September 4, 1997          HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY PROCEEDINGS          Vol. XLIII  No. 29

The House met at 2:00 p.m.

MR. SPEAKER (Snow): Order, please!

I would like at this time, to introduce to all hon. members three new Pages who are beginning their service with the House of Assembly today, and they are: Roxanne Sinyard, Eric Kelly and Lynn Hammond.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER TOBIN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, just before I come to an important piece of Parliamentary business, may I first of all, I know on behalf of all members of the House, welcome the new Member for St. John's West to the Legislature -

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER TOBIN: - and, Mr. Speaker, I want to assure the member on behalf of all of my colleagues on this side of the House, of our full co-operation and full enthusiasm in working to ensure that with the member the people of St. John's West are effectively and fully represented in this Legislature and in the deliberations of government. My sincere congratulations and I wish you every success for a career that I hope is quite momentous but not necessarily, terribly long. Good luck!

Mr. Speaker, I move that Mr. Melvin Penney, the Member for the District of Lewisporte be elected Deputy Speaker of the House.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. SULLIVAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I second that motion.

MR. SPEAKER: Motion, that Mr. Melvin Penney, the Member for the district of Lewisporte be elected Deputy Speaker of the House. All those in favour, `aye'.


MR. SPEAKER: Against.

Motion, carried.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER TOBIN: Mr. Speaker, I move that Mr. Douglas Oldford, the Member for the District of Trinity North, be elected Deputy Chairman of Committees.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. SULLIVAN: Mr. Speaker, I second the motion.

MR. SPEAKER: It is moved and seconded that the Member for the District of Trinity North be elected Deputy Chairman of Committees. All those in favour, `aye'.


MR. SPEAKER: Against.

Motion, carried.

MR. SPEAKER: Before we go to the routine proceedings for the day, the Chair would like to introduce a number of visitors to the gallery. We have here first of all, the Ministers of Municipal Affairs from their respective provinces and they are in the Speaker's Gallery today: The hon. Al Leach, Ontario; The hon. Guy Brown, Nova Scotia; The hon. Jack Reimer, Manitoba; The hon. Len Derkach, Manitoba; The hon. Iris Evans, Alberta; the hon. Mike Farnworth, British Columbia; the hon. Carol Teichrob, Saskatchewan and hon. Manitok Thompson, North West Territories.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: As well we have in the gallery today a former member of the House of Assembly, Dr. Phil Warren and I would like to welcome him as well.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. SULLIVAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I join most exuberantly and enthusiastically with the Premier in welcoming the Member for St. John's West and I am sure, Premier, we are just waiting for more by-elections. I am confident that the Member for St. John's West will make life as miserable as possible for government during this and future sessions of the House of Assembly. We welcome her again and we are delighted to have her in our Caucus.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Signal Hill - Quidi Vidi.

MR. HARRIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I would like to join with the Premier and the Leader of the Opposition in welcoming the new Member for St. John's West to the House of Assembly. I am sure it will prove most interesting and a great opportunity for her to participate fully in the House of Assembly and maybe perhaps keep an eye on the other member, nearby her, from St. John's South who perhaps needs a little guidance from time to time. I am sure we will all look forward to entertaining debates and engage in debates with the new Member for St. John's West.

MR. SPEAKER: The Chair would also like to welcome today to the Speaker's gallery a former speaker of the House, Mr. Jim Russell.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!


Oral Questions


MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SULLIVAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

My questions today are for the Minister of Health and concern the Auditor General's review of the financial affairs of the Health Care Corporation of St. John's. Now the Auditor General took a good look at the provincial health department and she concludes, `on site financial reviews of the health care facilities have been minimal to non-existent over the last three years. Audit coverage is not sufficient and a multi-year plan has not been developed based on risk.' I ask the minister, in light of the fact that the Premier just turned the sod yesterday on a new children's health centre to be attached to the Health Sciences Centre, can the minister tell us what is going on in her department?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Health.

MS J.M. AYLWARD: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I received the report from the Auditor General, just the 3rd. of September, just two days ago, and my department officials are looking into the recommendations that have been made. One of the areas that we are very concerned about and have been for some time is on the issue of monitoring and particularly with respect to auditing. As you know, we have had an Auditor General's report done in Western, we have had one done on the St. John's Health Care Corporation and we are certainly taking under consideration asking the Auditor General to even do more of the Health Care Boards.

MR. SPEAKER: A supplementary, the hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. SULLIVAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Health Care Corporation has been in operation for some time. Now will the minister acknowledge that the findings on page six of that report show that the cost of the restructuring is now projected to be thirty per cent or $30 million more than the figure that the government has been telling the people of this Province and that this means there will be approximately $3 million less each year to redirect into health care programs?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Health.

MS J.M. AYLWARD: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

As my honourable colleague would know, we made an announcement just a couple of weeks ago, identifying the breakdown of the extra $30 million. Part of that was to enhance the cardiac surgery for the Health Sciences; part of it was to enhance the parking lot for the children, part of that was to enhance the boiler operations, all very clear. Part of it was to identify new structures, particularly the refurbishing of existing hospitals within the city. That has been a new initiative. We were very clearly outlining what that was for, that is over and above the previously stated $100 million. We are very proud and pleased that we did turn the sod yesterday and we look forward to the continued quality care provided by the staff. It is very clear. It is on the record. We have made is quite public, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: A supplementary, the hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. SULLIVAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

They are different figures then the Executive Director gave in answer to my questions at a public meeting some time ago then the minister just answered in this House.

Now, will the minister acknowledge that the most significant reason for the increase in the estimated cost of restructuring is the $10.3 million that is increased in taxes due to the harmonized sales tax on construction cost? Will the minister confirm that?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Health.

MS J.M. AYLWARD: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

As I said, part of the public announcement that we have made concerning the extra $30 million that included the refurbishing, the extra cardiac surgery, the boiler room, also included the cost of the GST. It is no big secret, Mr. Speaker. We have made it quite clear what the costs are. The Health Care Corporation have made the presentation; we have talked about it publicly. It is there for all to see. There is no big, dark secret here. Yes, part of it is for the GST; part of it is for cardiac surgery; part of it is for providing parking services for families that require it for their children. It is all there out in the open. I don't know what the accusation is, but it is certainly very clear and honest. We have not prevented or prohibited any information from going forward. If you speak with the Chief Executive Officers of the Health Care Corporation, they will concur that the extra $30 million is for what we have outlined.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition, a supplementary.

MR. SULLIVAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

A $30 million miscalculation in a matter of a couple of months; yes, it is a dark secret I say to the minister. That is the price we pay for the Premier bowing down to the Prime Minister on HST. That is part of the price we pay, I say to the minister.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SULLIVAN: Now the corporation has run a $5 million operating deficit in 1996. It is projected to be $6.8 million this year, and $10 million in 1998-'99. And your department, Minister, has informed the corporation that they cannot be in an overall deficit position by the year 2000, and by that time they will have accumulated a deficit of $21.8 million -

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. member is on a supplementary; I ask him to get to his question.

MR. SULLIVAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Will you, Minister, now admit that the money that you have been telling the people you were going to redirect back into health care is the same money that you will be needing in three years' time to pay off this operating deficit? And are you prepared to sacrifice medical services to pay that operating deficit?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Health.

MS J.M. AYLWARD: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Just a couple of weeks ago we announced $20 million that we were putting back into health care stabilization for the Province. We have allocated to all of the boards a certain percentage of that money. The Health Care Corporation is, by far, getting the largest amount.

As my hon. colleague would know, all of the boards have had letters sent out to them as recently as the end of August outlining what their amounts will be, and before that money will be released to them they have to give to us a plan on how they will spend that money, whether it be for programming or whether it be for addressing the debt. That is all part of the plan to monitor and to evaluate how we can deliver those health services.

The Health Care Corporation, as I said, will be getting the largest percentage. It provides the bulk of the health care services across the Province. It has the single largest health care budget.

So we are monitoring it closely. Each of the various boards will identify the programs and services they want. We made a commitment. Not only before the House closed did we enhance cardiac surgery for people leaving the Province, but we also provided extra money in this $30 million to enhance the cardiac surgery capabilities in an infrastructure way through the Health Sciences.

So we are monitoring. The money has been put into it. They will identify the programs and services they see most fit, based on the health care needs, not on the political needs and accusations of my hon. colleague.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: A supplementary, the hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. SULLIVAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

This government has been dragging its feet on cardiac care for the past four years. People have died on the waiting list, I say to the minister, and that is what precipitated it, and I'm glad it is happening. It is unfortunate that is the price we pay for it.

Will the minister in fact confirm the Auditor General's findings that the capital costs may even exceed this new inflated estimate of $130 million, even beyond the $30 million that you have missed in the last two months, because government's estimates do not even include in that $30 million overrun the cost of the capital equipment for the new facility, moving expenses, or the closing of the Salvation Army Grace General Hospital? I ask the minister, when is she going to listen to the Auditor General to ensure that all costs are identified, to ensure that all estimates are current, and tell the people of this Province the true price of this monumental project?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Health.

MS J.M. AYLWARD: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

In my hon. colleague's statement I would like to address a few points. First I would like to ask my colleague, are we spending too much money on health care? Is that what you are asking me? Because that is certainly what I'm getting from part of the question.

The second part is I would also like to say while people are waiting on the list for cardiac surgery, we are moving very progressively to identifying and addressing the fifty patients who wanted to go outside the Province to have the cardiac surgery. While the first ten we approached were not interested, because they were either on vacation or wanted to wait till they returned to work the fall, we have been successful in reaching over 100 to identify those who would want to travel outside the Province.

With respect to the capital, you know as well as we do that is a separate budget. With respect to the construction, we have a plan in place; we have been meeting with the Health Care Corporation. We have a separate amount of money - $100 million for construction.

We have another separate amount of $30 million which I have clearly outlined in the media in the last couple of weeks. If you want, Mr. Speaker, I could go through it again but I think it is quite clear, it is a separate issue and we are monitoring it closely. We are quite confident that we will have a superb facility for the people of this Province.

MR. SPEAKER: A supplementary, the hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. SULLIVAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

It is no longer, I say to the minister, a separate capital budget because this government now has given the Health Care Corporation authority to borrow for capital expenditure and to pay for it out of operating costs. It is the same specific budget that is supplied to the corporation. The minister should get her facts straight. What I have concern with minister is not the money spent on health care but the lack of controls over knowing where and how the money is spent by your department, that is my concern. Now the Auditor General's findings are even more disturbing than this.

Will the minister confirm that the reason for the apparently significant reduction in the estimated capital cost of this new extension from $300 million in one of the options in 1989 to $100 million a few months ago and to $130 million today, is because the government is proposing to reduce the length of time a patient spends in hospital? Furthermore, what is even more disturbing is that they are planning on reducing the hospital beds in the new structure by over 30 per cent from the 1,100 acute care beds we had in 1989 to 768 beds under final restructuring. Will the minister admit that?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Health.

MS J.M. AYLWARD: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

When the plans for building a new hospital health centre was put in place the people that were identifying the needs went and looked at the demographics of this Province. Because we are providing a tertiary care centre for the Province we had to identify the needs, not only for within the St. John's area but within the whole Province altogether because almost 50 per cent of the beds of a tertiary care hospital come from outside of the urban areas in St. John's and catchment areas. We identified the needs. We are moving towards a system following right across this country of early intervention, of prevention and one of higher incidence and usage of ambulatory care. At one time a person would come in and spend ten days in hospital to have a hernia repair, now they are done as an out-patient.

If you look at children specifically, we do more and more services on an out-patient basis. That is a good move, Mr. Speaker, because people are staying healthier and they are being provided the services with less incidence by staying in hospital longer. That is a progressive move right across this country, right across North America and we are moving exactly with that particular trend and meeting the needs based on those trends.

MR. SPEAKER: A supplementary, the hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. SULLIVAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

That is nonsense. Even the Fraser forum that was quoted by the minister before tells us our lists are getting longer in health care, and there are more people crying out for assistance in health care. You are the minister. You tell us how many beds are going to be needed. If the information is not accurate, tell us how many beds are needed under this new revamped structure. Can you give us the number that your department has determined is necessary?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Health.

MS J.M. AYLWARD: Mr. Speaker, the number of beds that were identified was based on the needs that were determined by a group set down by the Health Care Corporation and various officials from the various sectors of community long-term care and acute care that came together and identified the needs for the Province. Those beds are based on demographic needs, a growing elderly population, and based on the types of procedures that we need. We have increased long-term care beds for our geriatric population.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MS J.M. AYLWARD: You have to consider all the needs when you look at preparing this type of a facility. I commend the Health Care Corporation for its very good work. If you are quoting from the Fraser report, I think you should also look at the needs of our own Province. Because when we are taking on a facility of this magnitude, $130 million, we have to know what our own provincial needs are, not what they need in Ontario, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: A supplementary, the hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. SULLIVAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The minister should be aware of the changing demographics in an aging population here in our Province. The Auditor General has indicated from 1,100 acute care beds down to 768. The minister has refused to confirm that figure here today. That is the reason why the change in estimates.

I ask the minister, will she confirm that the Corporation has not had a policy on cataloguing and keeping track of its capital equipment? That there is no documented policy with regard to physical security over capital assets? That is the Auditor General's quote. That, secondly, the Corporation could not provide any explanation as to the whereabouts of seventy microcomputers, and that there were no adequate records to tell when essential medical equipment had been serviced? I ask the minister, is she satisfied that this has been going on in an agency that is under her direct control?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Health.

MS J.M. AYLWARD: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Health Care Corporation has been in operation a little over twenty-one months. They have merged six organizations under its board. It has moved from eight sites to five sites. It has moved from functional based management to program management. It has the single largest health care budget in the Province. I think if you are talking about the numbers of times you empty the garbage or cleaned the beds or did any checks, that is an operational issue. I think that the Health Care Corporation over the last twenty-one months, with the huge magnitude of responsibility and challenges it has, has done an excellent job.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS J.M. AYLWARD: It is the first to admit, Mr. Speaker, that this Auditor General's report is a very good baseline, a very welcome report. It is very interested in continuing to make ongoing improvements. If you care to speak with Sister Elizabeth, who knows the issues, she would tell you the same thing.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Opposition House Leader.

MR. H. HODDER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

My questions are for the Minister of Municipal and Provincial Affairs. The Auditor General's report on the administrative and financial operations of the town of Pouch Cove has been released. It should come as no surprise to the minister that the Auditor General found many examples of poor controls over cash and taxes receivable. Cash shortages of $4,786 were identified, computer receipts totalling $12,153 could not be located, and that over $5,000 was received by the town but not credited to the appropriate taxpayers' accounts.

I ask the minister: since you have known about the irregularities in Pouch Cove for some time, and in view of the Auditor General's report, what steps are you going to take today to address the failure of the municipality of Pouch Cove to be in compliance in its operations and financial management with the municipalities act of this Province?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Municipal and Provincial Affairs.

MR. A. REID: Mr. Speaker, through you, I would like to thank the hon. Opposition House Leader for providing me with the only copy that me or my department had when I walked into the House this afternoon. When I have a chance to read this report, I will be only too pleased to answer any questions as they relate to this particular document.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Opposition House Leader, a supplementary.

