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July 31, 1997
(Executive Council)

Premier Tobin announces referendum on education reform

Premier Brian Tobin, in a province-wide address on radio and television tonight, announced there will be a referendum on reform Tuesday, September 2, 1997.

The Premier said: "I believe the time has come to end the confusion and chaos that has gripped our education system over the last five years...I believe it's time to recognize that we cannot maintain our commitment to achieving the education reform necessary to shape our future, if we continue to tie that reform to the denominational system of education that shaped our past...In fact, we have in place today in this province, as a result of a court injunction, which was sought and received by the churches, a system of education where the decisions of all of our school boards are subject to the approval or disapproval of two denominational representatives."

Premier Tobin said the time has come to protect the rights of the most important group in education - our children. "I believe it's our children who must be given a full opportunity in 1997 to live together and to learn together. In fact that simple, but yet so desirable, objective cannot be fulfilled if the denominational rights which exist today, continue into the future."

"I believe it's time to hire our teachers because they're competent, caring and committed to our children, not because of their religion. I believe it's time to elect our school board members because they will exercise their best judgement on behalf of all of us, not just on behalf of some of us...The government is prepared to take decisive and swift action to bring about a new education system for our province. I can assure we have the will to act, we have the desire to act, but we require the authority to act."

The government is seeking a mandate from the people to end separation of children, to end the denominational school system, to eliminate Term 17 as it is currently drafted, and to create a new single school system where all children, regardless of their religion, attend the same schools. This new system would include provision for religious education and observances.

The people of the province will be asked a simple, straight-forward question on referendum day, September 2, as follows:

"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?"

Premier Tobin said: "Let there be no doubt what government is proposing. It means nothing less than the removal of the churches from the governing of the schools. It would mean the existing Term 17, which sets out denominational rights in the constitution, would be completely replaced. A new term, making the legislature responsible for the administration of schools and giving students the opportunity for religious education and observances, will be passed."

Contact: Heidi Bonnell, Office of the Premier, (709) 729-3564, or Carl Cooper, (709) 729-5040.




  • In 1992, the Williams' Royal Commission recommended the reorganization of the primary, elementary, and secondary education system in Newfoundland and Labrador to permit government to administer the system in an efficient manner. The Commission proposed the creation of a single interdenominational school system encompassing the four separate denominational systems currently in operation.

  • Shortly after receiving the Commission's report, government entered into negotiations with representatives of the denominations involved. After nearly three years of discussions, government and the denominational representatives were not successful in reaching agreement on a restructured school system. In the Fall of 1995, Government sought the approval of the people, in a referendum, to amend Term 17 of the Terms of Union of Newfoundland with Canada, in order to proceed with the restructuring plans.



In the five years since the submission of the Report of the Royal Commission on Education "Our Children Our Future", government has been attempting to restructure the education system of the province along the lines recommended in that report. Because certain religious denominations held constitutionally protected rights dating back to the Terms of Union of Newfoundland with Canada in 1949, restructuring could not be carried out without either church consent, constitutional change, or both. To that end, extensive discussions took place with the churches over a period of almost three years beginning in the Fall of 1992. The following is a chronology of the main events since June 1995.

June 1995
Government announced it would be seeking the approval of the people to amend Term 17 in order to proceed with education reform.

September 1995
Referendum resulted in 54.4% majority approval of the proposed amendment.

October 1995
House of Assembly passed resolution requesting the Federal Parliament to amend the Canadian Constitution in accordance with the peoples' wishes.

November 1995
The Speaker of the House of Assembly sent a certified copy of the resolution to the Clerk of the Privy Council.

January 1996
The Prime Minister wrote Premier Wells informing him that the federal government "intends to proceed with the amendment resolution", and that the Government would be in a position to table the resolution in Parliament once the House reconvened.

Premier Wells stepped down and was replaced as Premier by the Honorable Brian Tobin. Provincial election was held. New Cabinet was announced

March-April, 1996
New Minister of Education resumed discussions with denominational representatives.

May 1996
The House of Assembly unanimously endorsed the resolution to amend Term 17.

Premier Tobin requested the Prime Minister to proceed with the Term 17 Amendment in accordance with the wishes of the people.

June 1996
The House of Commons passed the resolution to amend Term 17.

