerely held by both groups. Obviously a choice has to be made. Somewhere this matter will be finalized.
The question of improvement or reform of education is at stake. I do not think there is anyone anywhere who is not in favour of improvements in education.
Respect for minority rights is obviously an issue. The Pentecostals represent 7 per cent of the student body, the Roman Catholics 37 per cent and the Seventh-Day Adventists 0.5 per cent. They are minorities of different sizes but they all have rights. These rights were not created by the Government of Newfoundland or the legislature of Newfoundland. They were put in the Terms of Union between Canada and Newfoundland in 1949 for the Catholics and Seventh-Day Adventists. Although the Pentecostals exercised those rights in Newfoundland from the 1950s, they were given their constitutional reference in 1987. As far as I know, that did not change anything in terms of funding. The legislature of Newfoundland can change its opinion at any time and entrenching the rights in the Constitution obviously gave an added protection.
This matter has come to us because the legislature of Newfoundland cannot itself change the Constitution with respect to Term 17. It requires also the Parliament of Canada to do so.
What importance, what sanctity, what protection, what sense of confidence and assurance and continuity should minorities feel entitled to? Even if some of us disagree with the way some minorities exercise their rights, they have the rights, and others who in theory have the rights perhaps do not wish to exercise them or to exercise them all or perhaps choose exercise them differently. It seems to me that those who wish to exercise those rights obviously have to respect the right of those who do not wish to exercise them, but those who do not wish to exercise the rights should also respect the right of those who wish to exercise them, even though they may not agree with them.
The Chair: Some of you people had some very interesting experiences. For example, Robert, you said that you are Jewish but you grew up going to a school which was not Jewish, and where your minority right, because it was not a constitutional right, presumably was not protected. Dwayne started off in one school system and ended up in another which was of his religious affiliation.
Perhaps we can start with you two and get varying points of view.
Mr. Mendoza: I would definitely say that my minority right was infringed. I do not like using that word, but I was forced to exempt myself from religion course for eight years until I reached high school and could replace it with another course. Through my entire schooling, I was forced to substitute a religion course with either a study break, a library period or another course.
In high school, it was to my benefit, but at Bishops College I would say that close to 80 per cent of the students substitute that religion course with another course.
Through my primary, elementary and junior high years, my rights were infringed. I did not see any benefit in taking the religion course that was offered. I could not further my knowledge about my own religion through that course. One of my teachers was very versatile and gave me a year-long project to research my own religion and present it to the class. I enjoyed that, but unfortunately not all of my teachers were so versatile.
It was difficult for me in that I was not getting the full benefit of the education system. The denominational school system mandated a religious education, and the religion that was mandated was a Christian religion. I think that says something about the infringement of rights.
I respect the right of my classmates to have that religious education course. They often asked me questions and I was more than willing to answer, because they did not have the instruction about Judaism that were interested in having. It was a give and take situation, but unfortunately I tended to give more education about my religion than I received. They would ask me questions but there was no forum for me to ask them questions. There was no forum for me to learn formally about different religious systems or beliefs.
Mr. Pilgrim: As a Pentecostal, it was my view personally, and I am sure the view of all Pentecostals, that we do want a more efficient system. We want to cut out overlapping, but we want denominational education where possible. There are many students in my school who are not Pentecostal. We have religion courses but they are not mandatory. They can be substituted with a different course.
We have a teacher whose parents are Jewish. He converted to Pentecostal. He teaches our world religion course. He teaches a segment about the Jewish faith and talks about his culture. We had a Japanese intern this year who spoke to us about Buddhism.
As a Pentecostal, I believe it is important to be educated in a Pentecostal school where people share my beliefs. Currently, all the schools are basically religious schools or denominational. If under the new system there will be public schools, that is fine, but we want to be able to have our Pentecostal schools where possible.
Some of my friends had a hard time adjusting to Catholic schools or schools of other religions after being taught Pentecostal beliefs at home. We want to be able to have our own school.
Ms Cooper: I agree with what the senator was saying. I respect the rights of others. I think that public schools are not a bad idea at all. You mentioned the word "infringed". If parents want to send their children to a school which teaches no religion whatsoever, that is fine. However, I would like them to respect our rights, too. We would like to have Catholic schools, as others would like to have Seventh-Day Adventist schools, Pentecostal schools, and so on. We would like to have Catholic schools where numbers warrant.
We will respect your rights if you will respect ours. We want to respect each other.
Mr. Hodder: I think most of us here are in agreement that we would like to have religious education offered in the school. However, it should be the right of the student not to take a religion course. It is our concern that that option will be taken away.
In the proposed revision of Term 17 there is no guarantee that that option will always exist if there was a public school system. Term 17 says that religious education will continue to be provided, but it does not specify for how long.
Will the phrase "will continue to be provided" stand up in court? Letters of assurance are not enough. It must be written down in the Constitution that this is guaranteed. It should say "will be provided"; "continue to" is not sufficient. A judge could decide that religious education continued to exist for six months but now it is gone and that we do not need it any more. There is no guarantee that that will stay.
In a letter which Premier Clyde Wells sent to leaders of the churches of integration, the government acknowledged that the system is denominationally based and that it wished to preserve the provision of religious education in the schools. He said that the intent of the government was that the legislation be drafted so as to ensure that any religious programs or activities presently carried on in schools could continue to be carried on in all schools, unidenominational or all denominational. That is in a letter, but it will not be in the Constitution. Our concern is whether that will stand up in court.
Mr. Curlette: I am not a Seventh-Day Adventist. When I went to a Seventh-Day Adventist school in Grades 7, 8 and 9, I had to get a note from my parents saying that they did not want me to take the religious education course. The principal said, "That is fine. You can do your own." We brought in our own religious material and studied our own religion.
When I got to high school, it was possible for me to take another course rather than religion. My junior high school had 75 students. I do not know why, in a school with 500 or 600 students, where scheduling is simpler, another class cannot be offered in place of religious education.
Senator Kinsella: I have a question for Ms Benoît. You have five francophone schools in Newfoundland?
Ms Benoît: You are right, and we want to increase their number and strengthen our francophone youth network by adding four more schools. We have two communities very close to each other, and we would like that our youngsters who are now going to school in Cap-St-George travel to Grand'Terre to get their education in an homogeneous school.
Senator Kinsella: What are the most serious problems the francophone community is currently facing?
Ms Benoît: Assimilation. There are 5,000 francophones in Newfoundland. It is very hard to induce young people to care about French language. It is important that the youth have access to French schools, materials and tools.
