House of Commons Hansard #131 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was companies.

Topics

6:55 p.m.

Liberal

Borys Wrzesnewskyj Etobicoke Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is with a heavy heart that I must once again rise in the House to call on the Conservative government to live up to the historic internment agreement signed by the previous Liberal government and the Ukrainian Canadian community on August 24, 2005.

This agreement was for the acknowledgement, commemoration and education of Canadians of a dark episode in Canada's history: the internment operations against Ukrainian Canadians.

Beginning in the 1890s, Ukrainian Canadian settlers transformed the wilderness of the Northwest Territories into the golden wheat fields of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. They were enticed to Canada with promises of free land. The government did this to counterbalance the northward push of American settlers into Canadian territories.

These hardy pioneers guaranteed the territorial integrity of Canada's borders.

Today, we can in fact say that they were one of Canada's founding peoples.

However, during World War I, prejudice and racism were fanned into xenophobia, leading to the introduction of the War Measures Act by an order in council of the Conservative government of Robert Borden.

Over 8,000 so-called enemy aliens, of which over 5,000 were Ukrainians, were interned, including women and children. Homes and homesteads were confiscated and some 80,000 Canadians were obliged to register as enemy aliens and report to local authorities on a regular basis.

Then, two years later, that same Conservative government passed legislation disenfranchising tens of thousands of Ukrainian Canadians based solely on the location of their birth.

Back on August 24, 2005, the previous Liberal government signed an historic agreement in principle with the Ukrainian Canadian community. An initial amount of $2.5 million was to be the first instalment of a $12.5 million multi-year package administered through the Shevchenko Foundation.

During question period on March 1, the Secretary of State for Multiculturalism all but confirmed that the Conservative government had no intention of living up to that agreement.

To add insult to injury, the Prime Minister, the Minister of Finance, the Minister of Canadian Heritage and the Secretary of State for Multiculturalism all thought it more important to declare in their so-called historic budget that three-down football is a heritage sport worthy of public support through heritage tax dollars, yet this same budget was completely silent on the acknowledgement of and education about injustices suffered by Ukrainian Canadians during World War I internment operations.

What a contrast. In the 2005 Liberal budget, the former finance minister, in his opening paragraphs, referenced Ukrainian Canadians and provided the funding for an internment settlement agreement.

The Conservatives, on the other hand, tore up this historic agreement. There is not even a mention of internment or a future consideration in the Conservative budgets of 2006 and 2007.

This failure to act by the Conservative government, despite record surpluses, is a breaking of the trust. When the Prime Minister was in opposition, he invoked the name of Mary Haskett, born Manko, the last survivor of World War I internment, in a House of Commons speech in which he committed himself to the resolution of internment.

Will the government re-announce this Liberal initiative while Mary Haskett, the sole survivor of the internment operations, is still with us? Will he do the right thing?

6:55 p.m.

Kootenay—Columbia
B.C.

Conservative

Jim Abbott Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage

Mr. Speaker, it might useful to take a look at some facts.

Canada's new government has recognized the historic injustices of the Ukrainian Canadian community. I must remind the member opposite that in 12 years his Liberal Party did nothing to acknowledge historic injustices of wartime periods. It was this current Conservative Prime Minister who in just one year provided redress for the grave injustice of the Chinese head tax and it is this Conservative government that is working diligently to recognize the dark period in our history where Ukrainian Canadians lost their property and in many cases were interned.

The Conservative Party is committed to increasing awareness about the history of wartime measures that resulted in thousands of Canadians of Ukrainian origin being used as slave labour during and after the first world war. For 12 years the Liberal Party did nothing to recognize the Ukrainian internment. Now the Liberals are pretending to care.

Recent times have brought steps toward reconciliation. In November 2005 it was a Conservative member of Parliament, the member for Dauphin—Swan River—Marquette, who tabled the Internment of Persons of Ukrainian Origin Recognition Act. The Liberals did not implement the acknowledgement, commemoration and education program, nor was a final agreement ever concluded. The member talks about tearing up something that did not exist.

On the contrary, in a hasty round of last minute vote buying, the Liberals in the hot summer of 2005 promised up to $60 million, but in fact did not allocate any more than $25 million for all groups combined. The agreement in principle signed with the representatives of the Shevchenko Foundation, the Ukrainian Canadian Congress and the Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association on August 24 and 25 that the member refers to committed $2.5 million for community based education and commemorative projects, but no more was ever budgeted by the previous government.

After the AIP, and this is important, the previous Liberal government had three months to implement its empty promises but did not. I wonder if there was ever an intention of fulfilling the commitment or was it just an example of empty electioneering?

Now the member for Etobicoke Centre complains that the $12.5 million the previous government supposedly budgeted in 2005 was not in last week's budget, but why would it be in the 2007 budget if, as the member claims, it was already in the small print in the last Liberal budget? Clearly, this is a tale that grows with the telling.

This government is taking a comprehensive forward looking approach. On June 22, 2006 the Minister of Canadian Heritage announced the establishment of the community historic recognition program and the national historic recognition program. The $24 million community historic recognition program will provide funding through grants and contributions for community based commemorative and education projects. The NHRP is a $10 million program that will fund federal initiatives focused on increasing awareness and educating all Canadians, particularly youth, about Canada's history linked to wartime measures and/or immigration restrictions and prohibitions.

The government is currently finalizing the details of both programs. We have held discussions with representatives of the Ukrainian Canadian community and are in the process of coming to a resolution to provide redress to the Ukrainian community.

The Liberals come, they talk, they go away. Conservatives act.

March 29th, 2007 / 7 p.m.

Liberal

Borys Wrzesnewskyj Etobicoke Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, we just saw a blatant case of revisionism on the part of the parliamentary secretary.

He said it was in the small print. First of all, the Conservatives did not even put anything in their 2006 or 2007 budgets for internment, but he said it was in the small print. If he listened, it was referenced in the opening paragraphs of the 2005 budget and he actually acknowledged there was $25 million. In fact, the sources and uses table on page 4 indicates that an additional $30 million was put into this particular program.

The Ukrainian Canadian community has said that CHRP and NHRP, the new programs mentioned by the hon. parliamentary secretary, are absolutely unacceptable. In fact, if the government proceeds down this path, they will be looking at legal avenues.

Bill C-331--

7 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Andrew Scheer

The hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage.

7 p.m.

Conservative

Jim Abbott Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Mr. Speaker, I find the bleating of my Liberal friend really quite fascinating. His party while in government had 12 years. What happened in that 12 years? Nothing, nada.

7 p.m.

Liberal

Borys Wrzesnewskyj Etobicoke Centre, ON

There was a signing agreement.

7 p.m.

Conservative

Jim Abbott Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Mr. Speaker, there was a signing agreement after which there was a three month period in which nothing further happened. What was the signing agreement all about?

7 p.m.

Liberal

Borys Wrzesnewskyj Etobicoke Centre, ON

You tore it up. You threw it away.

7 p.m.

Conservative

Jim Abbott Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Mr. Speaker, there was no agreement to tear up. There was an agreement in principle only. There was no agreement between the government and the Ukrainian Canadian community. How can one tear up something that never existed? This is outrageous.

7:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Andrew Scheer

The motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been adopted. Accordingly this House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 7:05 p.m.)