MR. H. HODDER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The minister will know that there are members of the government side who sit on the Public Accounts Committee and he will know that he has his public relations people, he will know, or should know that the report was sent to his office two days ago. So, Mr. Speaker, I cannot accept the fact that he should have the information, he does not have it, he assumes responsibility for that.

I ask the minister that, since the people of Pouch Cove have lost confidence in their council and also confidence in the minister and his department, why did your department fail in its mandated responsibility according to law, to ensure that the accounting procedures in Pouch Cove were complied with and that they were consistent with the requirements of the Municipalities Act? It is not a new question, it is a question now which has been confirmed by the Auditor General; the minister's department did not do their jobs in making sure that the operations of Pouch Cove were properly monitored and that is a requirement under law, of your department.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Municipal and Provincial Affairs.

MR. A. REID: Mr. Speaker, I state categorically again: my department or I, as the minister of a department received a copy of this report today, at two o'clock when I walked into the House. The Auditor General has not submitted a copy of this report to my department and as far as I know, to any department of government. The Auditor General reports to the Speaker and to the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee. The Chairman of The Public Accounts Committee today had a press conference on this earlier this morning, I did not know anything about it and I still do not know anything about it.

Mr. Speaker, I ask you: Give me the opportunity to review this and I will be only too pleased to come back to this House or publicly, and re-act to this report. I am not going to - and I say this quite categorically - I am not going to condemn a council or staff of a council on what the hon. member proposes I should do or what I should not do. I will wait to have a chance to read the report; if there is anything in the report that needs action from me, that action will be forthcoming.


MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the Opposition House Leader, a supplementary.

MR. H. HODDER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I will refer to a submission made by the Federation of Municipalities to the minister some time ago. In that submission, the Federation advocated that there would be minimum qualifications and programs in place for municipal clerks so that all municipal clerks in this Province would meet minimum qualifications and minimum standards.

I ask the minister: What are you doing in your department to address the issues raised by the Federation of Municipalities whose report you have had for months and have not acted on it; when will you assure that the municipal clerks of this Province have basic, minimal training and that you establish regulations to make sure that it happens?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Municipal and Provincial Affairs.

MR. A. REID: Mr. Speaker, what a privilege and an honour it is going to be and what entertainment I am going to have in the House in the next little while knowing, that finally, I have a critic who can get up and ask a question and know what he is talking about.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. EFFORD: That is a shot; Jack, that is a shot.

MR. A. REID: Mr. Speaker, coming from the hon. Member for Waterford Valley, representing the illustrious and grand city - I had like to do it that time - City of Mount Pearl, I can honestly say that, you know, we have little communities in rural Newfoundland, just about every one of us who represent rural Newfoundland districts, we have communities that do not have the cash in the till to pay doctors and lawyers and dentists and all the other professional people that are around.

Maybe where the hon. member was an ex-mayor of a large city or a small city in the Province then maybe some of those places could help little places like Pouch Cove that collect very little dollars in revenue and can afford to hire people with degrees to be managers or clerks; but I quite honestly say to the hon. member, he knows as well as I do, with the years that he spent on the federation of municipalities as well as I, that there are a large number of communities out there that cannot afford to pay for qualified clerks and managers.

Now, Mr. Speaker, I say quite honestly, that problem will be addressed, that he knows as well as I do - in fact, he was on my board of directors when we certified the MUN program back fifteen years ago and he was one of those who promoted that.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. A. REID: I cannot - longer than that, is it not?

Mr. Speaker, I suggest to the Leader of the Opposition that he give the job back to `Jack', because `Jack' is not going to stop talking anyway.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I remind hon. members that when addressing members of the House, they should address them as hon. members or members of their district.

The hon. the Member for St. John's West.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS S. OSBORNE: Mr. Speaker, my questions today are for the Minister of Human Resources and Employment.

Is the minister aware of government's policy that actually encourages social service recipients who are on probation to stay on probation by giving them higher benefits than other recipients of social services?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Human Resources and Employment.

MS BETTNEY: That is indeed a very good question, Mr. Speaker. It is one of which I am not terribly familiar with the policies in this area and I will say that up front.

I would have to say to you that in dealing with issues of income assistance, there is a major process under way in my department at the current time to develop a new model for income support in this Province. It is an intensive planning process that is looking at all aspects of income support with the intention of moving towards income support that leads directly to employment and in bridging and developing the human resources of our Province.

So, I would have to say at this time, that many of the policies that deal with income support and assistance within the department are under intensive review. It is a period of transition within the department since the movement to create human resources and employment and to move the development aspect into the department. The planning team is working away on schedule with developing those plans, and over the next few months, all aspects of income support and development will be developed fully, models will be proposed and tested and final decisions will be made about the new forms of policies that will address these issues in the future.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for St. John's West, a supplementary.

MS S. OSBORNE: Mr. Speaker, I would like to tell the minister, I became aware of this policy when a young couple came into my office. They had been receiving $482 a month and their assistance was reduced to $181 a month. I investigated through the Department of Human Resources and Employment and I was told that the higher rate was paid because one of the couple was on probation and when her probationary period was over, then she was reduced to the lower rate.

Do you agree, Minister, that the message your department is sending should be that probation is actually a more lucrative lifestyle?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Human Resources and Employment.

MS BETTNEY: Mr. Speaker, the probationary period is an aspect of rehabilitation that is really determined by the judicial system. It is the court which dictates and decides in the best interests of society what the period of probation is going to be required in an individual circumstance, and whether or not income assistance is provided in what manner really has no impact or no influence on the period of probation.

I recognize that there is an issue with respect to how much income support people receive in any circumstance and, as I indicated before, all of those different aspects and all of the complexities of income support are being studied; but if the implication here is that this in some way influences how probation is determined, I would have to say that I simply do not see the connection and I do not agree with the conclusion.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for St. John's West, a supplementary.

MS S. OSBORNE: This happened in more than one instance. When I did call Social Services, I was given a couple of other examples. Actually, one of the people asked, `Should I go out and commit another small misdemeanour to have my income assistance raised?'

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MS S. OSBORNE: Well, that is what they said; that is not from me, it is from one of the clients of Social Services.

Minister, will you assure the House today that you will examine this policy and look at alternative solutions that will actually help people move forward rather than encourage them toward a life of probation?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Human Resources and Employment.

MS BETTNEY: Mr. Speaker, I really am somewhat taken aback that there would even be a suggestion that a government policy would be encouraging this kind of behaviour in society. I really do take exception to that.

As I indicated in my earlier response, the department is examining all aspects of its income support program. It is a very large, complex issue. You have identified simply one category - the member has identified one category - where we supply and provide assistance to people who require it in this Province. So will we examine this issue? We absolutely are examining this issue. We have been since last April, as well as perhaps another hundred issues associated with income support and employment in this Province. We will continue to do so, but I would suggest that it does not help in this review, nor does it help overall, to make the kinds of suggestions that this is, in some way, trying to encourage people to break the law.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The time for Oral Questions has elapsed.


Notices of Motion


MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER TOBIN: Mr. Speaker, I move, seconded by the Minister of Education:

Whereas Section 43 of the Constitution Act, 1982 provides that an amendment to the Constitution of Canada may be made by proclamation issued by the Governor General under the Great Seal of Canada where so authorized by resolutions of the Senate and House of Commons and of the legislative assembly of each province to which the amendment applies;

Now therefore the House of Assembly of the Province of Newfoundland resolves that His Excellency the Governor General be authorized to issue a proclamation under the Great Seal of Canada amending the Constitution of Canada in accordance with the Schedule set forth below.

1. Term 17 of the Terms of Union of Newfoundland with Canada set out in the Schedule to the Newfoundland Act is repealed and the following substituted therefore:

"17. (1) In lieu of section ninety-three of the Constitution Act, 1867, this term shall apply in respect of the Province of Newfoundland.

(2) In and for the Province of Newfoundland, the Legislature shall have exclusive authority to make laws in relation to education, but shall provide for courses in religion that are not specific to a religious denomination.

(3) Religious observances shall be permitted in a school where requested by parents."

2. This Amendment may be cited as the Constitution Amendment, year of proclamation (Newfoundland Act) to apply.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!




MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Bonavista South.

MR. FITZGERALD: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I rise today to present a petition from some 850 residents of the Districts of Bonavista South, Trinity North, Terra Nova. Looking through them there are many names on there from other places in this Province as well.

The petition reads: To the hon. the House of Assembly of Newfoundland in legislative session convened, the petition of the undersigned residents of Newfoundland: whereas the government gave public notice in late July or early August 1997 that it would accept public submissions only until August 30 1997 regarding the government's proposal to remove bridges on the railway bed on the Bonavista Peninsula and in other areas; and whereas these bridges are used by local residents and tourists for numerous recreational activities, including snowmobiling, ATV use, berry picking, the hauling of firewood, and hiking; and whereas these bridges on railway bed in this area may have untapped recreational and tourism potential, generating new economic activity, as is happening on the main railway bed with the construction of the T'Railway; and whereas local groups such as development associations, municipalities, service groups and tourism groups, as well as businesses and individuals, could take over the responsibility of maintaining these structures if given adequate time to put together proposals; and whereas these historic structures once they are gone are gone for good; wherefore your petitioners urge the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador to delay all actions to remove the bridges from the railway beds along this route and extend the deadline for receiving submissions regarding the future of these bridges and the railway bed.

Mr. Speaker, this petition was circulated some four or five weeks ago, and since that time the Minister of Government Services and Lands has seen fit to extend the deadline another month until October 30, I think, or October 31, in order to receive submissions. The problem goes much deeper than just extending the deadline.

The problem goes much deeper than that because what they see happening, they see this government removing bridges and taking away probably the only recreational area that people can now go and use recreational vehicles, use for berry picking, use the railway bed for hauling firewood. Not only is the government looking at removing those bridges because it says they are unsafe, but it doesn't know what the cost is to remove the bridges. They don't know what the cost is to repair the bridges. There has been no study done.

Those people in those rural areas have been denied the opportunity to use their ATVs to go on wetlands in this Province. Naturally, they are not allowed to use them on the road bed, but here was one area where people could go and use a railway bed for recreational purposes and for other purposes, in safety, and to carry out a very important function.

Now, Mr. Speaker, the minister and his department are going out and instead of asking for proposals to enter into a partnership with government to repair those bridges - and probably if the cost that is going to be incurred for removing them was spent in repairing them, then maybe those bridges might be allowed to continue to exist and the old railway bed would continue to be used for probably another twenty or thirty years.

There are lots of people out there who want to use this railway bed. There are lots of people out there for whom this is their only access to their cabin, this is their only access to their wood cutting area, this has been their only access to an area where they go and pick berries or to do other recreational activities; and the government is coming out without any warning, put the advertisement in the paper at a time when most people are preoccupied doing other things, being on vacation, doing things that you normally do outdoors, and almost escaped many of the people out there who are concerned and have expressed interest in this proposal - almost escaped their knowledge of it altogether.

What those people are saying to the government, what those people are saying to the minister, is: Slow it down. Slow it down by more than a month. Slow it down and let's see if we together can come forward with a proposal that is acceptable to government.

The minister talked, in conversations with some of my constituents - or his department talked - about the fear of safety. Safety entered into the picture, where they had engineers go out and look at those railway bridges, and they were concerned about safety. But removing those bridges, I suggest to the minister, is probably going to cause more unsafe actions by some of those people, because what is going to happen is when you come to a bridge that is removed then those people will exit onto the highway, or exit onto a fast-moving river, and go on and continue along that particular railway bed in order to get to the place they want to reach.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. member's time is up.

MR. FITZGERALD: So I call upon the minister to put forward a proposal to ask residents in the area - it is not only Bonavista; they are talking about other railway beds there as well -

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. member's time is up.

MR. FITZGERALD: - to ask interested groups to enter into some proposal whereby they can work together to bring a suitable solution to this problem.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Kilbride.

MR. E. BYRNE: If I may just have a moment, Mr. Speaker, to revert, at the pleasure of the House, to Presenting Reports by Standing and Special Committees - I was speaking with my colleague and you moved on fairly quickly - just to table two reports. It will only take a second.

MR. SPEAKER: Does the hon. member have leave to revert to Presenting Reports by Standing and Special Committees?

The hon. the Member for Kilbride.

MR. E. BYRNE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

With respect to the Auditor General's Report on the Review of the Financial Affairs of the Health Care Corporation of St. John's, and the Administrative and Financial Operations of the Town of Pouch Cove, the Public Accounts Committee requested some nine or ten months ago that these reports be commissioned.

I apologize to the minister for not getting it, but there was a copy sent to you. Upon receiving them, certainly the Vice-Chair of the Committee was contacted. I spoke with Sister Elizabeth Davis, as a professional courtesy, and outlined what the report was. I know the minister had received two copies because I contacted her office. Her staff informed me that Sister Elizabeth had provided, through the deputy minister, Dr. Williams' two copies and there was a copy sent, but contact was made with your office to ensure you did receive a copy.

Mr. Speaker, I table it right now for the House and for all members of the House who are interested.


Orders of the Day


MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Government House Leader.

MR. TULK: Mr. Speaker, I call the Resolution put on the Constitutional Amendment by the Premier just a few minutes ago, and I understand that we have unanimous agreement that this Resolution will be debated today.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER TOBIN: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, I rise to begin this debate, certainly with - as I am sure all members feel - a great sense of responsibility for the course that we are about to embark upon. I hope that it will be the decision of the Legislature of the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador to give life, over the course of the next twenty-four hours, to the decision that has been taken by the people of this Province in the referendum result which we saw on Tuesday night.

Mr. Speaker, I want to begin by thanking the Leader of the Opposition and by thanking the Leader of the New Democratic Party, both of whom I spoke to referendum evening - and I want to thank you as well, Mr. Speaker - for agreeing to a resumption or a special sitting of the House of Assembly to deal specifically with the question of education reform, constitutional reform that is necessary to accomplish it in the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Mr. Speaker, let me begin my remarks - and I don't intend they should be long, today is not a day for long speeches - by first of all acknowledging the work of every member of the Legislature over the period of the referendum campaign and the conduct of every member of the Legislature during the course of the referendum campaign. I think it is fair to say that this is an issue that all of us feel strongly about. It is an issue that all of us care deeply about. It is an issue that all of us, in our own way, contributed to in the context of the debate over these last thirty-or-so days but, Mr. Speaker, I think I can say that if this referendum campaign has been conducted with a degree of civility, a degree of tolerance and a degree of sensitivity over this last month it has been conducted in that way, in large part, because of the conduct of the elected members of the Legislature who engaged in this campaign, I think, almost without exception, in fact to my knowledge without exception, in a responsible fashion.

Mr. Speaker, Tuesday night we saw a very decisive, very clear and very unmistakable response to a very clear, very concise and unmistakable question. In short, the people of Newfoundland and Labrador have been asked whether it is now time to move beyond a denominational structure of education and to move to a single new system. The question was clear and the answer, Mr. Speaker, has been equally clear.