Senator Kinsella: Do young students who complete their high school face some problems when they seek admission to the university?
Ms Benoît: I just completed grade 12 at St. Anne's school. That school being the first homogeneous one in the province, it's an important issue for the French-speaking communities. Next fall, I am going to carry on my studies in French at the University of Moncton in New-Brunswick. From the beginning, it has always been clear to me that I belonged to the francophone community. But it's not all young people who share that feeling.
Senator Kinsella: Do you think that the education you received in St. Anne's prepared you well enough to enter the university compared with the other students from Moncton?
Ms Benoît: The curriculum in French at Moncton is very demanding. They have programs especially aimed at helping any francophone student who needs to improve his written or spoken French. Any student who does not feel comfortable with what he already knows can improve his skills. I have learned a lot from my French course, grammar rules and other things. My twelve school years were very enriching. During the last three years, I had the chance to have one of the best teachers in French. Anyone who had the opportunity to attend his course would say the same thing: He is the best teacher within our system.
Mr. Hulett: For us, that amendment to Term 17 shows perfectly well that a school can be supported where numbers warrant an exception. There are five francophone schools in this province. We can see no reasons why those schools could not be maintained after the reforms. It shows perfectly well that French education can continue to be assured in a francophone environment. For us who support the reforms, there are exceptions, cases where numbers warrant, where there are enough people who request that their minority right to have their own school be respected. It's a short comment. There are no reasons not to support those schools.
Ms Benoît: I would like to clarify this. We have a problem. We have only one homogeneous francophone school. All the others are mixed, which means very high assimilation rates. We have difficulties. It is important that our young people know where they are from and where they are heading to. We want to have activities and networks created by and for our young people, so that they can feel at home and refrain from thinking that they are the only ones in the world who speak French.
Senator Kinsella: I am interested in this because I have heard testimony that the education system, in the view of some in the province, was not preparing students very well at all for post-secondary studies. That is not my experience, but we heard that testimony.
I would like to ask the students who are already at university whether they feel that their high school education prepared them for university.
Mr. Mendoza, I understand that you are at Memorial.
Mr. Mendoza: Yes.
Senator Kinsella: Do those of you who are thinking of attending university think you can apply to any university in Canada on the basis of your high school education being received here?
Mr. Mendoza: When I first started university, I did not feel prepared for it. I was very frightened because I had heard horror stories how 40 hours a week of studying did not cut it. However, once I started, I realized the change in mind set that had to occur. I was prepared in my studies but not in my mind set. The mind set required for university had not been introduced in high school. It was not even hinted at in high school. There is a drastic change in the way you have to think, the way you study, the way you go about your day-to-day activities.
My favourite example is English courses. In high school, you are told quantity, quantity, quantity. I used to love getting to the point in one page. I got low Bs in English through most of high school. By the time I got to Grade 12, I was getting better; I was writing three and four pages.
When I got to university, my English professor gave me 55 on a paper and wrote, "What is all this gibberish? Be precise." That is a perfect example of the mind set that is not taught in high school. I do not know whether that is taught in other schools across the country, but it certainly was not in the school system I went through.
I did three advanced placement courses in high school. Advanced placement is an exam that is standardized around the world. I crammed all of Grade 11 and Grade 12 math in in grade 11 and went on to my advanced placement studies in math in Grade 12.
It says something about our educational system when students need to do things like that to find challenges, motivation, encouragement and to get the level of challenge and enjoyment out of school they need. Without a doubt, it shows some of the reforms that need to occur in our system from the bottom all the way to the top.
We see advanced placement becoming an even bigger issue within the school system when you have classes of 30 advanced placement students. If you have a class of 30, then there is something fundamentally wrong with our education system. I think that is more than enough evidence of some well-needed reforms.
Term 17 is a good step in the direction of those reforms that will have to come to this system before we lag behind the rest of the country.
Mr. Curlette: He said that it did not really give him a challenge and that his language teacher always told him about quantity or length, but I was always taught that what was contained in the essay was more important than the length of it. It seems to me it may not have been a course problem but possibly a teacher problem.
As well, he says that the curriculum of the school may not give him a challenge. However, that is not something which is necessarily set by the school; it is set by the government. The schools can do little about it. He could also be an exceptionally bright student.
Senator Doody: I have a question for Mr. Pilgrim. I was fascinated with your description of the funding of the school in Deer Lake. Deer Lake is a pretty community just about 30 miles east of Corner Brook, for those who are visiting.
Did I gather from you that the community built that school themselves and that there was no government participation, or did the provincial government provide some funding?
Mr. Pilgrim: The provincial government contributed $400,000 toward the building of our school, and it provides money through the school boards for the running of the school and for teachers' salaries. However, apart from what other schools receive and because we are so closely tied with our church, we receive money from the church as well. They donate several thousand dollars every year. They budget it for us. If we ever need anything such as a quick advance of cash, we can get it from them.
Senator Doody: It was primarily a Pentecostal Assembly initiative with the majority of the funding raised by your community.
Mr. Pilgrim: Yes. Every fourth Sunday in the church, there is what is called a building fund offering. The whole offering from the 500 to 600 people who attend is given to the school. This happens not only in Deer Lake. Recently, as a joint complex, Windsor raised $1.7 million for its school and $1.9 million for its church. Roddickton built its own Pentecostal school. Springdale built a joint school-church complex. Their church gives money to the school, and they get use of the facilities. It works both ways because the church also donates stuff. To our school, they donate music equipment, but they use it if they need it on Sundays. It works both ways.
Senator Doody: By and large, the establishment of these Pentecostal schools is not a major charge on the treasury of the province.
Mr. Pilgrim: In situations in which congregations of churches in different towns feel that they really want a school, and if they cannot obtain the funding for it, there have been many cases of raising money to get it. The term "where numbers warrant" leaves one on shaky ground because sometimes it is not just a matter of numbers. Our school is not a big school. There are only 300 students in the high school. In the first set of guidelines put out by the government, we did not have enough students. However, because our school receives extra money it is really an efficient school.
We also share bus routes. However, because of numbers, it would be on shaky ground. We were kind of worried that if it says "where numbers warrant," the government could change the numbers, something which would leave us hanging.
Senator Doody: In some parts of the province, such as in Lewisporte, perhaps, or Grand Falls and Windsor, the numbers warrant formula would fit the Pentecostal Assembly situation fairly well.