June - July,1996
The Senate of Canada Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs held public hearings in Ottawa and St. John's.

November 1996
The Senate passed an amended resolution.

December 1996
The original resolution was returned to the House of Commons and was passed on December 4, 1996.

On December 19, 1996, the House of Assembly passed a new Schools Act and a new Education Act which allowed the province to reduce the number of school districts to 10 and to appoint interdenominational school boards.

January 1997
The 27 denominational school boards were dissolved and the 10 new interdenominational school board assumed full responsibility for the administration of schools.

February 1997
A student registration process was undertaken throughout the province.

March 1997
School boards summarized the information contained on the student registration forms and identified the numbers of students whose parents prefer that they attend uni-denominational schools.

On March 10, all school boards were advised of their teacher allocations for the 1997/98 school year.

April 1997
School boards identified the number of schools required for the 1997/98 school year and began the designation process, and teacher reassignment.

May 1997
All school boards decided on the designations for schools under their jurisdiction.

60 schools, province-wide, were identified for closure at the end of the 1996/97 school year.

All teachers who were to be laid off received layoff notice by May 7, as required by the collective agreement.

May 15, 1997
The Pentecostal Assemblies and representatives of the Roman Catholic Church initiated legal action to challenge the legislation and to seek an injunction to stop boards from implementing school designations and from closing certain schools.

June 17-20, 1997
Mr. Justice Leo Barry heard arguments with respect to the application for an injunction.

July 8, 1997
Mr. Justice Leo Barry granted an injunction.

July 29-30, 1997
The Roman Catholic Education Committee advised boards which Roman Catholic schools it would consent to close and designate interdenominational, or establish as joint service.

July 31,1997
The Pentecostal Education Committee advised boards which Pentecostal schools it would consent to close and designate interdenominational, or establish as joint service.


  • The date of the Referendum is Tuesday, September 2, 1997

  • The Referendum Question is "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?"

  • The Electoral Office will require $1.8 million to conduct the Referendum.


Questions and Answers
Religious Education in Schools

Will students be required to study courses in Religious Education?

  • All students will be expected to study a common Religious Education program each year, unless their parents opt them out of such courses, as is the current practice.

  • At the senior high school level, Religious Education courses will be available for course selection.

Will there be separate Religious Education courses for each denomination?

  • No.

  • Schools will be required to offer a common Religious Education Program to all students.

Who will develop courses in Religious Education?

  • The Department of Education will develop common courses in Religious Education, in consultation with committees of teachers and other stakeholders, as is the practice for all other courses in the curriculum.

Who will teach Religious Education courses?

  • School boards will be responsible for selecting teachers and assigning their duties.

  • School boards would be expected to give consideration to the teacher's ability to teach the course


Will prayers continue to be part of the school program?

  • Yes

  • Schools will continue to operate in accordance with Christian principles, as they now do.

  • Prayer will continue to be part of the school program as it has been in the past.


Will schools continue to observe Christian festivals such as Christmas and Easter?

  • Yes

  • Special religious observances of non-Christian groups may also be observed.


Will representatives of the clergy be permitted to visit the school?

  • Yes


Will schools be permitted to establish pastoral care teams for students of individual denominations?

  • Yes or the school might wish to establish one pastoral care team for all students.




Q. What kind of schools would you have?

A. There would be only one type of school - one where all children, regardless of their religion, would attend.

There would be no unidenominational schools, no interdenominational schools, no joint service schools, - just schools where children learn and teachers teach.


Q. How would teachers be hired?

A. Teachers would be hired for their ability to teach. No teacher would be hired or fired based on religion.


Q. Who would hire teachers?

A. The School Board would. There would be no role for the churches or denominational committees.


Q. How would School Boards be elected?

A. Anyone over 18 and a Canadian citizen could run for School Boards. There would be no "at large" seats and no "denominational" seats.


Q. Would there be another school registration and designation process?

A. No. There would be no need. Children would no longer be separated by religion - they would all go to school together.


Q. Would religious education be available in schools?

A. Yes, religious education classes and observances such as bible stories, prayers and pageants would be permitted.

Religious education curriculum studies would be available for instruction in schools.

1997 07 31 7:40 p.m.

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