Mr. Speaker, before I go further, I know that all members of the House will appreciate my taking this opportunity to, in particular - in addition to acknowledging the contribution of all members - to single out and in particular pay tribute to the Minister of Education who has led this campaign over the last while.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER TOBIN: Mr. Speaker, indeed it can be said that if there is a template for civility and a template for sensitivity during this debate, if there is one who singularly, in the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador, knows how to present a case passionately, with conviction and with all of the strength that one can bring to bear to the debate and at the same time, Mr. Speaker, remain open to those who have a different point of view so that at the end of the day reconciliation can occur, nobody better embodies that capacity than the Minister of Education and may I say, his family.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER TOBIN: So, Mr. Speaker, what are the essential questions that have been answered by the people of Newfoundland in this debate? Mr. Speaker, the people of the Province have been asked whether or not it is time to end a practice where our children get up in the morning, even though they are neighbours on occasion and nevertheless move off in separate directions to separate schools, separated purely because of their religious distinction. Mr. Speaker, to that question, the people of the Province have said, yes the time has come to end that practice.

The people of the Province were asked very clearly whether the moment had arrived in the history of Newfoundland and Labrador, where we could no longer continue nor justify continuing a practice where a teacher, somebody who is fundamentally committed to the welfare of our children, to the education of our children could be hired or fired for any other reason other than their capacity, their competence and their commitment, whether or not they could be hired or fired any more on the basis of religion, and the people of the Province have said clearly, the time has come to end that practice as well.

The people of Newfoundland and Labrador have been asked whether it is appropriate that our school boards, when they are elected should be elected so that two-thirds, as is the practice today of the school-board positions, are reserved for individuals on the basis of their religion, to carry on a practice where those who are elected may speak for some of us but not for all of us and, Mr. Speaker, the people of the Province have said clearly that, that practice should end. The people of Newfoundland and Labrador are being asked and were asked and have answered clearly whether or not it is appropriate in 1997 yes, Mr. Speaker, a few years away from the next millennium, that we should continue a practice where any group of individuals, no matter how well-intentioned, who are unelected and who are unaccountable should, on behalf of an institution, make decisions for us as parents and as citizens that we are capable of making for ourselves, and the people of the Province have said in a clear and strong and unmistakable voice that, that practice too should end.

So, Mr. Speaker, what we had on referendum night on September 2nd, was not an election; it was not about winning or losing, it was not some kind of competition but what we had instead, were the people of Newfoundland and Labrador authorizing a new direction for this Province, mandating a new direction; to use a naval term, charting a new course, setting a new destination for the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador. Mr. Speaker, I think it is important to note, in reflecting upon the expression of the will of the people of the Province, the mandate was a strong one. Mr. Speaker, if one looks back to the exercise of the referenda in this country, a result of some 73 per cent is almost without precedent. Indeed, this Province joined the federation, joined the greatest country on the planet earth, Canada, by a vote of 52 per cent. This of course was a decision of major consequence for the people at that time but at 52 per cent we moved forward.

Mr. Speaker, questions of conscription have been answered with majorities smaller than that seen on Tuesday night. Questions of prohibition have been answered with majorities far smaller than that seen on Tuesday night; questions of the future of some provinces within the federation have been answered with majorities far smaller than that seen on Tuesday night. Mr. Speaker, I think that it is singular in its expression of purpose and of consensus and a public will to reflect upon the size and clarity of the response we have seen on Tuesday and, Mr. Speaker, I have to say to my colleagues that if we have a further job, those of us who engage in the debate, inside the Legislature or outside of the Legislature, if we have a further responsibility beyond casting a vote in the next day or two to the question before us, our further job is to be agents, all of us without exception, of reconciliation. Mr. Speaker, that is the job of members of this House at this time.

You know, Mr. Speaker, I have been hopeful over the last twenty-four hours that reconciliation is possible. I have heard the voices of citizens of this province who participated in the referendum campaign, some of whom said no and said no with all of their hearts. I have seen their faces, I have heard their voices over the last twenty-four hours and they have said `enough'. They have been inspired by the strongest character that represents Newfoundland and Labrador, the one that our guests today from all across Canada would reflect upon when they leave this place. It is the one that our visitors to the Cabot 500 years celebrations reflect upon when they leave this place. They talk about a sense of civility in Newfoundland and Labrador. They talk about a sense of welcome, of warmth, of compassion, of caring, of decency. People leave this place and remark upon the fact that this is one of the few places in the modern world where the back door, the front door is still left unlocked. One of the few places where neighbours will respond to the need of a fellow citizen, when and where and how that need can best be fulfilled. That is the character of Newfoundland and Mr. Speaker, government today is not interested merely in seeing the referendum result manifested in a yes vote in the Legislature. That is important, that is important to be faithful to what occurred, but we are also interested in seeing our community pull back together and there are members in this place who can play a large role on both sides in seeing that that occurs.

Mr. Speaker, I have heard today for example, the Leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada, the hon. Jean Charést, indicating that he will vote yes in the House of Commons -

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER TOBIN: - to the resolution as proposed.

I heard yesterday that Senator Michael Kirby, a Liberal in the Senate who voted no last time around, has indicated he too believes that it is time to recognize the weight and the certainty of the opinion of the people of Newfoundland with a seventy-three per cent vote.

Mr. Speaker, I have spoken with the Prime Minister of Canada, the hon. Jean Chrétien, who has said to me that he recognizes and he hears the clear voice of the people of Newfoundland and Labrador when it is spoken with such conviction.

Mr. Speaker, I have talked to the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, the hon. Stéphane Dion who has undertaken to see that this matter is considered by parliament without delay.

Mr. Speaker, I say to those who led the No Campaign that all of us here respect contrary points of view. All of us here respect the conviction, the deeply personally held beliefs behind that contrary point of view. There are some in this chamber who hold those beliefs dear and those beliefs are respected in this place as well, but Mr. Speaker, it is clear to me, absolutely clear, that the constitutional amendment that we seek is going to be achieved in the Parliament of Canada and will be achieved in a timely fashion. Nothing more could be accomplished by carrying on the campaign against the amendment other then to seek, perhaps inadvertently, the division of the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, Mr. Speaker, and nobody would consciously seek that kind of circumstance.

You know Mr. Speaker, a few moments ago there was a debate and I do not refer to the substance of the debate during Question Period in this place about the hospitals here in the City of St. John's and perhaps it is well for us to reflect, there was a time not long ago when the hospitals here in the City of St. John's were denominationally run. Many people perhaps have forgotten that already. Our hospital system in the City of St. John's was based on a denominationally inspired system of administration.

Well, Mr. Speaker, it was only a few years ago, there was a great debate and a great dialogue and a great discussion about what would happen to health care if we moved away from a denominationally based hospital system, and some people genuinely had concerns about that.

Mr. Speaker, we put in place the St. John's Health Care Corporation. As the minister said a moment ago, we went from eight different hats to one in terms of establishing an authority, an administrative body, to operate our health care system. Some people said: But if we move from a denominationally-based system with all of its experience and tradition and history and ambience, will there still be room in that health care system for people who feel deeply about the ambience they have created? The government of the day - I wasn't here, other members who were here were in this place at that time - said yes. When it was time to find a chief executive officer of the new St. John's Health Care Corporation, who was found for the job? Sister Elizabeth Davis.

I give that example for this reason. During this campaign, in some of the meetings I've attended, there have been those who have said: I've gone to a Catholic school, and the principal and the staff were excellent. They have created an environment that is unique; they have engendered a desire for the pursuit of excellence amongst the students. Will that be lost? I say today: Not at all. Those who care deeply about the education of our children, those who bring a unique set of skills to the job, will still be there tomorrow.

I've heard from Pentecostal parents about the kind of environment in which the children of that community have gone to school, and the kind of commitment brought to the classroom by teachers from the Pentecostal assemblies. Those teachers will all be there tomorrow and there again next year in a single new system.

I've heard from parents from the Integrated community who have acknowledged that all of us can only be stronger, all of us can only achieve far more effectively when we pull together, when each of us brings our own special set of skills to the same education environment.

My purpose in speaking today, as I said at the beginning, is not to review the debate of the last - actually, it has been seven years, not even the last five years. Since 1990. Or to review the debate of the last thirty days. My purpose in standing today is to once again make a call within this House, a call to all the members, from all of the districts, but beyond this House and through this House a call to the people of the Province to recognize, to acknowledge, and to respect the expression of the will of the people of Newfoundland and Labrador on September 2, and to work to implement the decision that has been made, and to work for reconciliation amongst our people.

Government is proud and government is pleased to have proposed this resolution today, but government knows that this resolution will truly not be successful until it enjoys the confidence of all of our people. We are pledged to that task in the weeks and months ahead.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear! Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SULLIVAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

This education issue has been one certainly that has been in the forefront since I was elected to the House of Assembly in 1992. In fact, prior to that, just a couple of months prior to that, the Royal Commission Report on Education was publicly released before I became a member. Since then it has been at the forefront during most of those five years while sitting here in the House.

I personally have a deep concern about education in this Province. I spent over twenty years as a classroom teacher in the Province. I have a concern about the future of our children and where we are heading in education. Back in 1992, and my first posting in the critic area was education critic, in 1992-1993 as education critic I disagreed with a government decision when two schools in a part of this Province, in one neighbourhood - one closed - two different religions and the parents were not permitted to send their child to that neighbourhood school. I said at the time and carried in the public media, that I felt parents should have a choice to make the decision to send their child to that school. It should not be dictated to them. I am a strong believer in the choice of parents to decide the opportunities for their children in education.

I voted no on September 2, not because I want the churches to stay in education in the Province. I stated unequivocally in a statement to the Province, following the Premier back on July 31, and my Caucus agrees wholeheartedly, every single one believes in a single school system in this Province. I believe in that and I don't feel that churches should be involved in the governance of education in the Province. That statement I made during the campaign. I was not involved in any campaign. The last campaign or this campaign, I did not intend in any way to try to influence how my constituents would vote in a referendum. It is their democratic right. I felt an obligation to state publicly how I was going to vote. I considered it my responsibility to do that and I did that.

I always believed that teachers should be hired on the basis of qualifications and merit, not on what particular religion they happened to practice. I taught in the system for over twenty years in which teachers in the system I taught in, an RC system, had been separated, divorced and remarried and retained their positions in the system. Some are very close to me, some of these people. I taught alongside people who were of a different religion within that system - that are 90-some per cent RC - and religion was never an issue or discussed at all in the environment, it was never a part of it. For people who grew up with that religious issue, maybe they have different feelings but we grew up and went to school as individuals and religion was never a discussion and that is the way I think it should be.

Furthermore, we also believe and I believe that religious observances and events should be retained within a Province-run system. I voted no because I believe parents should have the choice to retain that option for parents -, where numbers could warrant that - to have the choice to have a specific religion instruction offered in the system. I voted no because of that and that was the only reason that I voted no. I felt, as an individual on September 2, I should vote that way because a referendum represents each person's personal choice. My Caucus, I assume, represented their individual choice on September 2. I would not want to influence my constituents in how they vote, nor would I want anyone in my constituency to influence me in how I voted and not one person, in the five years that I am here in this House, has called me to suggest that. I don't recall one telephone conversation, in my five years, that I have been called on this issue. There could have been a couple of discussions here and there by constituents of mine on this issue but it has not been to the forefront. I live in an area that is 98 per cent RC and the district itself is over 90 per cent RC. It has never been a particular issue.

What parents wanted and what I feel that parents needed, what could have been provided in this referendum - and I thought there should have been a further accommodation in this referendum and I think the percentage in the Province would have been higher to allow parents that choice to be able to have that religious instruction in the system than I think we would have had a 90 per cent vote in the Province or more. I felt strongly enough that I did not want to see a specific religion thrown out of the system completely. I think there should have been a retention. Having said my piece, I knew and figured it was going to be in the minority - my view. In fact, I think a poll on that specific point may have been in the majority but coupled in with the general referendum I did not think anybody had to be a rocket scientist to realize that it was going to be yes. Sometimes it is popular to jump on a 'yes' and ride with it but to me that was not exhibiting leadership. If I felt I should vote no on those grounds, I should vote no on those specific grounds.

I am a democratic individual, and I respect the wishes of the people in my district. I did not, in any way, have an influence on people in my district. I hope I did not have an influence on anyone's vote. I felt an obligation to indicate how I was voting. That would be, I think, vacating my responsibility in not doing so.

The people in my district voted 59 per cent yes, and I said I would respect the wishes of my district if it was carried out in a democratic manner; and I, and all of my caucus in the same category, are going to vote yes because the constituents of their districts have told them -

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SULLIVAN: - that is the choice they want to make.

We were elected, and I was elected by the people in Ferryland district, to represent them. On other issues where there is no referenda carried out, it may be debatable as to what constituents want. Polling can go up and down depending on the wording, on how you word it. A referendum is a direct indication of people's wishes. It is irrefutable. It is plain, it is direct, and it is a message. We respect the rights of individuals, and I hope people respected my decision to make the decision I did, and I respect the wishes of constituents and any other member to make their particular choice.

I can assure you, it was not a political choice. It was probably far from a political choice. It was probably an unpopular, a poor, political choice. Sometimes it is a lot easier to be, I think, popular than it is to be unpopular, although it is easy to get that too, but overall we have addressed that we will co-operate when the people have spoken, as we have done in the past. We co-operated in getting this dealt with here today by waiving the normal notice, and we will certainly expedite to have this concluded by tomorrow. There will not be any delays on the part of our caucus.

Many of the members want an opportunity to be able to have their say in the House, and they will moderate the length of their say on the time restraint so it can be dealt with by tomorrow. Certainly that is their right and their privilege, and they want to say some things about it, but I am confident that it will move quickly through the remaining parliamentary channels. I do not have any reason to think otherwise. I will be attending meetings in the upcoming week with various caucuses, and the federal leader and other people in Atlantic Canada. Also, I will be speaking with members of the Senate over the next while, and I will certainly be conveying where we are, as a caucus, and what we feel. Then it is up to them to make their parliamentary choices, based on their elected constituencies, on what they want to do.

I do not intend to press or arm twist or dictate to anybody their democratic rights, but I can certainly indicate in strong terms our rights and how we want to exercise our rights.

We are looking at a whole new era in education in this Province. We had 211 recommendations in the Royal Commission Report, and while much of the focus has been on ones tied up with governance of our school system, there are approximately 180 of these that are not related to the governance of our school system. I think it is important to move on and start dealing with the most important people in education, the children.

The Premier made a comment - I am not sure if it is in the right context or not, but I heard him make it again later - and it does concern me a little bit when he indicated it is not about savings in the system, because I firmly believe that this decision today, the decision by parents in our Province to move into a single system, would enable extra money in the system to be utilized to enhance the educational opportunities and to turn out a better and more competitive product in our society today. If it does not do that, what is it all about? What is it all about? Where are we going to go in the future?

I want to see funding, and we will be holding government accountable, as our education critic has done, and I, and members of my caucus, to ensure that government will be accountable and deliver to the people of this Province various commitments that they have made to ensure that the child comes first and foremost in the education reform of this Province, and that it is not a power struggle. It is a struggle, yes, to empower kids with the best possible chance of getting an education and we did have, and the Premier made reference to, and I just want to correct it for the record, within the hospital system here, there was no long, drawn-out debate on hospitals because I was health critic for a number of years, for three-and-a-half years, and in fact I think there is quite a contrast to the hospital situation.

When government purchased those hospitals, they purchased them under the following condition I might add; on the condition that the agreement provided between government and those people who owned those hospitals, the Salvation Army Grace General Hospital and the Sisters of Mercy at St. Clare's, these agreements provided those two private owners, the Sisters of Mercy and the Salvation Army Grace General with the right to retain at their site, the mission, values, philosophy and ethical principles consistent with the spirit and tradition of the founding groups. These agreements provide the rights to these groups to an advisory council, the selection of the on-site administrator, the acceptance of a mission statement and an undertaking by government to ensure compliance of staff members, physicians and volunteers with that mission statement.

