House of Commons Hansard #130 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was co-operatives.

Topics

Canadian Human Rights Act
Private Members' Business

7:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Canadian Human Rights Act
Private Members' Business

7:10 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Denise Savoie

In my opinion the yeas have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Pursuant to Standing Order 98, the recorded division stands deferred until Wednesday, June 6, immediately before the time provided for private members' business.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

Rights & Democracy
Adjournment Proceedings

May 30th, 2012 / 7:10 p.m.

NDP

Hélène Laverdière Laurier—Sainte-Marie, QC

Madam Speaker, today I would like to follow up on a question that I asked in the House on February 28 when I inquired whether the minister was aware, prior to the tragic death of Rémy Beauregard, of the serious crisis within Rights & Democracy.

Unfortunately, the minister's answer at the time was not quite satisfactory, to say the least. Nothing about recent management of Rights & Democracy was anywhere near satisfactory. It was actually quite troubling.

Rights & Democracy was created in 1988 by an act of Parliament that received unanimous approval. The non-partisan organization intervened in troubled regions to promote respect for human rights and further democracy. Rights & Democracy was respected by the international community. It was achieving its goals and working well.

Now, our Prime Minister's government has taken this non-partisan organization that ran smoothly and made it into a partisan organization that runs poorly. The Conservatives have poisoned the organization. Not happy with just poisoning it, we were told on April 2 that the government had decided to go a little further and to shut down Rights & Democracy. What reason did they give for shutting down the institution? According to the minister, it is because the institution had problems. Unfortunately, the institution's problems were the ones that the government had created. As they say, if you want to hang your dog, first give him a bad name.

Rights & Democracy had its head office in my riding. The agency’s employees learned they were out of a job when the minister sent out his press release. The minister did nothing to thank them for their excellent work and the services they provided for more than 20 years. I would therefore like to take this opportunity to do so. I would like to thank them for their work. It is time to recognize the positive contribution made by the people who ran the agency, people who deserved better treatment than they got from the government.

Finally, I would like to say that I think it is worrisome that, just at a time when Canada should be providing assistance to emerging democracies, the government has closed down a centre that was in the best position to do exactly that.

I have a number of questions that I would like to ask the government today about Rights & Democracy, but I will limit myself to three. Was it always the government’s intention to close the centre? Why close the agency instead of just removing the troublemakers from the board of directors and appointing qualified people to run it? Finally, coming back to my first question, when will a member of the government have the courage to speak up and apologize to the family of Rémy Beauregard?

Rights & Democracy
Adjournment Proceedings

7:15 p.m.

Calgary East
Alberta

Conservative

Deepak Obhrai Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs

Madam Speaker, the world has witnessed some remarkable changes in democracy in the last two years. Nobody would have predicted the exceptional circumstances that took place in many countries, including Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Burma. Who would have thought that the foreign minister would this year be able to talk freely with the General Secretary of the Burmese National League for Democracy, Aung San Suu Kyi.

The Canadian government is actively supporting these and other remarkable democratization movements, but we are doing it in an environment that is quite different than what it was when Rights and Democracy was established in 1988.

On April 3, it was announced that the Government of Canada would be including Rights and Democracy as part of its efforts to find cost efficiencies and savings. Given the challenges of Rights and Democracy, which have been known to all for some time, it was decided it was time to put the organization's past challenges behind us and move forward.

On April 5, the government announced the appointment of a number of senior government officials to the organization's interim board of directors in order to oversee the organization's closure. Under the interim board's direction, Rights and Democracy is developing a plan to guide the timely, orderly termination of its programming abroad while seeking to minimize the impact on the ground.

This decision does not change the commitment of the Government of Canada to promote not only democracy, but also freedom, human rights, and the rule of law around the world.

I should mention that from Canada's ambassadors and embassy personnel around the world to our staff at the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade and the Canadian International Development Agency in Ottawa, Government of Canada officials work hard every day to support democracy and human rights internationally.

