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 pass muster.
Starting as early as 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 and a moment of silence.
Members must ask the Speaker to have other prayers added to the list, but Mr. 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.
Mr. McGuinty, who admitted even his Catholic mother was angered earlier this year by the idea of doing away the Lord's Prayer in February, didn't attend the vote on the motion to preserve the prayer.
"We have come together the Ontario way - recognizing our traditions and heritage while embracing and celebrating our diversity," he said in a statement after the motion passed unanimously.
"The legislature belongs to all of us, and now its practices will reflect a modern Ontario that is home to many faiths and creeds, and anticipates a future every bit as open, and compassionate and respectful as the Ontario we have built together."
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," Mr. 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 the province.
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 amid the public uproar in the wake of the proposal to replace the prayer, said NDP critic Cheri DiNovo, a United Church minister who sat on the committee.
"This was a fire that Dalton McGuinty started," said Ms. DiNovo.
"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 - still reciting the prayer.
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.