Mr. Pilgrim: That is true even in Deer Lake to a certain extent; but, in other ways, Deer Lake is a little different. We have already joined most of our services.
Senator Doody: I also have a question for Ms Cooper. I believe we met in Ottawa. You were in the delegation that came up and which motivated me. At that time you told me about the programs at Gonzaga. You have a position there on the student council, do you not?
Ms Cooper: I was student council president last year.
Senator Doody: You talked about the programs and level of satisfaction in that student body. Could you repeat some of that for us?
Ms Cooper: I would love to. I am very proud of my school. I think it is probably one of the best schools in the province, but I think lots of Catholic schools and other schools are, too. We are privileged because my school is run by Jesuit priests. They put a lot of extra money into the school on top of the money received from the government.
Basically, the Jesuits do more for the school than the government could ever hope to do. We have retreat programs in which students can participate on development days. We have a pastoral team, media internship co-op law and different types of sports. In our music program, we have four bands and a choir.
The Chair: What about academic programs?
Ms Cooper: We are offered two AP courses. I found it kind of odd when Mr. Mendoza said that AP is an indication of something not really good. I think it is a wonderful thing that so many Newfoundland students are involved. I took both courses and found them stimulating. I thought it was great. Not all that many students were actually involved with it.
That is pretty much most of the things my school has, but we do have a lot more, like the media internship. That program has been quite excellent. I think you have a videotape of the public service announcement. Mrs. Henley-Andrews sent them to you. Hopefully. you will enjoy them.
Senator Doody: Do you feel reasonably satisfied with the level of preparation that you received at the high school level?
Ms Cooper: Definitely. The way the government is making Newfoundland students out to be, it seems as if we are incompetent of succeeding anywhere in the outside world, which is quite silly. Perhaps at one time the Newfoundland school system needed a lot of changing, and it still does, but I do not think we are producing that type of student. Just look at this panel. I do not think we are exactly what you would call "stupid". I know there are many more students here today who are not stupid.
I think it is a lame excuse to use students who are not succeeding in school as a reason to change around totally the education system and then blame it on denominational school systems.
We have come a long way, and we can go a lot further. My parents always pushed me to work hard in school. When I get to university, I will know how to work hard. I have some excellent teachers in my school. If students push themselves, then, yes, they will be ready for university.
Senator Doody: I should like to direct a question to Mr. Mendoza. I am fascinated with his description of the school at Bishops. At one point I thought I heard you say you were forced to take a religious program. That is not true, is it? Did I misunderstand you?
Mr. Mendoza: The religious program in the school system is mandatory. I was not forced to take the actual courses because I was exempted as a result of a note from my parent. However, the program you are supposed to follow is a mandatory program.
Senator Doody: Students in my classes used to envy the students who were not Roman Catholics. We had to endure this religious instruction program. In any event, you can see how I turned out.
The question that I was going to ask you is a more serious one. In your opinion, would abolishing the Seventh-Day Adventist, Pentecostal and Roman Catholic school systems help resolve your problem with the religious instructions in the integrated school which you attended? Can these two systems not exist side by side?
I gather from the testimony that I have heard so far that the Pentecostals, the Seventh-Day Adventists and the Roman Catholics do not really care very much what the rest of the people do. They want to have a separate school system, whether it is called sectarian, secular, multidenominational, non-denominational or any other code word that is used for a secular school. I do not think that bothers the Roman Catholics, the Pentecostals or the Seventh-Day Adventists, at least from what I have heard. That was my interpretation at any rate. They simply want to be allowed to keep their own systems and not be interfered with and let those people who do not like this type of system do their own thing.
Is it not possible that these two systems can exist side by side? It happens in Ontario and in other parts of the country. Why does it have to be all or nothing in Newfoundland?
Mr. Mendoza: If we had $100 million more in funding, then it would be possible; but we do not have that money.
Senator Doody: Tell me where the $100 million would be spent. You would have the same student body. They would go to school somewhere. They would use the same dollars that are available. If they want to ban religion from the schools, they can do it, and it will take exactly the same amount of money to educate them.
Another myth, another bogus loon that has been flying around is expressed in this way: "If we do not get rid of denominational education, we will go bankrupt."
Mr. Mendoza: It is not a matter of getting rid of denominational education but of alleviating some of the duplication we see currently in the system. When the need is there, when the desire, the energy, the flexibility and the initiative is there on the part of communities, parents and students, then, yes, we are capable of co-existing. Until we find a way of developing a structure conjointly and until we find a way of asking if this is a feasible endeavour, then we cannot look at that.
We see far too much duplication. If we have two schools next door to each other, for example, with both paying administrators and for the administrative structures, then would it not be better to have one school with one administrator? Keep all the teachers and keep the same class size, if you want, but you would be saving on administrative salaries. The cost savings are there. In such cost savings in administration, you can maintain the same level, quality, and service at lower cost levels. However, the duplication in 27 school boards which would be reduced to 10 would be alleviated. The cost of running 17 school boards would be saved.
Senator Doody: That will be done any way. They have all agreed that it will be reduced from 27 to 10. When I was going to school there were school boards on every corner.
Mr. Mendoza: The necessary flexibility to continue on that reform process is not there at the moment. That is what we are facing. That is what this proposed Term 17 is all about. It provides the flexibility to continue on in the direction of those reforms in terms of the consultative and developmental process with the denominational school system.
Senator Doody: I take your point. I am saying that the very worthwhile objectives that Mr. Mendoza is striving for can be achieved without taking away the constitutional protection which is now in the Constitution. There is a large gap somewhere in the system, as Senator MacDonald has said on several occasions. That must be ironed out. However, the progress made in this past 20 years has been incredible in terms of what it was like in those days. I appreciate where you are coming from, and I know what you are saying, but I think the cure is far too radical for a long-term solution. Once the constitutional protection is gone, it is gone.
Mr. Pilgrim: We feel it is not necessary to take away our constitutional right, or to change it, just to work out a little deal between schools. In Deer Lake, the two schools joined together because they were not that far apart. They have cut down on their administration. We think that Deer Lake could be a model for many places in Newfoundland. We got rid of much in terms of the duplication of services. It has made for three better schools in Deer Lake.
Senator Beaudoin: What means an homogeneous French school in Newfoundland?
Ms Benoît: An homogeneous French school is one where the language prominently spoken and taught is French. We actually have only one such school. Young people love that school. We now have more possibilities than before. We share a French-speaking music teacher with another school, and our physical education teacher is also a francophone. Both are highly esteemed in our school. Everyone loves them. They have a very friendly relationship with the students attending those schools. On the other hand, we don't have enough career advisers.
