Ont. preserves Lord's Prayer in legislature
TORONTO - Ontario's governing Liberals tried to say "Amen" Thursday to a thorny proposal to replace the Lord's Prayer in the legislature, opting instead to make time for an additional ritual that would better reflect the province's diverse cultural and religious landscape.
Critics called the move a calculated retreat in the face of massive public outcry to preserve a decades-long tradition. But in averting a controversy, the government may have created a new debate over which additional faiths would pass muster.
Starting Monday, the daily reading of the Lord's Prayer will be followed by a second activity that could include another prayer, a recitation or even a moment of silence.
Speaker Steve Peters will choose from a rotating list which includes prayers reflecting aboriginal, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, Baha'i and Sikh faiths, as well as a moment of silence.
Members must ask the Speaker to have other prayers added to the list, but Peters said he will hand off any requests to a standing committee - putting the decision back in the hands of elected politicians from all three parties.
"I don't feel that it's appropriate for the Speaker and the Speaker alone to be making a decision like that," said Peters.
McGuinty, who admitted even his Catholic mother was angered when he raised the idea of doing away with the Lord's Prayer earlier this year, didn't attend the vote on the motion to preserve the prayer, which passed unanimously.
He'd give her the good news, but his mother isn't taking his calls, McGuinty joked Thursday after making a speech at a student symposium in Toronto.
"I assume responsibility for initiating this at the outset," he said.
"I just thought it was really important. Something I've asked myself for a long time, as a backbencher and then as a premier, (was), 'Why can't we have a prayer that more appropriately reflects who we are?' So I'm proud of this change."
The motion, introduced by Liberal house leader Michael Bryant, followed the recommendation of an all-party committee that was asked to study alternatives to the prayer.
It had to sift through more than 25,000 petitions from the public, with the vast majority opposing any move to replace the Lord's Prayer.
"We've not only modernized the ritual of the legislature but we've also, I think, allowed for Ontario and Canadian politics to reflect a unique identity," Bryant said in the legislature.
"An identity that does not allow religious divisions, in fact, to drive political parties and to drive political movements."
Opposition parties praised the compromise as preserving the province's political traditions and history, while also embracing diverse faiths and cultures across Ontario.
But the premier has dropped a "real hot potato" in the legislature's lap, said Opposition Leader Bob Runciman.
"It's going to be problematic, there's no doubt about that, in how you determine what's appropriate, what's not appropriate," he said.
"He opened up a real can of worms here. No one was asking him to go down this road and now where the road ends is a big question mark right now."
The government ended up reversing course because of the public uproar and nothing more, said NDP critic Cheri DiNovo.
"This was a fire that Dalton McGuinty started," said DiNovo, a United Church minister who also sat on the committee.
"We didn't want to spend taxpayers' money on this. What we wanted to talk about was child poverty, manufacturing job loss. What we wanted to talk about was the issues."
Ontario is one of the few remaining provinces - along with Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick - where the prayer is still recited at the start of the legislative day.
Both the House of Commons and the Senate recite non-denominational prayers. Newfoundland and Labrador has no prayer in its House of Assembly while Quebec's National Assembly has only a daily moment of reflection.
The last time the Ontario legislature updated its daily prayer was in 1969, when it changed the preamble to the Lord's Prayer. The province briefly debated the fate of the Lord's Prayer in 2000 after a court ruled that reciting it at public municipal council meetings violated the right to freedom of religion.
But the Ontario Court of Appeal later ruled that the legislature's standing orders couldn't be challenged by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms or the human rights commission.