CBC Digital Archives CBC butterfly logo

CBC Archives has a new look: Please go to cbc.ca/archives to access the new site.

The page you are looking at will not be updated.

Newfoundland votes for secular schools

The Story

The vote is in, and it's a "Yes." In a historic referendum, Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have voted to abolish the province's existing church-run school system in favour of a secular system. In this 1997 clip, we hear from a local coffee shop owner who tells us what his customers are saying about the results. We also hear from Premier Brian Tobin, who says it is definitely time for a change. The old system, he says, was "no longer appropriate."

Medium: Radio
Program: This Morning
Broadcast Date: July 2, 1997
Guests: Martin Duchesne, Brian Tobin
Host: Avril Benoît
Duration: 14:33

Did You know?

• Newfoundland's schools had always been controlled by the Protestant and Catholic churches, and the status quo was guaranteed when Newfoundland entered Confederation in 1949. As an August 1997 Globe and Mail article explained, "Church control of schools is about as old as Newfoundland. It was made formal in the 1927 Schools Act and it was continued in the Terms of Union when Newfoundland joined Canada in 1949. Measured against the rest of the country, this church control seems curiously dated, a quaint anachronism in a secular land."

• Schools in Newfoundland and Labrador had been run by the following eight denominations: Catholic, Anglican, United, Moravian, Presbyterian, Salvation Army, Seventh-day Adventist and Pentecostal.

• The question posed in the 1997 referendum was this: "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?"

• A whopping 73 per cent of voters said yes. But only 53 per cent of the Newfoundland and Labrador population had shown up to vote.


• Since the province's church-run school system was part of the Constitution, Newfoundland and Labrador needed a constitutional amendment in order for the change to go through. Canada's Senate passed the amendment in December of 1997.

• That same month, the Senate passed a very similar constitutional amendment for Quebec. It allowed Quebec to restructure its school system from a religion-based system to one organized along linguistic lines.


• Today, only three provinces maintain a system of publicly funded separate schools (primarily Catholic) alongside their public secular systems - Ontario, Alberta and Saskatchewan.



Other Education more