Senator Beaudoin: Is your francophone school tied up with a church? Is it catholic or secular?
Ms Benoît: Our school is a secular one, where French is being taught. However, religious instruction is now compulsory in our school.
Senator Beaudoin: Are religion courses given in French?
Ms Benoît: Yes, all our courses are given in French.
Senator Beaudoin: Your school may admit any student provided he or she speaks French?
Ms Benoît: He or she must be French-speaking. Our school is an homogeneous French school.
Senator Beaudoin: I have another question for Ms Cooper. You said some very interesting things about your school. You obviously feel at ease in your school. I had the impression that it is a denominational school, but one which is open to anyone.
Ms Cooper: It is a Catholic school, but there are students who are not Catholic. We do not just shun them because they are not Catholic. They are welcome in the school. They do not have to take religion courses and participate in things like liturgies and the pastoral team if they do not want to participate. There are people on the pastoral team, which is a religious kind of group, who are not Catholic.
Senator Beaudoin: Perhaps there is a certain contradiction here. If it is a denominational school and if it is Catholic, I guess it is because the whole thing is Catholic.
Ms Cooper: It is the value thing. It is denominational. Technically, it is a Catholic school because it teaches Catholic values. It is run by Catholic priests who teach what the Catholic religion is about. They teach morals. They teach us to think for ourselves in order to be the best individual that we can possibly be. The Jesuit motto is, "Men and women for others." That is what the school is about. If people from other religions want to join, that is fine. However, it is a Catholic school with Catholic values. That is what we want to keep.
Senator Beaudoin: Are the school board structures also administered by Catholics, or is it just the school?
Ms Cooper: There is a Catholic school board which administers.
Senator Beaudoin: Is there a Catholic school board as well?
Ms Cooper: Basically, what is changing now, as has been mentioned, is that they are cutting down the number of school boards to 10.
Senator Beaudoin: When you are talking about the person who is not a Catholic but who is attending the school, is it purely accidental, or does it happen from time to time?
Ms Cooper: Do you mean do they want to go there, or is it accidental that they want to go there? Do people purposely try to go to the school?
Senator Beaudoin: They may be interested for one reason or another, perhaps because of the teachers. However, is it exceptional or not? Can it happen very often?
Ms Cooper: I am not sure how often it can happen. I am not on the principal's administrative staff. However, I see students all the time. I have two very good friends, neither one of which is Catholic. One of them just came to the school a few years ago, and she had no problem coming in. It is the school her parents wanted her to attend. I am not sure how often it happens. I guess if other students want to come in, that is fine.
Senator Beaudoin: Are there many students in that French school?
Ms Benoît: From kindergarten to twelfth grade, we have 91 students.
Senator Beaudoin: And they all speak French?
Ms Benoît: Yes. Apart from some compulsory courses in English language and literature, all courses are given in French.
Senator Beaudoin: Since I promised a short question, I shall stop here.
Senator Jessiman: Everyone who has spoken with us has agreed that reforms are needed and that the present Term 17 is not satisfactory. Everyone seems to agree with that.
Because there is a money question here everyone also agrees that we need to save some money. From what I have read, the money that will be saved amounts to somewhere between $21 million and $30 million per year.
One of the things that is bothering them is the number of school boards. As we understand it, the number will be reduced from 27 to 10.
One of the big things, however, is the fact that if someone needs a school in one place it is built for them, regardless of whether or not another school needs the money. They got their school any way. It has now been agreed that you will have provincial school construction boards. Therefore, that problem will be eliminated.
The premier has written a letter which sets out five points. He said that there has been agreement with respect to the reduction in the number of school boards and the construction board. He said that there has been no agreement on the substance of provincial parameters governing school closures. We are told by the Roman Catholics and Pentecostals that that has been agreed to.
Senator Rompkey: By them.
Senator Jessiman: By them, yes. They are consolidations agreed to by the Pentecostals and the Roman Catholics.
According to them, there are two points with respect to which no agreement has been reached. I will deal with the last one first. One of the things on which they cannot agree at the moment is the process to determine parental preference for the designation of schools.
Why is that so difficult? I would have thought that a consent form sent in would have solved the problem. However, perhaps it is more difficult than that.
The second item they seem to have a problem with is the designation of schools as unidenominational or interdenominational.
You have two questions to decide. Could the seven of you go into the other room, settle those things for us and come back and tell us what we should do? Surely, it cannot be that difficult. According to what we have been told, that is what is holding this thing up. Perhaps tomorrow we will be told something else.
Ms Cooper: I am not exactly sure of all the details, but it is basically a matter of the registration process. The way that it has been discussed is that it would cause chaos because you would sign them up and any 10 parents could then come along and say, "No, I don't want my child in that school any more because I do not like the fact that it is Catholic". After that, they can challenge it. This can keep on happening in respect of registration process after registration process. It is not a settled way in which to deal with matters; it causes more and more trouble. We need a more exact way to carry out the registration process. That is the problem.
Senator Jessiman: Would you not think that once you make a decision as a parent that for some period of time, a school term, for example, you are bound by it? Would that not be part of it? It seems to me that you are breaking up this whole province over finding out what the parents want. That is all they are trying to find out -- what the parents want. The parent should be obliged to be bound for a certain period of time.
Ms Cooper: I agree.
Senator Jessiman: I am not quite so certain how you designate which are unidenominational or which are interdenominational. Surely, that should not be too difficult. I leave it to you to tell me how to do it.
Mr. Pilgrim: The point about the numbers was one of our major concerns. The government has already had two different sets of guidelines and will probably come up with another one. At any time, they can change it, which leaves us on shaky ground. If we could be unidenominational, then my school could be Pentecostal next year, or for the three years thereafter. The year after that it might not meet the guidelines and we would have to change again. It is tricky. We want a more concrete set of guidelines that leave some room.
As I said earlier, it could be a case of if the numbers are not warranted but the school is efficient and is supported by the local community.
Senator Doody: Madam Chair, may I interject for the record? I am sure Senator Jessiman did not mean this, but he said that all the witnesses we heard so far agreed that the present Term 17 is not adequate.
Senator Jessiman: I sorry if I said that. I did not mean that.
Senator Doody: That is not quite correct. From what I heard today, there are many people in Newfoundland who feel that Term 17 as it now stands is completely inadequate.
The Chair: I do not think that is the way he meant it.