That was an agreement that this government entered into with private, religious owners of a hospital to provide health care in this Province so that people would continue to have a certain amount of compassion, feelings and values when in the health care system of their Province. I, certainly in my vote, attempted to retain some of that. I hope the current system, to be honest with you, can provide that. I am hopeful it can. I felt it could be entrenched by going that extra little step further, could have ensured that in the system if parents so choose it. Today we will have to move forward. I am never one to look back at the past. To be honest with you, we have to deal with the future now and we have to move forward, and I, on behalf of our caucus, indicated, we are publicly in here again today, that we will facilitate this process as much as we possibly can and certainly wish the Premier well in expediting and moving this through the federal channels, because now, the people of the Province have spoken in a very clear, very definitive way and we have an obligation here to respect the wishes that have been carried out in a democratic manner. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Signal Hill - Quidi Vidi.

MR. HARRIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I am very pleased to speak today on this historic occasion which I have had the privilege for the second time of speaking in this House of Assembly on a matter involving a proposed amendment to the Constitution of Canada.

Mr. Speaker, as all hon. members know and our guests from the governments of other provinces know full-well as well, the changing of a Constitution is a difficult thing. A Constitution provides the law which governs the powers of a state and when changes are sought, people have strong feelings because they are concerned that some right or privilege that they have will be lost at the expense of their future, of their right to fully participate in that society.

This debate about education in the Province of Newfoundland and in particular the governance of education has been going on for quite some time. In the past five years of course, it has intensified and has been at times a difficult and a tense debate and has been so because people have felt that their way of life, that their beliefs, that their ability to pass on those beliefs and traditions to their children are at risk, so it was not an easy thing to get from where we were five years ago to where I think we are today, and that is to recognize that as a people we wish to see a change in our system that served well in the past, that the majority of people of this Province feel need no longer govern our system of education.

In my remarks today I want to pay some tribute as well to members of this House. Because it is the members of this House who together, and individually, took up the challenge of leadership during this summer to put before the people of this Province a question that was clear, that was direct, that was complete in its offer of an option to the people of this Province that had been argued for, for many years.

Perhaps for the only time in my life in this House, I want to commend all members opposite in their unanimity behind the decision to put forth the referendum question and to support the Yes side. They provided leadership in their districts and their communities that I think was necessary to achieve the result that we have achieved in the results of this referendum. I say that in all sincerity, because I know it has been particularly difficult for some members opposite to take a firm position for the Yes side from the very beginning. But as I say, I think that that position of leadership and taking the strong position has helped the people of their districts come to the conclusion that the time was right for the people of this Province and for the Province itself to move forward to a new system of governance of education.

A constitution is an important document. I remember twenty years ago when I was studying constitutional law being told by the professor about what he called the sources of constitutional law. This is an academic exercise, of course, the various sources of constitutional law being, at that time, the British North America Act, the imperial statutes amending that act, Orders in Council by which at least two of the provinces of Canada were admitted to the federation, British Columbia and Prince Edward Island. By an Order in Council, not by any statute at all, not by any parliament or legislature. We reviewed the conventions and other aspects which were the sources of constitutional law.

The professor then said: But there is one other. Can any one of you tell me what it is? Here we were, probably 150 of us sitting in this constitutional law class from all over Canada, bright, we thought, young men and women, being asked a question about another source of constitutional law. No one had the answer. The answer that he finally had to give forth himself was that the other source of constitutional law, and the most important source of constitutional law, was the will of the people. Without the will of the people, any other sources of constitutional law could not have the legitimacy that they should have in a state that was to claim itself a democracy.

What we have seen in the past thirty days is the coming together of a consensus about this issue that has been a long time coming. We have a very clear expression of the will of the people. We see that the time is now right to ask this Legislature and the Parliament of Canada to change Term 17 to provide for a system of education which is governed and operates without regard to adherence to a particular religious denomination.

I want to join today with the Premier in speaking not to those who voted yes in support of this change in the referendum on Tuesday, but to also speak to those who voted no, and the leaders of the No campaign, and the leaders of the churches, who supported the No campaign and supported the retention of the rights to administer the school system that they have, that they have exercised in the past and I want to speak to them in a way that asks them to recognize that what has been changed here are the constitutional rights and obligations of government, but that remaining aside from the rights, are the decisions of this Legislature, the decisions of school boards, the decisions of school councils and the democratic process not only in this Legislature, but also in the school system, that will determine the actual content of observances that may take place in school and the types of instruction that may or may not be permitted. I want to plead with them to recognize the will of the people, as expressed in this referendum and I think, regardless of the opposition, the lobbying, court threats, or challenges, will become the Constitution of this Province and the Constitution of Canada. I ask them not to engage in that lobbying effort, not to engage in what I think will be a loosing battle which can only serve to embitter those-

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. HARRIS: - who feel that they have lost something precious and I understand that strong emotional feeling. I know it well. I ask and urge them to have a good look at the new system, to have a good look at the communities and friends and people who are going to be running that school system and to find new ways to provide the moral leadership, the instruction of children in religious ideas, the inculcation of values and traditions that are unique to a particular denomination. There are ways to do that in the new system, just as there are ways to do that in the present system and in the system of every other province of Canada.

There is a need for moral leadership in our community, in our Province today, there is a need for religious leaders to provide the kind of leadership that is needed to take on the challenges that we have of child poverty, of hunger, of want, of lack of opportunity, of people living in desperate circumstances and feeling no hope for their future. We need to share the values of Christian life and not just Christian life, of Christianity, of the other religions that have a moral and ethical tradition and value to present to all of our citizens.

So, there will be ways and there are ways in our society to seek and to achieve the ends of religion and spiritual values. Look to our school boards, look to our school councils, look to the school teachers to provide that kind of leadership.

It has been an opportunity in the last thirty days or a little more, for us as legislators to find the appropriate time to present this question to the people of this Province. We have done that inevitably under the leadership of the government whose responsibility it was to react to the public mood and the public desire and as I said on July 31st, I have to commend and support the government in taking up the challenge, of providing the leadership, and putting that question to the people of the Province.

The results have been very positive, decisive. I think all democrats in the houses of Parliament, whether elected in the House of Commons or appointed in the Senate, should have no option but to speedily recognize the will of the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. HARRIS: I will do my part in presenting the story of this referendum and this decision to the New Democratic Party caucus, national caucus, which meets in Halifax next week. I assure you that I will do everything to convince them that they should join with us, and I hope -

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. HARRIS: - that (inaudible) will be a unanimous resolution of this House to approve the constitutional amendment being sought in this resolution. Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Education.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. GRIMES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I just appreciate the opportunity today to make some comments in the context of this debate which has been properly described as historic in the history of Newfoundland and Labrador, and the continuing development of our education system. Because just as individuals are lifelong learners, so is the education system, of course, continually evolving and changing to meet the needs of the society at any one particular time.

I think that I really must say, on behalf of our caucus here, that we appreciate both the personal expression of opinion by the Leader of the Opposition and the Leader of the New Democratic Party when they were asked to take a position during the debate, and we equally appreciate their expression of opinion here today, as legislators, in indicating quite clearly that they will work for the swift and proper and appropriate passage of this resolution from here on, because the people of the Province have spoken so clearly.

On behalf of all of us, we certainly do appreciate the stance taken both individually before and during the actual debate itself, and now as responsible elected legislators in this House, working on behalf of the people of the Province to make sure that the indication and desire that was registered by the people of the Province on September 2 is brought into reality and fruition at the earliest possible date.

A couple of things, though. I think I would be remiss if I didn't make some commentary for purposes of the record of this debate as to where we have come from, and where we are going to be, without belabouring matters. I think it is important for the Hansard of our House and for the history of this in the Province to make these few comments.

Basically, I think we have all acknowledged that the denominationally-based system which we have always had in Newfoundland and Labrador, and has been unique to this Province, no doubt about it, absolutely unique in this Province, in Canada, in North America, and in the world, and has served the people of the Province tremendously well for years. The fact of the matter though is that it has been debated for some time as to whether we needed to maintain the system as it was pre-Confederation, and as it was enshrined in the Constitution of Canada as part of the Terms of Union in 1949.

One of our former Ministers of Education who was recognized in the gallery today, and still here, Dr. Warren, a noted educator, a young university professor at the time in the mid-sixties, some thirty years ago, spearheaded a - still a young man, of course, but a bit younger back then - royal commission at that time that led to the most dramatic change in the education system since Confederation, which in the outcome and the implementation of the major recommendations saw major changes in the way the Department of Education was structured, and major changes that led to the system of integration that has been a fundamental feature of the Province since 1969, moving on now almost some thirty years. Again, the whole issue in that system again, marking us and leaving it a very strong mark in terms of the features that we looked at in 1995, and again today in trying to look at these last revisions.

We also, of course, need to remember I think that in terms of the debate, in the historic points in the debate, in 1985, the Newfoundland and Labrador Teachers Association presented a brief to government in which they highlighted certain points and I think some phrases I recall from that with respect to isolation by denomination whether that should be continued, that we were actually funding less than the optimal system for the students of the Province, words that were repeated just recently by Justice Barry, and that in fact, I guess the proposition was put at that time as part of that brief that, the government may be having an expenditure within the range of $70 million a year that may not be going into the best interests of the students, but was necessary to service three or four separate systems because that is the system that we had at the time.

Then of course, the Williams' Commission of 1990-91 which was the largest, public consultation ever held on education in this Province. The largest number of meetings, the largest number of presentations, the largest number of briefs and so on, and at the end of the day, that group called for and recommended a shared, joint-denominational system but even in making that recommendation, they indicated in their writings that to accomplish it, it would need considerable compromise and co-operation from the denominational stakeholder in the system. They thought it could work but they knew it could not be ordered, it had to come about as a result of considerable compromise and co-operation, were the words used in the Williams Commission Report, and unfortunately it did not materialize before the referendum two years ago, it did not materialize significantly in the last year and then we come to the circumstance where the Premier of the day, our Premier today, the leader of this party was in a position, with the support of his caucus and his Cabinet to have to call another referendum, and I am a person who is on the public record as saying I did not think I would ever see the day.

Only a few months ago, as a matter of fact when they addressed the annual meeting of the Teachers Association, the annual meeting of the Home and School Association and the annual meeting of the School Boards Association, I repeated the statement that because of what we had gone through in 1995, I did not think we would find ourselves in a circumstance where anybody again would find it necessary or have the political will or courage to actually have another referendum with respect to education. But again, like others in our caucus we applaud the Premier for coming forward, based on the circumstances that were there -

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. GRIMES: - and indicating quite clearly and going to the people of the Province has been acknowledged by everybody with a clear, straightforward proposition and I think it was clear, it was acknowledged to be clear, it was straightforward, it was not complicated or complex and the answer as everybody has now understood and acknowledged from a couple of days ago was equally as decisive, clear, uncomplicated and uncompromising. So I am pleased to see members of the House today, Mr. Speaker, indicating that we all acknowledge that the people of the Province have spoken loudly and clearly and that we should move on because it is in the best interest of all of us and all of the students who are in the schools of Newfoundland and Labrador.

So I certainly again, join the chorus of voices today that ask all of us to work on the reconciliation of differences, the acceptance of different views which are strongly held by individuals in the Province because there are still some areas where we as the government need to be challenged and should be challenged with respect to our commitment to the education system and we look forward to the continuing challenge by members opposite in taking us to task and making sure that we do answer the questions about the education system that parents and students still have, as to whether or not there is enough of a level of commitment to excellence in education being demonstrated by this particular government.

We do not shirk from that, we understand that it is our role to answer and it is everybody else's role to ask the questions that need to be asked. Our representatives, the same groups to whom I spoke, many of whom, just about all of them in fact, on side and supporters in this particular campaign will very quickly and properly turn their attention now in asking the hard questions of government as to whether or not we are committing the proper and appropriate level of resources to education in Newfoundland and Labrador, and that is exactly the way that it should be. We do not expect blind support on everything that we do but on this issue it was gratifying to find a real ground swell of support for the proposition put forward and it was reflected of course in the vote of the people themselves.

So there is no doubt that again, those who were on the No side, my plea would be not to continue to try to slow down the progress of this resolution either here in the Province, which has not materialized, or in Ottawa where we would need approvals, but to continue to focus their energies on challenging us, as the government, to deliver a couple of new things that are in this resolution.

There are challenges. We need to be kept at task and called to task to make sure that the government indeed is diligent in providing for religious education courses in every single classroom, in every single school in Newfoundland and Labrador, because it is provided for in this new term. We need to be challenged and brought to task repeatedly to make sure that when parents ask for religious observances in the schools of Newfoundland and Labrador that the government and the school boards and the school-based administrators and the school councils see that they are appropriately and properly provided for.

On the other issues I think, then, no doubt we will want to make sure that everybody encourages government to continue to live up to its stated commitment of education as a priority in the Province. I think in the short term we would hope that everybody could join together and help us, on behalf of the people of the Province, to pass this resolution through Ottawa so that we can all get onto the rest of the critically important education agenda.

The Leader of the Opposition mentioned some issues with respect to the Williams Commission Report, and I expect fully that we will have more questions in Question Period and other debate as we come back to the Legislature later in the fall, and in other public opportunities, to challenge the government as to what is happening with the recommendations of the Williams Commission Report.

Again, just to address the issue briefly today, because it is not the purpose of this debate, there is a report that I circulated previously, and would gladly circulate again, that indicates that 97 per cent - 97 per cent - of the recommendations of the Williams Commission Report have either been actioned or are in the process of final actioning, or in the hands of other agencies and institutions other than the government for their actioning, because there was a wide-sweeping, wide-ranging report that gave direction to the government, to the school boards, that asked all of the partners and the agents in education to deal with certain issues. Now they are not all done, admittedly, and I acknowledge that, but there is certainly definite progress being made.

Mr. Speaker, I would hope then that we could all focus on dealing with the more proper educational planning for the future, because basically we should acknowledge that school boards have been relieved of their debt of some $24 million, that government has made some significant investments in education. We have placed $2.5 million back into the system for purchasing computer equipment. We have provided half-a-million dollars which is starting to be expended this fall as schools open, for tutoring by peers for students who need help in the school. We have reinstated over $2 million into the teachers' salary budget to give proper levels of professional development and in-service to teachers, because we admit that it was a bit shortchanged in the last year or so, for budgetary reasons, and the ten boards have been granted permission to use savings from consolidations and closures to do much needed physical improvements in their plants, in the schools, for the students, replacing portables with real classrooms, adding lunchrooms in schools where new arrangements and configurations of students have occurred, adding gymnasia in buildings that never, ever had them before, building new schools in places like Rigolet, Nain, Hopedale, that had the worst facilities in Newfoundland and Labrador for years. Then, along with that, all of us should be tasked to get on with the other items that remain.

We need and we will shortly be dealing with matters such as the Canning Report on Special Matters, and the government will lay out how we plan to deal with those special needs issues.

We are continuing to deal with curriculum improvements at all levels, particularly at the high school level, through Atlantic Provinces initiatives, through the Atlantic Provinces Education Foundation, where we will do common curriculum for students in all of the schools in Atlantic Canada.

