The Ontario Legislature will retain the recitation of the Lord's Prayer to begin its daily proceedings, but supplement it with the prayers of other major faiths.
MPPs voted unanimously yesterday to change procedures after receiving a report from an all-party committee that had studied the alternatives to the government's controversial proposal to scrap the Christian prayer.
"I think it's an excellent result that better reflects the diversity in Ontario," said government House Leader Michael Bryant.
Under the new plan, likely to be implemented on Monday, the daily reading of the Lord's Prayer by the Speaker will continue, but will be supplemented by a rotating series of seven prayers of other faiths, a non-denominational prayer and a moment of silence.
Opposition parties lined up with the government, but accused Premier Dalton McGuinty of opening a Pandora's box when he said in February that it was "time to move beyond the daily recitation of the Lord's Prayer" toward "a more inclusive approach."
His suggestion ignited a firestorm of protest. More than 25,000 e-mails and petitions were sent to the legislative committee asked to look into the issue.
Nearly 60 per cent of those messages, analyzed by legislative staff, advocated keeping the Lord's Prayer, while a further 29 per cent said they wanted to retain an unspecified prayer. Many said they feared Ontario would be turning its back on its heritage by scrapping the Christian prayer.
Mr. McGuinty, who didn't vote on yesterday's motion, said he was pleased that the committee found a way to honour the past while recognizing modern reality. He said he did not regret igniting the debate, even though his Roman Catholic mother, Elizabeth, opposed him.
"The province is changing and I thought the legislature should make a modest change to reflect that fact," he told reporters.
But New Democratic MPP Cheri DiNovo, a United Church minister, characterized the vote by the majority Liberals to retain the Lord's Prayer as an expedient bow to protest.
"It's a retreat in the face of an overwhelming number of e-mails and responses from the people of Ontario," she said.
The initial list includes Buddhist, Hindu, Islamic, Jewish, Baha'i, aboriginal and Sikh prayers, along with the moment of silence. Mr. Bryant said he recognized the "hypothetical challenges" of other faiths seeking to have their prayers included.
Speaker Steve Peters said requests from other faiths would be referred to the legislative committee, but Opposition Leader Bob Runciman said that MPPs had been handed "a real hot potato" because they will have to judge faiths.
"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.