Senator Jessiman: I meant they all agreed that within the present Term 17 they could change the present school system to make the reforms that everyone agreed should take place.
Senator Cogger: What is the saying in English? "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."
I am impressed, Madam Chair, by the quality of the interventions tonight. If this is a product of the system of education you receive in Newfoundland, then I say it sure as hell ain't broken as much as we were led to believe it was broken. It may not be broken at all.
Today is Tuesday. In a week's time, because this is the way parliamentary life goes, we will have handed in a report to the Senate telling our colleagues and therefore the world the result of our collective wisdom, such as it is. The options, as I am sure you are well aware, are endorsing Term 17 or proposing changes to Term 17. My comment "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" tells you something about the kind of approach I would take to the solution. It may be that we are looking for fine tuning, but some have suggested that we rebuild the house altogether.
I am sure you will appreciate that, if nothing else, most people have a rather low opinion of the Senate and think we do not do a whole lot.
Senator Ottenheimer: Where did you hear that?
Senator Cogger: I will send you the newspaper clippings.
If there is an area of Canadian life where the Senate ought to be particularly sensitive and where it must play an eminent role, surely it must be the rights of minorities. Where are Canadians who feel that their rights are trampled upon going to go? Well, of course, they could go to the courts, but we all know it is a lengthy and expensive proposition. Unfortunately, recent events have proven that going to the House of Commons does not bring a whole lot. I think we sat more today in this province alone than the entire time that the House of Commons took to deliberate this matter. We will be at it tomorrow and Thursday.
As we approach this matter of possible fine tuning or helping this province along and perhaps seeking a modest improvement, if we can find one, we must also be very careful. Madam Jeannine Benoît will be very sensitive to this. I do not think there is a francophone in this country or in North America whose ears do not perk up when we talk about minority rights. As we approach this matter, I invite you to think about whether we can achieve the refinements and the fine tuning, et cetera, without stepping, like bulls in a China shop, all over the vested rights or the entrenched rights of people who, quite reasonably, do not like it one bit.
Mr. Hulett: First, I think you have pleasantly mis-perceived the education system in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. I would not say that any of this is exactly fine tuning. What you see here is perhaps a good representation of what has come out of this education system. I would not say it is the majority.
Our education system, as seen in national tests throughout the years, has unfortunately ranked at the bottom. I would not say we have one of the best educational systems in the country. It is one I think the government is looking to improve, as seen through many of the reports. I would note the Williams report on education. There were some good ideas in that report.
We may not agree on which way to go about reforming our education system to provide a better education to the students. However, we do agree that our education system needs to be reformed. I think everyone here and in this province will agree that we can make a better education system for our students. Whether it is forming denominational education or keeping the system the way it is, that is the debate.
However, I do not think saying "if it is not broken, why fix it" is really what this issue is about. I think it is about trying to bring about a better education system for the students of this province. One group will be for a denominational education system, stating that they would like to see the cutting back of duplication, the pooling of resources, and the saving of money that can be better spent on education. Others say that what we have now with our denominational education will suffice. That is the clash. I disagree with your statement that it is not broken.
To address your comments on minority rights, I think we can only go so far in addressing minority rights. We can only please some people. We can only address so many groups. Already we have seen the Pentecostals, the Roman Catholics and the integrated schools. Today, we see les Franco-jeunes de Terre-Neuve et du Labrador pop up. Who is to say that the atheists or the Hindus of this province will not form a group and say "We want a voice".
Senator Rompkey: Or the aboriginals.
Mr. Hulett: Or the Inuit and the Innu in Labrador. We would all like to address minority rights.
To give you an example, if we gave minority rights to the people of Quebec when they voted for separation -- and luckily we won by a slim margin -- how far could we go when addressing minority rights? In the end, we need a majority in a democratic country. Fifty per cent plus 1 rules.
To say we cannot address certain groups where numbers warrant is a sticky issue as well. To say what numbers warrant their own school and what percentage of a local area's population warrant their own school is a sticky issue as well. We cannot say that we have to be able to address the rights of every single minority group in the province. We can only go so far. There is only so much money to spend addressing these issues. Eventually we will have to draw a line and say, "If you are above this line, yes, you warrant a school; if you are below this line, sorry, the majority rules."
Senator MacDonald: You go on from there.
Mr. Hulett: You have to accept the fact that --
Senator MacDonald: You give up.
Senator Cogger: If I find myself a minority in Quebec because I am a federalist, will you tell me that that is the end? If I am in a minority, will you tell me that my rights as a Canadian are gone?
Mr. Hulett: No, your rights as a Canadian are not gone, but unfortunately we live in a democratic country where a majority rules, 50 per cent plus 1.
We can get into a huge debate about this afterwards. I would be glad to do that.
The Chair: You have certainly opened up a can of worms on that one.
I have a number of students who wish to speak. We have to hear from them. We can certainly take these issues up among ourselves.
Mr. Pilgrim: As Mark was saying about the tests in Newfoundland, the curriculum is set by the government and not by the school boards. In Newfoundland, per student, we are funded about $1,000 less than the national average, which is a lot when you think about it. The government goes about it the wrong way. It is a touchy issue, but if you keep telling someone that they are stupid, they will not do well. Every time something goes wrong, it is blamed on denominational education because we did worse than the rest of Canada on this or that or we did poorly. Denomination education is a scapegoat because they are setting all the rules with respect to what we have to learn.
Ms Benoît: I would like to mention that we are not only a minority group, but also a linguistic minority. It makes a difference. Mr. Mendoza's comments are touchy for the French- speaking people. For many years, Francophone Newfoundlanders have been fighting for the development of their language and of the French culture in Newfoundland. We cannot stand being told that we are just a minority group.
Mr. Hulett: I do not want to retract any of my comments.
Senator Beaudoin: No, but could you explain?
Mr. Hulett: Eventually we have to draw the line. We can make exceptions. We can make exceptions perhaps for linguistic rights. We can make expectations perhaps for the native people of Newfoundland, but the fact is that a line must be drawn. What warrants their own schools? For example, we cannot say that these six people from Antarctica are so exceptional that they are a group unto themselves. There are no other six people like them in the rest of this province; therefore, they deserve their own education system.
Senator Doody: We are talking about 45 per cent of the population, the Pentecostals, the Roman Catholics and the Seventh-Day Adventists. We are not talking about six people or three people.
The Chair: Of course, linguistic minorities have their own guarantee in the Constitution. They are separate and apart from denominational guarantees. There are linguistic minority guarantees in Canada. Ms Benoît is quite right; she is in a very special category.