In 2010-11, the Department of Foreign Affairs spent $21 million to advance democracy around the world. DFAIT's democracy support is complemented by a much larger envelope for long-term good governance, human rights and the rule of law. This support, managed by the Canadian International Development Agency, totalled over $204 million for the year 2010-11.

Given the challenges that Rights and Democracy faced and the new conditions that we are working under today, it is clearly time to move forward. The government is now looking at different tools that exist today so that, drawing on Canadian experience, we can effectively support those remarkable and courageous people around the world who are working to claim their basic democratic rights.

To add a personal touch to this, I was on the foreign affairs committee when the issue of Rights and Democracy was brought in front of the committee, and we spent numerous hours listening to testimony.

First of all, to answer the member's question, the government had no intention of closing Rights and Democracy at that given time. However, as things have evolved now and as I have stated in my intervention, it is cost-cutting measures and efficiencies that we are seeking, and with the problems that have occurred, we felt this was the best course of action to take.

Rights & Democracy
Adjournment Proceedings

7:15 p.m.

NDP

Hélène Laverdière Laurier—Sainte-Marie, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to point out again that the problems of Rights & Democracy were created by this government.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs tells us that diplomatic staff do the work of promoting democracy. Of course they do. That is not new; it has always been the case. In the past, the staff did this work. Staff who, because of the cuts, will be fewer and therefore able to do less of this work.

In addition to the work of diplomats, this specialized institution had the necessary expertise and could do work that the government was unable to do. It could work in extremely difficult areas. We have lost an additional and important asset; Rights & Democracy was an organization that was on the forward edge of promoting democracy. We have lost it at a critical time in modern history.

The parliamentary secretary is talking of moving forward. I see it as moving backward.

Rights & Democracy
Adjournment Proceedings

7:20 p.m.

Conservative

Deepak Obhrai Calgary East, AB

Madam Speaker, that is her opinion, but I can say very clearly that this government has made a decision taking everything into account.

As I pointed out to the hon. member, I was on the committee for foreign affairs when we did a thorough study of Rights and Democracy. However, as I have stated, things have changed. There has been a tremendous movement toward democracy around the world, and therefore the Government of Canada, having the commitment to promote democracy, freedom, human rights and the rule of law internationally, will continue to work in close coordination with partners around the world to further these objectives.

The decision has been made to close Rights and Democracy, but that does not mean no promotion of democracies around the world.

Parks Canada
Adjournment Proceedings

7:20 p.m.

Bloc

Jean-François Fortin Haute-Gaspésie—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia, QC

Madam Speaker, something truly frightening is happening within Parks Canada, which is also responsible for many historic sites.

We have heard about the government's decision to eliminate nearly 1,700 jobs at Parks Canada. As a result of this decision, across Canada and especially in Quebec—where 300 positions are being eliminated—there will be an irreversible loss of fundamental expertise in the understanding of our past.

Archeologists, historians, conservators, interpretive guides, specialists in the understanding of our past—from New France to the Forillon expropriation. Some will see their jobs disappear, while others will have their ability to do their jobs seriously undermined.

As pointed out by the archeology professors of the Université Laval in an open letter:

The Government of Canada—as the owner of this research and conservation infrastructure and these historic sites that play a central role in our Canadian identity—must assume its responsibilities. It must not limit itself to merely the static management of these sites, but it must renew their heritage content by documenting them, studying them and animating them, based on new knowledge so that Canadians can become more familiar with them.

The Association des archéologues du Québec shares those sentiments:

Following a Canadian government accounting procedure based, in our opinion, on a narrow interpretation of what heritage represents, Parks Canada conducted a self-mutilation exercise that is having a profound impact on the qualified and dedicated staff... This is an attack against Quebec's identity. We can only empathize with them over the inhumanity of these cuts.

This makes me think of the people who were forced out of Forillon when Forillon Park was created in 1970, who had to leave their homes and their villages to make room for a national park. This park, leased to the federal government for 99 years, was still full of items belonging to the former residents, objects that have been kept in Quebec for the most part. The Conservative government is now adding insult to injury by taking these objects and sending them to storage in Ottawa despite the fact Gaspé Peninsula residents had asked that the objects be transferred to the Musée de la Gaspésie, which already has an exhibit on the Forillon expropriation.