We have to be challenged to maintain the pupil/teacher ratios in Newfoundland and Labrador at or below the national average in the face of continuing declining enrolments, and we expect to be challenged on that by members opposite, by representatives of the school board, by representatives of the Teachers' Association, by representatives of the Home and School Federation. We expect that challenge and want to get on with dealing with that, because we should not have to deal with these governance issues continually and forever and a day.

We want to look, Mr. Speaker, at issues like proper special recognition of schools in our Province that are isolated and necessarily existent by virtue of where they are physically situated, where there are no choice for students and families other than to be there and are we resourcing them to the levels that we can and should. We want to deal with those kinds of educational planning matters because hopefully we can move away from this battle now that has been five, six or seven years in the making, about who is really going to control or run the system, put that issue squarely and clearly to rest with the passage of this resolution here and in the Parliament of Canada and get on to the educational agenda that all of us in this Legislature want to pursue on behalf of the parents and the students of Newfoundland and Labrador.

So, Mr. Speaker, in closing, I am pleased to speak in favour of this particular resolution and would urge swift, decisive passage here in this House so that we can all turn our attention to the improved learning opportunities for all of our students who live together and now, Mr. Speaker, will have an opportunity to learn together.

Thank you very much.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER TOBIN: Mr. Speaker, I understand that I have leave just to bring a brief message to the House which I think is relevant to the debate and I think reflects the spirit that we have heard from members, in all three parties, who have spoken today, which is a request that there be an acceptance of the will of the people and to move forward in a way that helps to reconcile all of us after the debate.

Mr. Speaker, I have just had a letter transmitted to me in the House, from the representatives of the Integrated churches of the Denominational Education Commission and the letter has advised me formally, and I advise the House now, that the Rt. Reverend Donald F. Harvey of the Anglican Church of Canada, Lt. Colonel Shirley Rowsell of the Salvation Army, Rev. Clarence Sellers of the United Church of Canada, Rev. Ted Thompson of the Presbyterian Church in Canada and of course represented by Harry G. Elliott, the executive officer, have written to advise government that they are prepared to comply with the request by government, put on September 2, that the next school board election be held on a non-denominational basis. The churches and integration have indicated their agreement of such an election.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER TOBIN: Mr. Speaker, I should indicate of course that that agreement is conditional upon all of the denominations coming to a similar arrangement. Mr. Speaker, I would only hope that our friends, our fellow citizens in the Roman Catholic Church leadership and Pentecostal leadership will reflect now upon this position and come to a similar position on this important question. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for St. John's East.

MR. OTTENHEIMER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity this afternoon for a few moments to participate in this important debate as we discuss the future of education and the whole educational process and system as we have in our Province for the future.

Mr. Speaker, I have, from the beginning of this debate, expressed some difficulties with the whole process which we were experiencing in this Province. I made my position known quite clearly and publicly, shortly after the decision was made by the hon. Premier to engage in the referendum process, that I was one member of this House that had difficulty with this process from the outset. There were a number of reasons, Mr. Speaker, why I shared with the public of this Province and indeed my own constituents, why I had reservations and why I felt that this process was not in the best interest of all of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. I attempted to be clear in my expression and in doing so I listed a number of concerns which I had and I expressed them in a letter which I had sent to The Evening Telegram a number of days ago. They included concerns with respect to, where I had felt as critic in education over the past number of months, they referred to areas which I had observed and the hon. minister perhaps just related some concerns which of course we will have to address in the future, issues such as classroom focus issues, dealing with children with learning disabilities, dealing with children with learning difficulties and behavioural disorders and so on. There were areas which I had witnessed as critic in education over the past eighteen months that had not been in my view adequately addressed and recognized and concluded to the satisfaction of those who raised those concerns.

Therefore one concern that I had with respect to the whole debate was the issue of trust and I was clear in making that point to the media and to the public of this Province. I felt that there were times when this government had demonstrated to the people of this Province negligence in not dealing with the concerns as they were raised by many parents in various communities, in trying to resolve very difficult issues with their school boards and last spring there was not one day when there was at least a petition or a question in question in Question Period which dealt with for example, the parents of Port au Port or the parents of Brigus or the parents of Jacques Fontaine for example and other communities in our Province, and I felt that this government had not done its utmost in responding to the concerns of many Newfoundlanders and Labradorians as issues arose in trying to deal with the very difficult road to reform.

I had difficulty with the idea that funding which was to have been saved as a result of education reform, was not being redirected and reverted to the schools and the school system of our Province. We have heard this being expressed repeatedly by parents and by those individuals engaged in the education system, that continues to be a concern that I have today, Mr. Speaker, and I can assure the hon. minister that that particular point will be repeated by members on this side of the House as we get into the fall session of this Legislature.

I was concerned by the fact that upon the decision being rendered by His Lordship, Mr. Justice Leo Barry, that the government opposite and members opposite had not taken into account the very decision that was in fact made by Judge Barry. What was the contingency plan is the question that I ask myself Mr. Speaker, and I had concerns as to this whole idea of a second referendum being a way out as apposed to dealing with the real issues and the questions and concerns that were raised by Mr. Justice Barry in his decision.

I was concerned about what I would term the needless division of our Newfoundland people. It is true that the vote is overwhelming and I support the decision obviously of the vast majority of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, but it is also true Mr. Speaker, that some 55,000 Newfoundlanders and Labradorians forty-eight hours ago voted No. This is a significant number, a significant statistic and proves the point that the whole referendum process, as overwhelming as the outcome indeed was, was nevertheless a divisive and as I termed throughout the referendum debate, perhaps a needless exercise.

The timing, Mr. Speaker. It has been heard by those individuals who indicated concern with the process, the timing, in the middle of summer when many individuals are thinking of anything but routine, anything but school, that is when Newfoundlanders were plunged into this debate, a time when the last thing on most peoples minds was how do we deal with what is in the best interest of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians from an educational point of view. It was suggested by many individuals, and I would suggest even many proponents of the Yes campaign, that perhaps one alternative that could have been adopted by government was this whole notion of a reference to a Supreme Court, so that a judicial opinion could be rendered with respect to how this term will indeed stand up, if in fact it is challenged down the road. Which, of course, always remains a possibility.

The government was armed and surrounded by legal advisors, well-known legal advisors, but it must be remembered that this is only a legal opinion. On any point, as I'm sure the Minister of Finance and Treasury Board or my colleague here the Member for Signal Hill - Quidi Vidi will know, we can all, upon request, render a legal opinion. The ultimate decision maker is the court, which will take into account a variety of legal opinions in the formation and conclusion of its answer.

A question that has to be asked as well, Mr. Speaker, and it is a question which I sincerely hope will be answered soon by the Premier and by his Minister of Education, is: What changes for the better in the classroom will result as a result of the process which we have just undergone and experienced in our Province? What assurances do we have, as Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, that our system will improve, that the children within our classrooms will in fact receive a better education?

It is fine to say that in the final analysis the churches are no longer responsible for the administration and governance of our schools. However, the real question is: How will our children in our larger schools in our urban centres to our smallest schools in our most rural communities, how will the children in those classrooms in those schools in fact be better educated and be graduates who can go out into the real world much better prepared and much more equipped? That is the real question.

A final question that I asked throughout my deliberations as to how I would vote on referendum day was: Will September 2, referendum day, be in fact the end of the debate, or just the beginning? There is nobody in this Legislature who can answer that question. We have some signs, I believe, that there are groups and individuals who will pursue this matter, but in the long term we have no way of knowing right now, as individual legislators, whether or not we have concluded this process, or will in fact there be more. Will there be challenges? Will there be difficulty in Ottawa?

The people of St. John's East, the district that I represent, chose the Yes side at some 69 per cent. That is decisive. I will, just for the benefit of members opposite, and perhaps even my own colleagues, list some of the schools of long history and tradition that are in my district geographically. St. Bonaventure, St. Patrick's, Holy Heart of Mary, Brother Rice, Gonzaga High School, St. Pius X Junior High and Elementary, Mary Queen of Peace, not to mention the churches, as someone just alluded to, that are in my district. It is a district, it is a part of this city, which has a very rich history and tradition. That is just one denomination, and of course there are others, many others.

Despite that history or tradition, or existence of such institutions which have had such prominence, I guess, in our community, my district voted 69 per cent. Obviously I must respect that. There is no way I can deny that.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. OTTENHEIMER: Mr. Speaker, I have to concur with the points that were made by my colleague the Leader of the Opposition when he says that we are obviously unanimous in the fact that the people of this Province have spoken.

They have spoken loudly, have spoken decisively and, as individual members, and as one individual member, I must respect the people who, in fact, chose and elected me to be their representative in this hon. House. It is as simple as that.

A question was asked of me yesterday by a member of the media, "Was it a difficult choice?" In all honesty I had to say: Not when a vote is as decisive, when over 4,000 of my constituents chose yes and less than 2,000 chose no.

My vote, as everyone knows, was a no on referendum day, but I simply state that I have to support the wishes of the majority of the very people who elected me to represent them in this hon. House.

I have some concerns, and it is perhaps my legal training and background that gives me some concerns. I am aware of cases, for example, in the Provinces of Manitoba, Ontario, British Columbia, where in a public school milieu there have been court challenges, and successful court challenges. Whether or not that transpires again, we do not know. We will just have to wait and see and hope that whatever transpires is for the betterment of our children and their education.

However, in conclusion, there is a point I would like to make. In fact, it only came to me just shortly, and it was as I looked around this House and as I took into account the wording of the resolution. It states that the Legislature of this Province shall have exclusive authority, and that religious observances shall be permitted in a school where requested by parents. And it dawned on me, Mr. Speaker, that perhaps - despite the fact that I have some concerns and reservations - perhaps we can take some consolation in the very inscription which salutes this hon. House and which sits just above the hon. Speaker, and it is Latin, "Quaerite Prime Regnum Dei", which means, when translated, "Seek Ye First The Kingdom Of God". And it is this very House which has now been entrusted to deal with educational matters, to deal with issues giving us exclusive authority to make laws in relation to education, to presumably come up with a definition of observances, and we are being guided by the very inscription that I referred to earlier. So I think that we can all - and perhaps even those who perhaps have much more concern that I have - we can all take some consolation in the fact that, as legislators, we are guided by this very inscription, and that may go a long way to help all of us in realizing that we do have control, and under this sort of guidance we may make, in fact, the proper and most appropriate choices and decisions for our children and our grandchildren for time to come.

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Government House Leader.

MR. TULK: If I could - and I don't intend to speak, this is not an attempt to speak in the debate - I think we have agreement that we will not adjourn at 5:00 p.m., that we would go to 6:00 p.m., and I would like to move that we not adjourn at 5:00 p.m. but rather adjourn at 6:00 p.m. I just ask leave to do that, without interrupting the speaker.

Motion that the House not adjourn at 5:00 p.m., carried.

MR. TULK: And that we adjourn at 6:00 p.m.

MR. SPEAKER: And that the House do adjourn at 6:00 p.m.

Motion that the House adjourn at 6:00 p.m., carried.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the Member for Placentia and St. Mary's.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPARROW: Mr. Speaker, it is a great pleasure to speak in this House this afternoon. I have listened to the Leader of the Opposition. I have listened to Mr. Harris, the Leader of the NDP. I have listened to Mr. Ottenheimer.

Our government put forth a question: Do you support a single school system where all children, regardless of their religious affiliation, attend the same schools, where opportunities for religious education and observances are provided?

This is a straightforward question, and the people of our Province of Newfoundland and Labrador gave a straightforward "yes" to that referendum question. I believe that our government took the high ground. We stated our case plainly and simply, there was no overpowering campaign to persuade our population. The government wanted the people to consider, to evaluate their options and give considered, rational resolution to this dilemma in our educational system. I think that the people have spoken and that the people now have the answer they want. The vast majority of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians want closure on this issue.

Personally, as a citizen, I voted yes on the referendum. I want a school system that prepares our children for the 21st Century; I think that the denominational system served us well in the past but I think it is now time to consolidate our efforts and give our children in every town the most resources we can so that in the future they can maximize their accomplishments. The district I represent, Placentia and St. Mary's has voted ~No' in this referendum, 8,101 people were eligible to vote on September 2nd and 3,746 people voted. There were more no's than yes's and was the only district in the Province where the `No' side outvoted the `Yes' side. I am proud to represent a district that looks at an issue and expresses its opinion. I am proud to be part of a government that has stated its case solidly in the common man's language.

In the first referendum, the people of my district voted approximately 80 per cent for the `No' side and 20 per cent for the `Yes' side. This time they voted in about the same numbers, roughly the same percentage of the eligible vote, but the trend was clearly gaining on the `Yes' side which went up from 20 per cent to 44 per cent, a little better than double. The `No' support went from a high of 80 per cent approximately, down to 56 per cent so I think that my constituents, as well as the residents of the Province want closure on this issue.

A gentleman whose opinion I value quite a lot said to me: Anthony, there is a time to lead and there is a time to follow. As an elected representative of the people, I believe that now is the time to lead. This is a time for my district to lead the Province in a spirit of reconciliation; it is a time to realize that we have fought the democratic fight and we have made our views known and that they have been counted and recognized and measured against the rest of the Province. I have given this situation very considerable thought and I have consulted with friends and colleagues and people from different political stripes in my district. I have not had a lot of time, I have had the past forty-eight hours to consult with them; should I vote `No' in the House of Assembly to reflect the vote of my district? Will I perpetuate the dissention on the education issue? What will my constituents gain? Can this one, dissenting vote retain the denominational system in Newfoundland and Labrador? The answer is no.

The system will change because the majority has voted for change. If I cannot keep the denominational system in the Province as a whole, is there someone who suggests that it can be retained in my District of Placentia - St. Mary's? The answer to that as we all know in this House is no. The system of education covers the entire length and breadth of the Province, we cannot have isolated segments anywhere, not on the Island, not in Labrador; there is nothing for my district to gain by continuing to support the `No' position. There is nothing for our Province to gain by the people in my district continuing to support their position. I believe that the reasonable, fair-minded constituents I represent, having looked at the resounding decision of the people of this Province and our position in the context of that vote, would want their representative in the House of Assembly to consider not just our riding but the greater good of Newfoundland and Labrador itself.

As that representative, I think it is in the best interests of my constituents, and the best interests of the Province, to stop the debate over denominational education right now and in my district. We should, in the spirit of reconciliation, join the rest of the Province in a yes vote here on the House floor. Let us go forward to the Parliament of Canada with a united voice to change the terms and give the people of Newfoundland and Labrador the education system they voted for Tuesday past. Let us work together for our children's benefit to make education reform work. Thank you very much.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Kilbride.

MR. E. BYRNE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

It is indeed an honour and a pleasure to rise and speak to this issue yet again. If there has been one single issue in the last four years that has dominated this Legislature more than any other, it has been the issue of educational reform. I came into the hon. House of Assembly in May 1993. Shortly thereafter negotiations began and became very heated over educational reform. Subsequently people voted in the 1995 referendum to express their concern or express their will about what reform they wished to see. In fact, what they ended up getting at the end of the day was not what they voted for, and thus the need arose, government made a decision, in terms of another referendum that would clearly put this issue to rest.

I applaud government today, because the people have spoken. An opportunity has been provided for the people of the Province to express their will on this issue. Express their will they did, in clear numbers, in overwhelming numbers, and they have said clearly this issue must be resolved and must be resolved today, for a number of reasons. Not the least of which is because of the education system that people want for their children, the type of system they wish to have to produce a better, a more qualified, and a more well-rounded person from our system.