Ms Cooper: I agree that the education system in Newfoundland needs reform. Perhaps we are not doing as well as other students across Canada, but we are improving. There are statistics to show it. I think national tests show that Newfoundland is improving now. Perhaps we are not above the average, but we are getting there.
I think that we are different, the Pentecostals, the Seventh-Day Adventists and Catholics, because we already have rights. It would be different if we did not have rights, but we have them. It is scary, at a time when we are trying to give rights to people, that we are having rights taken away from us.
Senator MacDonald: When I came into the room this evening, I heard Mark say that Term 17 is necessary. Mark said that Term 17 was a step in the right direction as it is planned. The details are to be worked out. I heard the word "mismanaged". Then you referred to integration of schools and mentioned the phrases "cost efficient" and "more effective". Do those things sound reasonably accurate?
Mr. Hulett: Yes.
Senator MacDonald: At that time, Senator Ottenheimer raised a basic question. He did not give any reasons as to why Term 17 was necessary, but never mind that. He asked you if you ever think in terms of minority rights.
Do you ever rise above your preoccupation with your studies? Do you ever rise to a level where you start to think about constitutional rights? To put it another way, are there any circumstances where you think a government is justified in expunging the constitutional rights of a minority without the consent of the minority? If you can give me one example, I will not ask another question.
Mr. Hulett: If I can clarify, Senator MacDonald, you are asking if the government should be allowed to take out of the Constitution the minority rights of a group without their consent.
Senator MacDonald: No, I asked, are there any circumstances where a government is justified in expunging the constitutional rights of a minority without the consent of the minority?
Mr. Hulett: No, there should not be. With the votes by the parents, we will see several examples whereby schools will be made unidenominational because numbers warrant and because parents said specifically that they want their children to go to Pentecostal or Roman Catholic schools. We will see that happen.
I personally feel, and you can pretty much be assured, that if this amendment passes, we will see the school that Ms Cooper attends, Gonzaga, remain a Jesuit school. Why? Because the parents specifically said "We wish for it to remain so." Where numbers warrant, this will be allowed. That is what this amendment states.
Senator MacDonald: This amendment does not state that at all. We would not be here if it stated that. You may be right -- this may be at the end of the road. There may be no constitutional amendment, and there may be an agreement among all the people of Newfoundland with respect to the education of their children. We all agree that every educational system can stand improvement.
Mr. Mendoza: I have a quick question for the senator. Should one minority benefit to the detriment of other minorities in that other minorities are not receiving their rights? However, other minorities are receiving their rights.
Senator MacDonald: That is a very good question because that is what I am looking for. If you can show me how a minority is screwing up this whole deal, you would have answered my question. That is just another way of putting the same question.
When Senator Ottenheimer put the question to you, you did not answer him. You succeeded in convincing me that you are an exceedingly bright student with an exceedingly bright future. In the future, you may become a senior partner a prominent law firm in New York, and you will be proud of the fact that you were educated in St. John's, Newfoundland. You have the ability to evade the questions put to you. You told us about your problems in getting educated. You talked about the transition from high school to university. My God, in Cape Breton I spent two of the happiest years of my life in Grade 11. Do not tell me about transition problems. You managed to survive all these things. You managed to be the president.
Are you a graduate, or is it your senior year now?
Mr. Mendoza: This is my senior year.
Senator MacDonald: I think you are doing well, and I do not think anyone in your class is having a tag day for you.
Mr. Mendoza: Pardon?
The Chair: They are not raising money for you.
Senator MacDonald: That is right. No one is worried about your future. However, you did not answer the senator's question.
Mr. Mendoza: I gave an example of a minority. I can only speak based on my experiences.
Senator MacDonald: That was not the question he put to you at all. He did not ask about your problems. He asked if you were thinking about the problems of anyone else.
Mr. Mendoza: He did ask me about my experiences and that is what I gave him. If you would like to restate your question, I will try to answer it and not to evade it, as I think you put it.
Senator MacDonald: My question was this: Can you conceive of any circumstances where a government is justified in expunging and taking away the constitutional rights given to a minority without the express permission of that minority?
Mr. Mendoza: No, but nor is there any situation in which a government should allow one minority to benefit to the detriment of other minorities, which is happening.
Senator Beaudoin: Could you repeat that again?
Senator MacDonald: I do not understand.
Senator Beaudoin: That caught my attention. Could you repeat it, please?
Mr. Mendoza: There is a minority who is granted rights to the detriment of other minorities. That's what I said.
Senator Beaudoin: Do you mean that if a minority has its own rights, they do not cause harm to another? The word "minority" in the Canadian Constitution is defined here and there. Perhaps it answers the question of Madam Benoît.
French and English in Canada are two official languages. They are on an equal footing. There is no minority in that sense. Of course, the French are not as numerous as the English-speaking people of the country, but the two languages are separate and apart, according the Constitution of Canada and section 16 of the Charter of Rights. Each time, the word "minority" is defined.
It is difficult in this case. I prefer to use the term "denominational rights" because it is unique in the Constitution. They are collective rights, like aboriginal rights and all the other rights.
Minorities are different. They are defined according to the circumstances. However, it is not because a minority is taking advantage of its own right that it is detrimental to the rights of another minority. I do not see it.
The Chair: With the greatest respect, Senator Beaudoin, I think what Mr. Mendoza said throughout his testimony was that his rights as a minority, as a member of the Jewish faith, have been infringed upon because other minorities have religious rights which he does not have.
Senator Beaudoin: That is another matter.
The Chair: I think that was his point.
Senator Beaudoin: That is exactly the famous Hirsch case of 1927. I always rely on that case.
Under section 93 of the Constitution, group rights of Catholics and Protestants are safeguarded. The Jewish people and all the other denominations say, "Oh, things are not equal." Of course they are right because the only two groups who have denominational rights are the Catholics and the Protestants. However, that is how the Constitution was made.
Senator Rompkey: That is not true here, though.
Senator Beaudoin: I have enough problems in my own province.
Senator Rompkey: No, we are discussing this province.
Senator Beaudoin: Here, the denominations referred to in the present Term 17 are all protected by the Constitution.
Senator Rompkey: No, that is not true -- only seven Christian denominations.
Mr. Mendoza: There are only seven.
Senator Beaudoin: I agree, but nothing says that you cannot add to that number.
Mr. Mendoza: We have minority rights, senator.
