Ontario ponders alternatives to Lord’s Prayer for legislature

Premier Dalton McGuinty declared last week that it is time Ontario changed the Lord’s Prayer at the legislature to better reflect the province’s multicultural population.
Local MPPs are saying that is a good thing, and a not-so-good thing.
McGuinty argued “More than one-half of people living in the GTA, for example, were born outside the country, and one-third of the province was born outside the country,” said. “I think it’s time for us to assure that we have a prayer that better reflects our diversity.”
He wants to create an all-party committee to work with the speaker’s office to look for alternatives to the Christian prayer, which has opened daily proceedings at the legislature since 1969. The committee will be seeking advice from citizens and faith communities, but it is expected the Lord’s Prayer will be replaced.
“I think we’re the second-last province in Canada which has not changed its basic prayer that was adopted over 100 years ago,” said McGuinty, who denied the move is an attempt to counter some of the negative feelings stirred up by the debate over funding faith-based schools in last fall’s election.
Perth-Wellington MPP and McGuinty cabinet minister John Wilkinson agrees with his boss. He said only Ontario and New Brunswick still use the Lord’s Prayer exclusively.
“There are a lot of different faiths,” he said in an interview on Friday. “The legislature is a place we should recognize and celebrate that diversity.”
He said that every day the legislature opens, it should have “a prayer that everyone would feel welcome in the legislature.”
Wilkinson called the idea that the Lord’s Prayer will be removed entirely “a mistake,” saying, “That’s not what we’re doing. We’re just trying to be inclusive.”
But Wellington-Halton Hills MPP Ted Arnott noted that he has seen this issue arise in the past. He was elected in 1991 and speaker David Warner proposed the same thing at that time.
Arnott said he wrote a letter of protest then, and the reaction of most MPPs was strongly in favour of keeping the prayer.
“My view continues to be that we recite the Lord’s Prayer at the beginning of the proceedings,” Arnott said in an interview on Feb. 15. “At the beginning of next week, I suspect I’ll be writing another letter.”
Arnott indicated that he is a little puzzled why McGuinty would be bringing the issue to the legislature now.
“I’ve never heard anybody object to it until this week,” he said, adding that it was the premier who did that objecting.
When asked if there had been a group lobbying for change, Arnott said, “Not that I know of.”
And, he added, it is not as if there are a lot of people to offend when the prayer is recited. He explained that it is used to open the legislature, and the vast majority of MPPs are not present when that happens.
He said he tries to be on time, but he often gets tied up with work, phone calls, and interviews, and many of his colleagues are in the same boat.
“On average, there are fewer than 20 members when the house starts sitting … Not everybody’s in the house for the prayer.” Arnott also questioned why McGuinty would involve his government in what is essentially a procedural housekeeping operation.
“It’s not a government issue to get involved the way he is,” Arnott concluded. “It’s a matter for the legislative assembly – all the members.”
Ontario’s opposition parties were informed of the plan with a letter from the premier. There wasn’t any immediate criticism.
“We have to make sure we recognize the modern day reality of Ontario as it is in 2008, but also make sure that we recognize the traditions and history of this place because I think that’s important,” Conservative Leader John Tory told reporters.