They spoke also in loud numbers because they also recognize that this issue has wasted too much time, that there has been too much debate, that there has been too many infractions and too many people interfering with the reform process. Because there are other issues just as important for this Province to deal with. There are other issues that face us that are equally challenging, and other issues that people said: We must move on from this and deal with it.

I read the paper today and was interested to read the comments of Minister Dion who, not categorically, but indicated that he was pleased with the results and that they would analyze them more to see if minority rights - the whole notion and question of minority rights, was there a significant movement with respect to the vote that came within the Province.

I will only speak with respect to what has taken place in the District of Kilbride. Post-referendum 1995, 52 per cent of the people in Kilbride voted yes, 48 per cent voted no. While there are people of many faiths who live in my district, there is a predominant Catholic population in the District of Kilbride. Fifty-nine per cent of the people voted in 1995, and it was very close.

Almost to the number, the same amount of people voted this time, and the results were remarkably and starkly different. Sixty-nine per cent of the people in the district said yes to this type of educational reform as proposed by government. Not 52 per cent, 69 per cent. Almost the same numbers of people voting. That leaves me to conclude one thing and one thing only, that there has been a significant change amongst a certain portion of the population whose leadership believes their rights may be infringed upon. That portion of the population has said clearly: Let's deal with the issue. They have supported what government has brought forward.

There are times in any elected official's life, and this being one of them, where a choice is made on how you vote in the Legislature. I have voted on many bills in this House and made representation, some we have supported government on, some we have not, but that is what I was elected to do, but there are times when government provides an opportunity for the people of the Province to directly speak themselves, to circumvent the process of the House of Assembly and it's House of representatives, to speak directly to an issue and they have done so on this occasion. They have said clearly, let's move on and I support that today and I stand strong, as strong as possibly I can, with the people of my district in supporting government to move forward.

I want to say to the Minister of Education, because one of the points that he made is very, very important and it is the point where he said, that the system that we had was unique to the federation of Canada and it is. I would like to add this point to it, that under the terms of union with Canada, education is exclusively and primarily a provincial responsible. The people of this Province have spoken loudly and clearly and whatever it takes to move passage of the amendment of the resolution put forward by government today through the hollowed halls of Ottawa, through Parliament and through the Senate, then it should be done expeditiously.

I want to say to government that as one member, elected member in this House, that if there is any way, shape or form that I may assist in that regard to ensure that happens expeditiously, then I offer myself to that cause today.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. E. BYRNE: It must be said clearly and unequivocally that when it comes to Parliament; the elected representatives and the Senate; the unelected representatives, that we must all stand together and say clearly that education is a provincial responsibility. The people of the Province have spoken overwhelming about what their opinion is and what type of system they wish to have for their children and that unto itself should be enough and that should be respected. In any thinking fair mined individual, in any thinking politician who does not see that and look at the overwhelming will as expressed through the referendum on this particular issue, certainly should take some time to reflect on what he or she is thinking about, that would be my advice to any individual in that regard.

Besides the entire issue of reform, we have an opportunity to put this issue to bed because all of us in this House know full well that we must at least and we have an obligation to turn our attention to other issues that are equally or of more importance to the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador, namely what about the chronic unemployment situation that faces our rural communities? What time and energy has the debate on education reform taken away from that very issue? Namely on what type of health care services we wish to provide to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador who are in need of those services day after day, week after week, month after month and what type of energy, resources both financial and human, on this debate has taken away from our ability to focus clearly on that type of issue.

Mr. Speaker, there are many issues other than education reform that are as equally or more important to the people of this Province and must be addressed right now. What will the fishery of the future be? How many rural communities will be able to survive and sustain themselves based upon that fishery? Those are the issues that we must turn our attention to now, and the sooner that we deal with the issue, move it through the House of Parliament, move it through the Senate and begin the reform process, the sooner all of us in this Legislature will be able to turn our attention to the other issues that are as equally or more important to the people of the Province. I believe that they, and they meaning the people of the Province, have expressed that themselves when they have voted overwhelming seventy-three per cent to say to the elected members of this House and government on this issue, enough is enough, let's deal with it, let's move on, there are other things that we wish to talk about.

With that Mr. Speaker, I will conclude by saying that I certainly vote yes to the resolution. I support what the people of Kilbride have expressed in their majority will through the referendum. I urge each and every member to do whatever is necessary within their ability to ensure speedy passage of this resolution to ensure that this Legislature now can move on, not only with this issue of educational reform but with other issues that equally are challenging to the people of the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Baie Verte.

MR. SHELLEY: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.

I am certainly going to take the opportunity here today in this Legislature, as an elected member, to have a few words but not a lot, Mr. Speaker.

I guess this whole debate, historical debate as it was alluded to earlier - from the outset, Mr. Speaker, I want to say foremost that I don't think there is a member from the first debate some four years ago, when I got involved in this Legislature, who did not want a reform of education. I think that was unanimous throughout the Province. It was unanimous throughout this Legislature. I never had it mistaken that everybody wanted reform and, Mr. Speaker, reform for the better. Now we can all talk about the process and we can dwell on that if we want and go on about the division throughout the Province and it was there, Mr. Speaker, but I think every speaker here today alluded to it already, that the first thing we have to do is respect the people. I have had them, the same as the Premier and our leader and so on, sit there in front of you and with all good intentions, Mr. Speaker, tell you why they voted no. With respect for those people and why they felt that way, after so many years, we have to respect it. I don't think there was a Yes side. I don't like to talk about a Yes side and No side. I like to talk about people in this Province who legitimately and forthright but forward their views of what they thought was right. Mr. Speaker, that is why in this House of Assembly today there is not a winner and loser around this Province. It is a group of people who live here called Newfoundlanders and Labradorians who want to see a new system of education.

I just want to make a couple of points today and the first one is this, Mr. Speaker, and the Minister of Education talked about it already, that really this is the step, this is the starting of the engine. What we are going to see down the road and what we are all going to be looking for, as elected people in this House of Assembly, is what comes out in the end.

Mr. Speaker, as far as the process went on Tuesday of this week when the amendment came down, Mr. Speaker, is what I was waiting to see. This is my personal view and the process I went through on Monday of that week when that came down. That reflected what the people of the Province were going to vote for in the question because the question was clear and it is what people wanted. There is no doubt from the vote that that is what they wanted but, Mr. Speaker, the question we all had to ask, as members in this House, was the legislation reflective of what people were voting for? That was the catch. What the shame of it is, to a certain extent for myself, is that we had three or four days to decide if that reflected it. Mr. Speaker, I could say in the House here today because no media asked me, just people from my district, some groups asked me but I was not going to talk to any groups until I talked to my district but in the three days I had from there until I arrived home in my district, I had to decide if this legislation was going to reflect what people were voting on in the Province. By Friday of that week, just three days after - and I did not have the resources of all the lawyers and so on, Mr. Speaker, but I did ask some opinions of some lawyers that I did know - and on Friday of that week as I arrived home in my district, I decided I would vote yes and I voted yes in the referendum.

Mr. Speaker, now what we have to get to is the point where this legislation takes us into the next process which is the actual reform. That is the couple of moments I wanted to take today to reflect on and I want to make two points. I want to first of all say that reform is reform for the better. It is not downsizing, it is not changing for dollars. It is so that when my kindergarten child - who is in kindergarten now - is in grade four or five, in four or five years from now, I can look at them and say you have a better system now than we did four or five years ago. That is when the proof of the pudding will come out, Mr. Speaker. I think it is unanimous in this House that everybody believes that for the child who goes into the classroom in three, four and five years from now we can honestly look up and say to them, you now have a better educational system than when we started four or five years ago. I hope, Mr. Speaker, that we can all stand in this Legislature - the ones who are fortunate enough to return here next time - to stand up and be able to say that and to say it with confidence and honesty that the educational system of today is better than then.

Mr. Speaker, now after talking about the children, which is what this whole debate was all about and a better education, without talking about religious differences and so on, I want to take another moment today to do this, Mr. Speaker, and that is to salute the teaching profession of this Province.

For too long, Mr. Speaker, they have been left out of the debate, I think we can salute them all on how they handled themselves throughout the entire debate. I know I have sat down with teachers, Mr. Speaker, in this Province who were the most uprooted profession last year and into a shambles. I was a former teacher, my wife is a teacher now, some of my best friends are teachers and I am telling you, Mr. Speaker, that that profession was in an uproar and a shambles just a few short months ago; not knowing who was going where.

As a matter of fact, Mr. Speaker, and I know the Minister of Education knows this, up to a few days ago, there were still people bumped around and moved around in their profession, not knowing where they were living, not knowing what courses they were teaching, not knowing what school they were in; so, Mr. Speaker, it is time for the government and every member in this House, to take their hats off to the teaching profession, who are the ones who have weathered this storm, of a profession that was uprooted and mangled in this last several months and we can even go into a couple of years and the way they have conducted themselves.

You know what, Mr. Speaker, after all of that, after all the upsetting emotions they have gone through not knowing where they were teaching next year, with whom they were teaching and so on, you know what? Those teachers today are in school putting together their plans and doing what is needed just for one reason, Mr. Speaker, for one reason, because they are committed to teaching our children.

Mr. Speaker, I have the utmost respect for those people who have just gone through that. Also, Mr. Speaker, for the principals in schools and I am sure other members have talked to them who sat down to try to find out which schools were opening, what they were going to do with the teachers they had coming in, how many students they had and so on, Mr. Speaker. So I want to take a couple of moments out of my few words today to make sure that we commend that profession and the NLTA for the way they handled themselves and for what they have just gone through and for being able to put that aside and to walk into their classrooms, Mr. Speaker, just a few days ago and say: Okay, we are still ready to put the children first and put ourselves on a professional level, to make sure that the best education possible under the circumstances is ready for our children. So, Mr. Speaker, those are the people whom I want to commend here today.

Mr. Speaker, I just have a couple of more things to say. As we reform - and I wish the minister was here right now but I am sure he is probably listening to me anyway - that as we reform, I want to make these points: Reform is not to downsize. Reform is to make better, it is to make the system better, and by that, Mr. Speaker, I do not mean that schools, especially in rural Newfoundland and I want to make this point today, rural Newfoundland schools and the student-teacher ratio has to be considered. Because you have small numbers, Mr. Speaker, does not mean you rape the best resource in our Province when it comes to education which, are the teachers.

It is not the computers, it is not the size of the gymnasium, it is not the colour of the paint on the wall of the classroom, it is the teacher, the teacher who reflects back to that student and as one person said to me: that is the person to whom you take your little six-year-old, five-year-old to school the first day, and passing a hand to that teacher you say: that person will mould that child for the next eleven, twelve years. That is how important it is, Mr. Speaker, and that is what we should reflect upon, that the teacher is the most important resource when it comes to education and when we start to reform and when we start to change things, keep in mind that things like music, culture, physical education, those are the subjects, Mr. Speaker, which are needed for a full-rounded educated individual in this Province or in any province.

So when we start to look at cuts and downsizing in changing things, remember that those things that sometimes people push away to one side - but you ask a student what interests them, it is not math and geography, we would like to think that, Mr. Speaker, it is not the science courses. They say they have physical education, they have sports teams, they can go to a music class; those are the things that interest them, they are young people, the same as we were in school. They need to have interest in that school. Therefore, when we change and make our reform in education, let us remember rural Newfoundland and the significance of the number of teachers there. Let us remember that things like physical education, music, culture, drama, those are the things that round off students and expose them to the different world outside as in books, science, math and so on.

So reform for the better is the only point I want to make today here and that like the rest of my colleagues and the conversations that we have had we, as elected members will do what we can to expedite this, to move it through this Legislature but then also, Mr. Speaker, with our colleagues in Ottawa, Senators, whomever it takes to move this through so that we can go on to the next stage and get into the real meat of education reform, it is what the minister mentioned already which is the curriculum and the resources in our school, so that as the child walks into a classroom next year, into a better system. That is what we did all this for, that is what the pain and the changes and the agony was all about, so let's make sure that we deliver that.

Now, Mr. Speaker, I will end by saying this, that the ball is now in the government's court. The government has just been handed the ball, it is their game now and the government has to deliver on a better education, not a different education, a better one and of all of this change and all of this agony that we have just gone through, we end up in four or five years from now or three years from now with the same system or worse, then the government has failed. So, now the ball is in their court, I wish them luck because we all for our children want to see a better education system. So, on this particular debate, different from others, where the people of the Province have spoken and spoken clearly, I support them in a hopeful, better education for our children. That is what the debate was all about, that is what it should end with, that we move on and make a better education for our children.

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER (Oldford): The hon. the Member for Cape St. Francis.

MR. J. BYRNE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I am pleased to stand in my place today to be able to speak to this resolution put forth by the government. I am wondering where I should start with respect to this situation. I think I will start when the former Premier announced that he would have a referendum on education within the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador and at that time my district was split fifty - fifty pretty well, fifty point something to forty-nine point something on the Yes side and this all started, this whole education reform from what I understand and from the previous Premier, started out to have the churches out of the governance and the administration of the schools within the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador. That is where it started from and I think the former Premier may have had good intentions, but it did not work out in his favour at that point and time and here we are two years later after completing another referendum on education reform within the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Now, Mr. Speaker, a week or so before the referendum, I made it known that I was going to vote no on referendum day and I think that I, as an individual, had that right to vote whatever way I saw fit, as a democratic right like anyone else in the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador and I let people know in a letter to the editor the reasons why I was going to vote no. I did not want to try to persuade them, to influence them in any way, shape or form, but I thought it was my responsibility as a member of the House of Assembly to let the people in my district know how I was going to vote on referendum day, but I also qualified that when I contacted the Yes side, and that did not get reported by the way in the media, but I qualified that statement at the time that I would be voting no, that I would be basically representing the views of the majority of the constituents in my district in the House of Assembly. At that time, I honestly felt that and I did not jump on the bandwagon like some members may have or felt it was the best thing to do or whatever the case may be, I honestly felt at that point in time that there would be a sixty - forty split on the Yes side in my district.

There was a show last week on television I think about the Minister of Education and his family and their different views, I did not see it, I just heard about it Mr. Speaker, but there were different views within the family. I have a sister who is a teacher, who has been teaching for over thirty years, just retired and she supported the Yes side very strongly. We basically agreed to disagree and I told her that I had my right to vote for my own reasons and I let her know those reasons, I let the public know those reasons on referendum day and we agreed to disagree on that point, but she was willing to accept that I would represent the majority view in the House of Assembly.

Now, this House of Assembly is making the first major step and had made the first major step on the actions of the Premier, I suppose, to make a constitutional amendment that is from my perspective a major amendment to the Constitution for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. Last time around, I think that many people in the Province could live with the fact that there was going to be alterations to the denominational system within the Province and they voted along those lines. This time I honestly felt that the major change that was about to take place, there would be more opposition to it, but the Premier and the government, Mr. Speaker, basically decided that there would be no funding for any of the groups. For either the Yes side or the No side; but I have a problem with that in the fact that there was funding for the Yes side because the biggest advocate of this reform and this resolution was the Premier himself, and the government of today, and they decided to spend I don't know how much money on the Yes campaign. We saw ads in the paper; we saw commercials on the television; we heard radio commercials, all in favour of the Yes side, and the No side did not have that kind of money to put into it. So be it, that is what has happened. It is water under the bridge, but I wanted to make that point known. So there was an unbalance there with respect to what was done or could be done by the opposing groups.