Senator Beaudoin: If you say that some minorities are not protected under the present Term 17, I agree. However, you have to deal with each case.
Senator Rompkey: I was hesitating to get into this debate at all given what Robert said about the teaching of English at Bishop's College because I taught English at Bishop's College. That was in 1960. Obviously things have changed a lot since that time.
I want to give Robert a chance to expand on this issue because I think it is an important one. Some minorities in this province, seven of them, are all Christian denominations. Their rights are constitutionally protected.
Senator Beaudoin: That is right.
Senator Rompkey: That right is not just the right to have schools; it is the right to have schools funded with taxpayers' dollars on a per capita basis.
Let us correct the record while we are at it. Newfoundland, it is true, spends $1,000 less per student than other provinces, but Newfoundland spends a larger share per capita on education than any other province in Canada.
Senator MacDonald: How does that work out?
Senator Rompkey: On a per capita basis?
Senator MacDonald: Is some huge administrative cost built in there? Where did you get those figures?
Senator Rompkey: I am just saying they are spending more per capita than any other province.
The Chair: They spend a larger percentage of their budget on education than any other province. As I understand it, about 21 per cent of the provincial budget of Newfoundland is spent on education. That is the most recent figure.
Senator Rompkey: I want to give Robert a chance to expand on my question. Seven branches of the Christian churches have constitutionally entrenched rights. Other branches of the Christian churches, some of which are more numerous, do not have rights to taxpayers' dollars. There are other branches of religion. There are non-Christians in the province who do not have any rights, never had any rights to schools and do not have them today. The question is whether they would be more able to have them under the new Term 17 than under the old.
Robert talked about his rights. He had the right to go to Bishop's College. He had the right to evade religion classes, as did Senator Doody.
Senator Doody: My right was taken away from me.
Senator Rompkey: The word Senator Doody used was "endure". I want you to know that you were not alone. Anglicans have had to endure religious education classes too. The impression has been left that Anglicans, the United Church and the Salvation Army people in the province somehow came up through a different system. There has been a denominational system in this province and there will be a denominational system in this province. Religion will continue to be taught in the schools. I think those who go to integrated schools will be no less Godless than those who go to schools of other denominations.
The main point I wish to raise is the question of minorities because I think it is important. Robert had the right to go to school and he had the right not to endure classes, but I wanted to ask him also about his father. What rights did his father have?
We had testimony today from a person who said that although he was a taxpayer in this province, he did not have the right to sit on a school board or have the right to participate in any way. As I recall, when I went to school, although there were Jewish people in my school, they did not have the right to sit on the school board either. I suspect they still do not. Is that the case?
Mr. Mendoza: My father did sit on the school board until they changed the structure of the school board. He sat on the Avalon school board until they changed it. Everyone on the school board except for one seat had to be Christian. One seat was designated for a non-Christian faith, and it was specifically designated. Other than that, all the other seats have to be of Christian faith.
Senator Rompkey: Is that the case elsewhere in the province?
Mr. Mendoza: I do not know about the rest of the province.
Senator Rompkey: What would be the case under the new Term 17?
Mr. Mendoza: Your guess would be as good as mine.
Senator Rompkey: Two-thirds will have to be from the denominations and one-third from interdenominational schools, which I think is the term used here. We are not talking about secular and other schools; we are talking about interdenominational schools and unidenominational schools. That is the language of the law.
Under the new Term 17, one-third of the school boards will be elected at large and two-thirds from the denominations. Will that change the rights of minorities in the province at all?
Mr. Mendoza: I think it will change the structure of the boards. Whether it will change the rights of minorities, I do not know. It facilitates the board structures mentioned but with regard to interdenominational school boards, you have to question why there are restrictions on the denominations of the members of the school board? If it is supposed to be interdenominational, should it not be interdenominational?
The Canadian Parliament is not a good example because, although you restrict by regions, representation is from all across Canada. Should you not have the ability, then, to represent all of the different religions in the province on that board? Why should you restrict two-thirds to a particular denomination? Should it not be open to all, and more power to you if you elect 100 per cent Christian or 100 per cent Jewish or 100 per cent Hindu, whatever it may be? Why should be there be a restriction in the interdenominational school board structure?
Senator Lewis: You have described a very fine school and you are a very fine product of that school. We have been told that Term 17 will take away certain rights. Everyone talks about these rights, but there has been very little description about what they actually are.
If Term 17 as proposed were to pass, can you tell us in your opinion what would be the effect the day after this thunder bolt strikes? What would be the effect on your school? Will it continue on the same as it is?
Ms Cooper: I am not really sure what will happen. I think that is probably our biggest worry. There is a lot of confusion because we do not understand what will happen.
The biggest problem I have with Term 17 is that it says, "subject to provincial legislation". Perhaps this government will say, "Okay, certain unidenominational schools can be set around the province." Well, what if the next government says, "Never mind, there will be none." They can do that. We want some kind of security. Right now, the way Term 17 is worded, there is no security because of those few words.
I do not know what will happen. If Catholic schools are taken away in Newfoundland, the Jesuits will leave. They will not come back because they are in desperate need in other places around the world. We are lucky to have them here in Newfoundland. I hope that, for the sake of my school and for the sake of the students in my school and the students across the province who are lucky enough to go to Catholic school, they change Term 17 or keep it the way it is right now because I think it is perfectly fine.
Senator Lewis: It is a case of worry, the uncertainty more than anything. This worries me. You have talked about the present government and another government, and the question has been raised as to the system being subject to provincial legislation. This is tied in with what you are saying about the future. This worries me because it shows a lack of confidence in our democratic system -- in other words, that some government might take it upon themselves to do all sorts of things. That might apply to anything, if you want to carry it to its logical conclusion, but governments have to be careful about what they do. We talk about governments, but really we are talking about the legislature. The legislature is made up of elected representatives of the people, and it is the people who speak to the government through the legislature.
We have to remember in this particular instance that the minorities we are talking about represent, in the case of the Roman Catholics, about 37 per cent, the Pentecostals 7 per cent and the Seventh-Day Adventists 0.5 per cent. That is 44.5 per cent of the people. That is a very large minority. Surely any government would be under some strain to ignore that large a percentage of the population. There would be constraints on any government. That is how the democratic system works, with checks and balances.
Upon reconsideration, do you feel that your worries are carried to a bit of an extreme? It is the unknown, I suppose.
Ms Cooper: It is the unknown.
Senator Lewis: It is the change. None of us like change.
Ms Cooper: I think change is a good thing, but it depends on what kind of change it is. In our case, we feel that this is not productive change because it will take away our rights.
Senator Lewis: We are back to those rights again.
Ms Cooper: Because they are rights, we may not be able to have our schools.
Senator Lewis: Do you feel you may not be able to have your schools?
Ms Cooper: I am convinced that we may not have our Catholic schools.
Senator Lewis: Anything under any system can happen, but surely there must be some restraint on government as expressed through our system.
Ms Cooper: I hope so.
Senator Lewis: I wanted to make that point.
Mr. Pilgrim: Senator Rompkey said that 21 per cent of the GDP in Newfoundland was spent on education.
The Chair: Twenty-one per cent of the provincial budget.
Mr. Pilgrim: That figure sounds impressive, but in Newfoundland, we do not have a lot of money. It is the same as other provinces.
He was talking about minority rights. To sum up our argument partially, we do not want to ram our beliefs down anyone's throat. We want to have our own schools. We do not want to force Robert, if he is Jewish, to come to our school. If there is a public system and the new public schools consist of non-denominational schools or multidenominational schools side by side, if he wants to go to those schools, fine; or if we want to go to our Pentecostal school or a Roman Catholic school, fine. That is our point.
Mr. Mendoza: It is all well and good that we have two schools standing side by side and I can choose which one I want to attend, but if my school board chooses to extend the school year by an extra day, it must go to the churches for approval. Is that not a problem at the moment? One of the changes in Term 17 would give the flexibility whereby that would not necessarily be the case. The board would not have to get the approval of the churches to extend the school year by a day or two weeks or whatever it might be.
With respect to Senator Lewis' comment on the democratic process, we have a democratic process in this province. We voted 55 per cent in favour, plain and simple. I think that says something about a democratic process. If we have respect for our democratic process, we should respect that 55 per cent.
Furthermore, it is pointless to worry about not having schools when at the moment the government does not have the flexibility to make changes. I think we should give the government the flexibility to change our school system and then speak to the government and say, "Okay, now that you have the flexibility with respect to how we can change the school system, let us work something out that is mutually agreeable to everyone." The government has not talked to us because they do not have the flexibility. Why would they talk to us about how to change the school system when they do not have the flexibility to do it themselves? They will go after the ability to change the school system, and then they will discuss how they will change the school system. If they want the status quo, they can leave it so, but if they want to change it, they then have the flexibility, upon discussions, to change it.
The Chair: Thank you, panellists. I want to indicate how delighted I am with this panel tonight. Senator Pearson and I came up with the idea to put this panel together, and it was a good one. You have certainly expressed very warmly and with a great deal of thought your ideas about education in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. I would have been proud to have taught any one of you and to have had you as a graduate of one of my classes.
There is one specific question I wish to put to you. It comes from something that Robert raised. Deirdre addressed it as well, and that is the whole concept of advanced placement work. Advanced placement courses began in the United States in the early 1960s. It became a national scheme then and there and has gradually spread elsewhere. A number of schools across Canada offer advanced placement courses, and some go further and offer another international program called the international baccalaureate program. I am curious to know if all of your schools have advanced placement courses and/or if any offer the international baccalaureate program.
Mr. Pilgrim: Advanced placement courses are available in my school. They are not slotted into our schedule as such because there has never been a demand for them. This year, I think one person took it. I think there have been some in the past. If you feel you want it, you can get it and you can receive help. You take your normal class and time is allotted for you or you can get help. In our maths class there are only nine students in the advanced class. The basic students were put in with the advanced because there were only six, making a total of 15. With a class that small, AP were able to get help from teachers if they needed it.
Mr. Curlette: I do not think we have those courses. Our school is so small that scheduling is restrictive. You do not have the flexibility you might have in a big school. I do not see any way they could fit it in. They might make an exception for a student or two, but the students in our schools have not required it.
Ms Cooper: There are two within my school, but I know that other Catholic schools in the city have some. I think Holy Heart has quite a few. I think most schools have at least one or more.
Mr. Hodder: At Bishop's Collegiate, as long as I have been there, there has been an AP maths program. Everything else has been where numbers warrant. If there is enough demand for an advanced placement course in a service subject area, they will put that course in place.
I took French emersion all the way through, so I wrote the AP exam. It was not exactly an AP course.
In literature, there were nine of us. There was no AP literature exam, but nine of us wrote the AP exam regardless. The option is there to do any AP exam and the courses will be offered if there is enough demand.
Mr. Hulett: My school offers three, but I think largely there is a disparity among every school in the province as to what they offer and how many they offer, if they offer them at all. I think it is common with most things in our education system. It is very different from the school down the road to the school across the province. We offer two such courses, and people can walk across the street and take another one if they wish.
Mr. Mendoza: I have an interesting perspective. I sat on an advanced placement panel a few years back and spoke to a number of teachers across the province on implementation. I found there were a number of different methods of implementation, from crunching the current three-year curriculum into two years and implementing it in the third year, to self-study, to full courses where you have 40 students all the way up from Grade 7. Some were starting students in Grade 8 and Grade 9 in the advanced placement program. I know that they are not available across the province in every single school, although if a student took the initiative, went to the guidance councillor, or wrote a letter to the advanced placement board it would probably be offered.
As to AP being a formalized part of the school curriculum and the school enhancement program, I know it is not offered in every school.
The Chair: Jeannine, I was confused. I gather there are five schools all together, but only one is what we would designate in my province as a "française" school or French only. Others would be immersion schools.
Ms Benoît: We have one completely francophone school in our province. The rest are francophone classes. They are taught completely in French, just like our francophone school, but they are in an English school or an immersion school. That way the assimilation rate rises even more than if it were a completely francophone school.
Assimilation will be there. There are anglophones or parents who are already assimilated in the community.
The Chair: There is only one in a French milieu.
Ms Benoît: Yes. What would be preferable is to eliminate assimilation completely, but that will not happen. We would like to have the tools to reduce it.
The Chair: There is no francophone school board, so under which school board do these schools operate?
Ms Benoît: There are two school boards on the west coast. I am not sure about the St. Patrick School Board.
Mr. Hulett: It is Roman Catholic.
Ms Benoît: There is also the Roman Catholic School Board of Labrador.
The Chair: Thank you very much again to all of you. It has been a very enjoyable evening.
Senator MacDonald: Madam Chair, with the permission of the committee, may we meet in camera for five minutes after this meeting is concluded?
The Chair: We will certainly do that.
The committee continued in camera.