With all due respect to the Premier and to the government, the question that was put forward, in my mind, was fairly clear. I did have some problems with it, because when you read the question and you look at the resolution as put forward here, I do have some problems with it, but it is clear enough in my mind, I think, to be clear enough in the public's mind, that when they went to vote they understood that there would be no religious education in the schools along denominational lines. I think they understood that. At least I hope they understood that.

I had an individual call me the day after the referendum and asked me how I was going to vote in the House of Assembly, and before she told me what she was going to do, or what she wanted me to do, I told her what I had previously explained here a few minutes ago in the House of Assembly, what I would do, and she was quite pleased with that. `But', she said, `there will be religious education in the schools along the integrated system, like the integrated school system had previous to the referendum'. I said: No, madam, you are incorrect there. There will be a religious education course, a very general course, that will teach people about the different religions of the world, but it will not be along denominational lines; and she was quite taken aback by that. So, really, maybe down the road when people realize that they are getting a strictly public school system, there may be some backlash on this. I genuinely hope not. I hope that we will move forward now. This has been beaten to death over the past few years, education reform. The Member for Kilbride mentioned that it is time to get on to the new issues, not potentially more important issues but equally important issues in the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador.

I had a problem with respect to this referendum, to be quite honest. One of the major concerns I had was that when this all started it was to be for a better education, for a quality education, and the money was to be put back into the classroom. But last year, after the first referendum, the Minister of Education and the Minister of Finance, and I believe the Premier, stood in this House and said that the money, the savings that they were going to have in education would not be going back into the classroom. Now if that was the case this whole argument about education reform, to my mind, was out the window. If it was not going to address the quality of education within the classrooms of the Province, what was it all for, Mr. Speaker?

Again, I think that was generally known throughout the Province when we had the referendum on September 2, and the people decided, 73 per cent, to vote for the Yes side of this question.

Another point that needs to be made is that basically 73 per cent of the people who voted, voted in favour. That is a great majority. I know one thing; if I was running an election in the Province and I had 73 per cent of the vote I would be quite willing to accept that and accept my seat in the House of Assembly. But, in actual fact, it is 73 per cent of 53 per cent. It works out to somewhere around 38 per cent of the population who voted yes. So 38 per cent of the people in this Province actually voted yes.

The argument on the other side of the coin with respect to that is that people had the opportunity to get out to vote. It was well publicized across the Province, on radio, on television and in the newspapers. So they had the opportunity to get out and vote but they did not. So you have to question that but the majority of the people who voted, voted in favour.

In my district, Mr. Speaker, 63 per cent voted yes and I have to respect that. I have my views and as I said earlier, if I got 63 per cent on Election Day I would accept it but 63 per cent, I have to say, Mr. Speaker, is quite decisive. I will be voting yes when the question is put here in the House of Assembly with respect to this referendum. I will be representing the majority of you.

Mr. Speaker, the Premier stood in his place today and spoke quite eloquently on this issue, as he does on many issues that he speaks about. He speaks quite eloquently. I sincerely hope that the statements he has made, what he has been saying right on through since this started back in August, will come to pass. If not, Mr. Speaker, this whole exercise will be an effort in futility. I sincerely hope what he is says will come to pass.

Now, Mr. Speaker, with respect to the new education system that will occur in this Province. In the resolution it says here, "Religious observances shall be permitted in a school where requested by parents." Now a number of people brought that up to my attention and I had problems with that. Some of the concerns they had was, what are the observances going to be? What observances are we talking about? Are they talking about religious observances for all religions? What complications will come forward from that? Another point was made, "requested by parents." "Religious observances shall be permitted in a school where requested by parents." Are we talking about 5 per cent of the parents, 10 per cent of the parents, 50 per cent, 80 per cent? That is something I don't think was put forward by anyone during the debate and that was one of the concerns that I had. We were still voting on an unknown, Mr. Speaker.

With respect to religious education along denominational lines, Mr. Speaker. I came up through a system where we had religious education in the classroom and I have to say, looking back on it, it did not hurt me, from my perspective. From any stretch of the imagination it did not hurt me but I was noticing, Mr. Speaker, that during the debate leading up to referendum day of September 2, all of us I suppose were trying to get a feel for what was going on in the Province and listened to what was happening in our districts. One way of doing that of course was reading the letters to the editor or listening to the open line shows. I was very concerned with respect to the feeling that was coming out there, that divisive feeling and some of the language that was being used was becoming very strong. I think the Premier kind of alluded to it today. I have to compliment him on it, Mr. Speaker, in that now that the decision is made we have to work together to pull people back together, to come back together. We have to work in the future to bring people back together and not try to pull it apart again.

Now on the night of the referendum I saw the Premier and the Minister of Education stand here in front of this House of Assembly with the doors open, Mr. Speaker, and make his speech. The Premier made his speech and put it right back in the ball court or the churches ball court by asking them, at that very time - when we just had 73 per cent to a 27 per cent - he put it back in their court and he asked them to do something that I don't know if they could, even if they wanted to. I don't know if they could have done it, Mr. Speaker, to basically forget the elections for the school boards along the denominational lines. I don't know if they could do it legally, maybe they can. Also, Mr. Speaker, if they did agree to it they are automatically saying what is happening, we accept it and maybe they should accept it but he was asking them to accept it right up front. I think it was a bit much, a bit too soon. So I think that - it remains to be seen what the churches will do on that line but I think it was a bit too much, a bit too fast from a personal point of view.

Now, I could understand maybe that he was trying to expedite and get this through as quickly as possible and cover all the bases and what have you, but I think you have to give people time to heal. When it is a major issue that strikes so close to their heart and is so emotional, you know, sometimes it is just as good to step back and say: Let's take a little bit of time.

I'm here trying to put forward a case that we have to move on, be optimistic, and what have you. We have just had a referendum. From what I understand, a referendum is not really legally binding, I suppose, or it doesn't give us the legal authority to do something here in this House of Assembly. It certainly does give us the moral authority to move forward, I think, when you look at a 73 per cent majority vote on referendum day. It certainly gives us the authority to move forward with the actions that were being promoted by the Premier of the Province and the Minister of Education. They were successful in putting forward their case, and the people of the Province certainly accepted that.

When I was going through the results here, some of the districts in this Province went up to 85 per cent, 89 per cent, on the Yes side, and some down as low as 50-50, and there was only one district here in the Province that went No. The member for that district was on his feet today saying he will be voting yes in the House of Assembly. Personally speaking, I wouldn't want to be in his shoes, to be quite honest with you. He is doing what he believes is right, I would assume. I'm doing what I believe is right. I'm voting with the constituents even though it is in opposition to what I had voted for on referendum day.

I suppose we can go on and on and on on this issue. I have a point I want to make. I was home on I think it was Sunday afternoon, and I received a phone call from a war veteran who lives in the town I live in, a very well-respected man. He was really quite upset. He wasn't so upset that - you know, he could understand, I suppose, where the Premier was coming from, and trying to promote what he was trying to do and have the referendum and change the education system in the Province, and to go from a denominational system to a public school system. I don't think he agreed with it, but he could understand. What he did have a problem with - and he asked me to mention this in the House of Assembly, so I'm doing it. He asked me to put forward his views with respect to what had happened during the process.

In all elections, when I run for the House of Assembly, and we all do it, we have our groups together, we have our campaign workers, and we make contact with individuals trying to identify what way they are going to vote so we can get those people out on election day. I think this was a little bit different. This man, who is a veteran - I would imagine he is in his seventies now -, got a call from a certain individual from the Yes campaign. He told me that he really got upset, that he really gave him a blast. I asked why would that be? Because basically (inaudible) trying to identify where we are coming from. We do that in elections. He said he had no problem whatsoever from a group contacting him and saying: Listen, can you tell us are you going to vote? Can we encourage you to get out to vote on referendum day? Do you understand the issues? Do you need information? But they asked him what way he was going to vote.

That really got his back up, and he picked up the phone and phoned me. Being a veteran he said to me: You know, Jack, I fought in the war, and I fought for our rights, for our religious rights, and for our democratic rights, and I don't think anybody has a right to ask me what way I'm going to vote. That isn't anybody's business.

I'm just relaying that story to you because I agreed with the individual who had spoken to me. I agreed with him, by the way, on that issue. I agree with him on that, that they don't have the right to ask him what way he is going to vote. I think on Election Day, general elections, when people are running for the House of Assembly and federally, you might phone up and ask: Could we count on your support? The person will say yes or no. But to ask the individual: Are you going to vote yes on referendum day or no, I think he felt it went too far, and so be it. I just wanted to bring that to your attention.

Mr. Speaker, I don't know how much time I have left. How much time do I have left?

AN HON. MEMBER: Keep going.

MR. J. BYRNE: Mr. Speaker, this is a very serious issue, an amendment to the constitution, as I have stated earlier. I see again members on this side of the House getting up, one after the other, speaking on what they believe in, and putting forth their case, but on the other side of the House again, as usual, on most resolutions that go through the House of Assembly, we see very few members getting up to speak. We had the Premier get up, we had the Minister of Education get up, and one other, I believe.

We, as a group -

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. J. BYRNE: A lot has been said, but this has not been said, I say to the Member for Topsail. The legal beagle from Topsail is at it again, Mr. Speaker.

Our party, when this all started - and the media had portrayed us as being divided, that we did not know where we were going - when this all began, we came out with five conditions, and if the government could meet those conditions then we could support this Yes side from day one, and we had agreed upon that. Then, all of a sudden, the government could not meet those conditions and, being a democratic group, a democratic party - and the Leader of the Opposition referred to it today - he allowed us to go with our conscience, and rightly so, because an issue that is so close to people's hearts, when they get so emotional on this particular issue, I think we have the right to do that.

On the other side of the House - I almost forgot to bring this up - from day one the Premier made a statement that there is unanimity on this issue on this side of the House, and great. Someone referred to it today, that maybe that helped the people of the Province vote 73 per cent in favour of this referendum. Good stuff. But I will tell you right now that I had members on that side of the House tell me that I should be more vocal on what I was saying in the media.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. J. BYRNE: You would not want me to name them. I would not ask, if I were you. I do not want to embarrass anybody on that side of the House, but they asked me to actually get on the open lines and be more vocal because of the points I was making at that time; but that is water under the bridge.

As I said, on September 2, the people of the Province had a clear question, I suppose as clear as it could be. They voted overwhelmingly in favour of the Yes side. I just wanted to put it out there that everything is not - how will I put it - as it is perceived to be sometimes. Sometimes what is going on behind the scenes... It is like -

AN HON. MEMBER: The unanimity the Premier talked (inaudible).

MR. J. BYRNE: Yes, the unanimity the Premier talked about, but sometimes everything seems nice and tranquil. It is like the duck on the pond, Mr. Speaker. The duck on the pond is moving along like that, nice and calm and smooth, but underneath he is paddling (inaudible), and going like that, moving quite quickly; so everything is not as perceived. That is what was going on over there when you had members coming to us.

As I said, it is all water under the bridge. We have a situation now where we had our referendum on September 2. The people had the opportunity to get out and vote. They did that.

Someone on the other side of the House has said that -

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. J. BYRNE: It is a good speech, but I will tell you right now it may be or it may not be. Only history will tell that. But I will tell you one thing: it is not prepared, like some people who got up and read their speeches - I will not refer to anybody in particular - being very careful in what they were going to say.

AN HON. MEMBER: Written up in the Premier's office.

MR. J. BYRNE: God knows who wrote it, but it was done. As I said earlier, I am not here to judge. To each his own.

I have just one further comment on something on which the Member for St. John's East was commenting, and that is all the different schools within his district. Oh, I just thought on something else. How much time do I have left, Mr. Speaker?

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. J. BYRNE: With respect to the different schools within the district, now all of these little schools, I assume, will be getting new names once all this happens. I still don't understand the big rush, because what is happening today will not affect this school year, anyway.

I would like the Minister of Education to listen to this: Two years ago, actually four years ago, I went to Pouch Cove where there are two schools in Pouch Cove, Mr. Speaker, Pouch Cove Elementary and St. Agnes. Now, the parents down there have been fighting for years and years and years to get a new school down there from K to Grade VIII; we thought it was a done deal this year. I spoke to the minister on it, we had all kinds of meetings, I met with all the people involved before, we met with the Avalon Consolidated Board, the RC Board, the DEC, all the different groups involved, with the parents of both schools, PTAs, the teachers, it was all agreed upon, Mr. Speaker. What the government wanted to do was already a prime example here to move along and show the people of the Province, this is what can be done. It is happening in other areas now, Mr. Speaker, I know, but this was a new one that could happen, put it out there and it was $3 million for a new school; everybody agrees with it.

After the referendum last year, when they had the designation of the schools and what have you, the election, I won't get into that, the undemocratic process that was followed there with respect to the elections, Mr. Speaker, votes being counted that were not even cast but, in the Pouch Cove area, we had everybody along side, everything done, everything hunky-dory and there was money being set aside for it, $3 million. We had $40 million, Mr. Speaker, spent this year I think. I should not get into the politics, I am not here for that, I am not in to that, I will save that for another day. I will get back to the school in Pouch Cove.

The school in Pouch Cove which we were hoping to be constructed, parents' working on it for ten years, the minister agrees that it is desperately needed; the construction board agrees that it is desperately needed. I met with the Deputy Minister of Education and we jumped through every hoop that was put in front of us, Mr. Speaker, and when they came down with the announcements, this new school was not announced this year because, they said, the two boards that were there, now did not have the authority to close the Pouch Cove Elementary and St. Agnes. Could you believe that now, Mr. Speaker? They did not have the authority to close the schools when they already agreed to it. Now, Mr. Speaker, we are still working on it, we are still trying to get permission to build that new school. The minister even told me earlier the year that he felt for sure it was going to be constructed this year but no, why?

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. J. BYRNE: He told me to go for half-an-hour.

Anyway, Mr. Speaker, back to the referendum.

I want to let the people know here, Mr. Speaker, in this House of Assembly, in the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador and particularly in my district, I voted No on referendum day, but when it comes to the vote in the House of Assembly, because on referendum day it was 63 per cent very decisive in my district, I will be voting Yes when the vote comes here in the House of Assembly. Thank you.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Conception Bay South.

MR. FRENCH: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I would like to take a few minutes today to talk about education reform and of course, I do not think it was any secret where I was on this issue. I told the people in my district that I would respect their wishes; I would not say publicly what way I was voting and I did not, but it was no secret that I voted Yes in the previous referendum and voted Yes in this referendum as well.

I guess, as I listened today to most of the speakers on both sides of the House, I take a small bit of exception to one statement the Premier made when he said that this is not about winning; but I feel it is about winning, Mr. Speaker. I think it is about winning for the children of Newfoundland and Labrador, not for me not for you but for the children of this Province. I think we have done and I am sure he did and I think in the context that he said it was about winning on which side and I do not really think that was the issue.

The winners in this have to be the children of this Province, that is why I voted Yes, Mr. Speaker, that is why I will vote Yes when the time comes to vote in this House. I think it is time that we got on with reform in this Province, we should have done what we are going to do again hopefully on tomorrow, we should have done a long, long time ago. I guess, Mr. Speaker, if there had not been some back-room deals during the last provincial election then just maybe we would not be in the situation that we are in today, when members from certain denomination came into our caucus and said how they had deals cooked and so on and that to me I found to be very, very offensive and I really did not think that that is what we were all about for education reform.

I look in my own district and I see schools such as Queen Elizabeth Regional High School and Holy Spirit High School and I sit back and I wonder and I say to myself, if we just had one, what would we really have? How much money could we have taken and put into one school and what advantages we probably and I am sure the member from Topsail will agree with this, what advantages we could have given to our children in our district? When I look at a subdivision in Kelligrews that had four school buses stopping in the morning and one of them, a sixty passenger school bus coming into St. John's with maybe fifteen or twenty people on it, then there is something wrong.

I say to the Minister of Education that we do not always agree with what he has done, but I think in this case of going to the people of this Province to look for a vote and in my district the vote was in excess of seventy-six per cent and in doing that, I think once and for all we will settle this issue. The referendum was on Tuesday, on Wednesday morning I wrote the conservative members from Newfoundland in the federal government and I asked them to not delay the process of our bill going before the House of Commons.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. FRENCH: I also wrote every senator from this Province and I wrote the hon. Jean Charést and asked him to ask his party and the members of our party in the Senate not to delay this particular vote -

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. FRENCH: - and as a person who does not have a lot of love for the Senate anyway, the quicker we do away with it the better this member will feel.

I am glad today that our national leader came out and supported the position of the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. I think we voted wisely and I said earlier, the only people in this Province who are going to come out winners in this are going to be the educators. I hope that it is does not mean a loss of jobs to a lot of our teachers because a lot of them I know for this year was quite a trying time and I guess for a lot of parents and for some who have called me, I say to the Minister of Education over the last day or so about children who are mentally challenged, who have to go on a school bus and because of how late they were in getting this done, I hope that that never happens again and that we never allow it to happen again in this Province.

So, tomorrow morning hopefully when we get around to voting, this member here from the District of Conception Bay South will be voting yes.

Thank you.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for St. John's South.

MR. OSBORNE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I guess the people have spoken very loud and very clearly. The vote was seventy-three per cent; there is no denying the fact that the people of our Province want reform in the education system. There is no question about the fact that the people of our Province want a single school system and I agree with that. The people of our Province want teachers hired based on qualifications and I agree with that. The people of our Province want the best education for the children of our Province. Mr. Speaker, I agree with that.

There are a couple of items that I have to question. I did send a letter to the Minister of Education and I anticipate a reply to that very soon. The question was very clear, it was very clear as apposed to the previous referendum in which there was much confusion around the question and I commend the Premier on the clarity of the question. The Term 17 amendment does leave some questions however, there are some questions regarding Term 17, the new amendment, 17(3) for example: "Religious observances shall be permitted in a school where requested by parents."

That was the topic of my letter to the Minister of Education, Mr. Speaker. The questions I asked the minister basically were: How many parents would need to request an observance in order for that observance to be granted? What body would decide what observances would be permitted in school and what observances would not? What boundaries will we set on what type of observances will be permitted? Will all observances that are requested be permitted? Basically, if an observance is requested, and a parent or a group of parents object to that particular observance, will that observance still be permitted, and who will decide whether or not that observance will be permitted?

I think these are fundamental questions that have to be answered. We have to put forth some clear guidelines to ensure that next year or a year down the road, or five years down the road, when there is a challenge to a particular observance, that there is very little confusion as to what guidelines and what boundaries are put in place to follow what observances will be permitted and what observances will not be permitted. Will the principal, will the school boards, will the parents, or will the Legislature, decide what observances are acceptable and what observances are not?

I went through the Catholic school system, and I had no problem going through the Catholic school system. I can't comment on the Integrated school system because I have no experience of what the Integrated school system was like or what it had to offer. The Catholic school system I think did provide a good education, but this is a time for change, and I think change is needed. I think that neighbours, children who play together, and children who are attending the same functions, sporting functions, and on the same sporting teams and so on, should be permitted to attend the same schools together. The idea of two children who live next door to each other and one child going in an easterly direction, and one child going in a westerly direction, to attend school I think should be long past.

There are some other concerns that will be brought to the forefront as we go through the reform process, and that is the question of school closures. We have seen in the past demonstrations and a number of parents objecting to the closure of schools in their communities. While the vote was very clear, and while the result was very clear, that people want change, I think that people still have some reservations about schools closing in their areas, and about the type of religious education that will be offered in schools.

There are still a strong number of parents who would like to see denominational religious courses taught in schools. That leads to another question. If in a particular area where a particular denomination is very high in number, makes up a very large part of the population of a particular community, and the parents in that community request denominational religious education, as opposed to a general religious education, will that denominational religious education be permitted?

We have been told by the minister that it will not. It will not be provided by government. However, if the particular denomination, if the church in that community or if parents in that community are prepared to help fund a denominational education during school hours, we as legislators have a responsibility to look at their request and to consider their request, as opposed to just closing the door on it and I think that is another concern that should be brought out and should be answered by the Education minister.

We have seen, through the last thirty days, neighbourhood pitted against neighbourhood, religion pitted against religion and I think that that is an issue that we as legislators have to act very quickly upon and move to ensure that the different denominations in our Province are not at odds with each other, are not fighting with each other. I realize that the whole purpose of reforming the education system, in the manner that we are doing it, hopefully will eliminate prejudice between religions or bigotry between religions but the stark reality, Mr. Speaker, is that through the course of the education reform debate there have been some bigotries brought out, that there have been religion pitted against religion and we have to ensure that that does not become a problem. We have to ensure that one religion is at peace with another religion and that neighbourhoods are at peace with each other.

Mr. Speaker, the whole idea of reforming the education system is to ensure that children who are of different denominations can attend school together, that there is no bigotry. Unfortunately, the process that we just went through, the nature of the process - the Yes side fighting the No side - has brought to light some bigotry that has long been buried in this Province and I hope that that does not grow or does not linger on, Mr. Speaker. I hope that the communities throughout the Province and the people throughout the Province will accept education reform and learn to be comfortable with the education reform and children of different denominations attending school together.

In my district, Mr. Speaker, the people have voted 68 per cent in favour and that gives me a very clear mandate, Mr. Speaker, to accept how the people have voted in my district. It gives me a very clear mandate to represent the people of whom I have been elected to represent. Mr. Speaker, in the House tomorrow I will be voting for education reform and I will acknowledge and respect the wishes of the people in my district. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Bonavista South.

MR. FITZGERALD: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I rise today to say a few words in this debate that is taking place here in the House today on education reform and the referendum that has just been held here in our Province.

Some of the expressions that have been put forward by members on both sides of the House is all strange to me, something that I have never experienced, Mr. Speaker, because I grew up in an area where we have had an inter-denominational system for most of my adult years. It did start out to be a denominational school system but some thirty years ago, at least thirty years ago we went from a denominational system to an inter-denominational system. I did not see any big changes and I did not see anything earth shattering or anything that changed my way of thinking in the things that I wanted to do or was an impedance on the subjects that I wanted to take or the things that I wanted to learn, after witnessing both systems. Obviously referendums are divisive and this one has been no different. That is the reason why you have a referendum, I say to members opposite, because there is not a clear indication of what people want. When you go out and one side lines up with the other side, that is to be expected and this referendum was not much different from that.

When Judge Barry rendered his decision some time back, Mr. Speaker, a lot of parents went back to government and said we want our schools open now and government responded to that because probably some of the schools should have remained open, maybe they should have remained open.

In my district there was one school closed, but it closed because it was the right thing for it to do. That is the reason it closed. There was not one phone call that came to my office that suggested we reopen that particular school. There was not one phone call that came before the school was designated for closure, saying that the school should not close.

Mr. Speaker, the calls that I get are from people looking for a job. The calls that I get are from people looking for a place to go and support their families so they will not have to leave this Province to go to Alberta, or to go to some other country to go to work. That is what is happening in rural Newfoundland and Labrador today. As important as education reform is, there is one bigger issue and that is employment.

It was only the other day it kind of struck home to me. I went to a wedding in my district, and somewhere during the procession there was a time for reading messages. One time you heard the messages read and they would be messages from Buchans or from Corner Brook, or from St. John's, from the employment areas of the Province. I sat back and listened to the messages being read to the bride and groom, and they came from Korea, from New Zealand, from Fort McMurray, from places all over not within our country but globally as well. That told me something, and most of the people were young people. Most of the people were people who are graduating from our schools, unable to find a job, and have to leave this Province, or leave this country in some cases, in order to support their families or to make a living. That is the big issue that is facing this Province today.

The Premier, in his speech, mentioned something to the fact that this referendum was not about money, not about saving money. Well, I suggest to the Premier that it is about saving money, and hopefully this money will go back into the school system.

I suggest to the minister that the first place and the first thing that he might look at is the busing of our school children in this Province. The first thing he should look at is the criteria that government has set whereby they allow school buses which are fourteen years old to operate on the highways of this Province. It is disgraceful, I say to members opposite, disgraceful.

How many people sitting in this House of Assembly drive a fourteen-year-old car? I say to the Government House Leader: How many people in this House of Assembly drive a fourteen-year-old car? I suggest there would not be one.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible) antique.

MR. FITZGERALD: If you are, then you probably have it for an antique.

I suggest that there is not one person in this House who drives a fourteen-year-old vehicle and depends on it for prime transportation - there is not one - but you are allowed to go and put sixty-nine or seventy-two children on a bus, and put them on the Trans-Canada Highway and bus them in excess of twenty-five and thirty miles one way to school in a fourteen-year-old bus; an accident waiting to happen.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. FITZGERALD: I say to the minister, if she has a fifteen-year-old car it is not what she uses for prime transportation.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. FITZGERALD: Well, if it is then you are the only one, I would say.

Mr. Speaker, this should not be allowed to happen.

There is a school in my district right now - well, it is probably corrected now, but last year was infested by rats.


MR. FITZGERALD: It was infested by rats. The rat bait was put out. The rodents got up underneath the school and, naturally, after awhile there was an odour created. And the workers, the employees of the school board, would not crawl up underneath the particular classroom in fear that it might collapse on them. Instead, what they did was go into the classroom and cut holes in the floor so they could get down to where the smells were located. So if we are going to be talking about school reform, and the minister is going to stick out his chest and talk about three schools that are being built down in Labrador this year, then I suggest he look a little further. I suggest he look a little further, because there is certainly a great need in the education system in this Province today to address a lot of needs, and to give people in rural areas a chance to be able to get an education comparable, Mr. Speaker, with the education that is being put forward and offered in some of the urban areas of this Province.

People in rural areas are certainly disadvantaged. I spoke about the people in my district coming out to vote, 38 per cent. Thirty-eight per cent of the people of Bonavista South voted. Not a high number. Seventy-eight per cent of that 38 per cent voted in favour of school reform, voted yes on the question as put forward by government. That is a big change from the question that was put forward back in 1995 where my district voted no. At that particular time I stood in this House and I voted with my constituents. I will be doing the same thing this time around.

I say to the minister that Newfoundland is a have-not province, and we certainly have a lot of have-not families. We have people going to school in this Province hungry, we have children going to school hungry. In fact, the latest statistic shows where one out of every four children in this Province today goes to school hungry. We have children who are going to school with disabilities. We have children going to school who are very gifted. We have children going to school without the proper clothing.

Those are the issues that need to be addressed. If we are going to bring about reform, let's look a little further than the churches. Let's not blame it all on the denominational school system. Because I will tell you, they are certainly not to blame. Nobody will argue with the points that were made whereby teachers should be hired or fired on the basis of their qualifications. Nobody will argue with the other changes that government put forward that needed to be done in order to reform school. But a lot of this was taking place anyway. A lot of that was happening anyway. It isn't the same as turning off a light switch and today you have light and tomorrow it is darkness. It is a little different from that.

We were in the mode of school reform for years, and I think eventually reform would have taken place. It isn't the churches fault if we spend five hours a day in school. It isn't the churches' fault if we have probably, I don't know, what is it, one hundred and something school days a year.

MR. SULLIVAN: One hundred and ninety official days, (inaudible).

MR. FITZGERALD: One hundred and ninety officially, the Leader of the Opposition tells me. That isn't the churches' fault. The church doesn't set curriculum, the church doesn't set the rules and regulations, Mr. Speaker. It is the minister's fault, it is the government's fault, I say to members opposite. There are a lot of inequities in our school system today, and we can't go pointing fingers and blame it on the churches.

What we did do with this referendum is we spent $2 million of taxpayers' money while we are experiencing, I would suggest, in excess of 40 per cent unemployment in our young people out there today. That is what we did. We shift the attention from the people today who can't find a job, from the high unemployment levels, to have somebody concentrate on getting out to the polls and going forward and casting a vote for education reform. Something that was taking place all the time.

However, it did happen. We did spend $2 million. People have spoken. They have spoken loudly and clearly. The last chapter is not written to school reform. It is only beginning now. It is up to government to decide what the curriculum will be, what schools will open, what schools will close, what children will be expected to attend what school. There is certainly lots of work to be done. I would call on everybody, now that the decision is made, the Pentecostal religion, the Roman Catholic religion, the United Church, everybody, to come together and work together, and that we might try to make this reform work. Hopefully the children of this Province, Newfoundland and Labrador, that those people will be the benefactors.

I say to the minister to look at the busing situation, because it is a disaster waiting to happen. One of those days you are going to see a massacre on our highways, I say to members opposite. You are going to see a massacre on our highways, I say to the members opposite, by transporting children in those buses held together with hay wire in order to get them by the one school year because the government only goes and puts out a contract for something like two years with an option for another two years. They cannot afford to go out and buy a new bus. They cannot afford to go out and spend a lot of money on bus transportation because their contract will not allow them to do that and there contractor will not give them a contract that will allow them to be able to look forward enough to be able to go and invest wisely in making sure that those buses are safe.

MR. SULLIVAN: (Inaudible).

MR. FITZGERALD: In fact, there is one school system in the Province today and it is a vested school board which looks after the district the I represent, responsible for education in that district, is about to hire their own school bus inspector and I compliment them for that. They have seen fit and they recognize the need whereby now they are going out and they are advertising to hire their own school bus inspector. Mr. Speaker, that shows a responsible school board responding to a need that government should be responding to and can very well address.

Mr. Speaker, I will be voting yes, when the time comes to stand in my place and I understand the Government House Leader is very eager to close the House and go home and get something to eat. So, with that I will adjourn debate until tomorrow morning and hopefully the vote will take place and we can get this government on doing the things that need to be done and not only looking after school reform, but creating employment opportunities and creating investment in this Province as well.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Government House Leader.

MR. TULK: Mr. Speaker, before I move that the House adjourn, I think we could have finished this evening before 6:00 p.m., but I think the Opposition House Leader wanted to deliver some more body blows to us tomorrow in Question Period so I am going to accommodate him to do that.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. TULK: I have a big body, you have that right and I will tell the hon. gentlemen now, unless he changes his style I am going to be over here with this body for a long, long time.

Mr. Speaker, I move that the House adjourn until tomorrow at 9:00 a.m. and that the question hopefully will get put tomorrow.

I move that the House do now adjourn.

On motion, the House at its rising adjourned until tomorrow, September 5, 1997 at 9:00 a.m.