Again, according to the archeologists:

When the time comes, we will be there to remind elected officials of this dogmatic management based on a clear lack of knowledge and vision. Parks Canada made an unexplainable decision to centralize all the collections in the Ottawa area, including those kept at the Service de la Gare maritime in Quebec City... Faced with the real possibility of a confrontation with the Government of Quebec, the [federal] government has backed down to some extent and is now saying that the collections of artifacts and items of ethno-historical significance will not leave Quebec and will be stored on the Quebec side of the Ottawa River.

This clarification may have somewhat defused the possibility of a conflict between Quebec and Ottawa, but this situation remains a terrible injustice for the regions of Quebec, particularly Quebec City, which is being stripped of its own material culture. Is it normal for researchers who are interested in collections of precious pieces of world heritage to have to travel over 400 kilometres to consult or study them?

Well, Madam Speaker, allow me to respond to the Association des archéologues du Québec. No. It is not normal. The federal government is stealing Quebec's historical artifacts. The CBC even reported that the government was trying to sell artifacts to collectors and private museums. It is outrageous.

Back home in the Gaspé, the Musée de la Gaspésie called for the repatriation of artifacts to do with the expropriation of Forillon. The Quebec government, which has other fish to fry—as we all know—was concerned about this decision and requested a meeting with the minister. Here are my questions for the minister.

Did the minister intend to meet with Quebec’s Minister of Culture, Communications and the Status of Women? Can he commit to keeping the artifacts in their current location, surrounded by the appropriate experts? Will the government entertain the request by the Musée de la Gaspésie and leave the Forillon artifacts in a place that suits the people of the Gaspé? Finally, when does he intend to stop attacking Quebec's history?

Parks Canada
Adjournment Proceedings

7:25 p.m.

Calgary Centre-North
Alberta

Conservative

Michelle Rempel Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment

Madam Speaker, it is my privilege to address this important question for the first time in the House.

The member spoke about the identity of Quebec being tied into its natural heritage and parks. I agree with him. It has been my pleasure to visit many national parks. I believe that the natural heritage that is maintained through Parks Canada binds us together as Canadians. I would like to take the opportunity to correct the record on the location of some of the artifacts that he talked about and perhaps alleviate some of his concerns.

The collection currently located in Quebec City will remain in Quebec. The portion of the national collection that is housed in Quebec City, which includes artifacts originating from Quebec, as well as objects from Forillon National Park, will remain in the province of Quebec. As part of our government's efforts to reduce the deficit, Parks Canada is consolidating its national collection and conservation laboratories in the National Capital Region. The part of the national collection currently located in Quebec City will remain in the province of Quebec in a facility to be determined. This is part of Parks Canada's overall effort to consolidate into one reduced structure, which will streamline services and improve internal efficiencies to reduce costs.

Overall, there are 44 positions. My colleague spoke of the number of staff. I want to reassure him that there are 44 positions that will take care of, manage and restore the collections of Parks Canada: 15 people will work in the collections and curatorial section and 29 people in the restoration section. Scientific, professional and technical services, including archeological and artifact restoration expertise, will continue to be provided by Parks Canada and through partnerships with other organizations. Professional capacity will remain. In addition, there will be no change with respect to the display or use of the valuable collection by national historic sites in Quebec.

I would like to remind the member for the riding of Haute-Gaspésie—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia that Parks Canada is not permanently closing any national parks or national historic sites. Our government is acting responsibly by improving the efficiency of our operations and ensuring Parks Canada can continue to focus and deliver its core mandate to protect and present our national treasured and protected places.

I had some representatives from Parks Canada come to my riding last week. I am very blessed to live just about an hour away from Banff National Park, the first national park in Canada. I was really pleased to see the amount of work that the park staff are doing to ensure that visitors to our national parks have a great experience, certainly this summer as we are about to ramp up.

I share my colleague's concern. I loved his comment that our national parks are core to our national identity. It is something that our government is committed to ensuring: that the visitor experience and the ecological function of Parks Canada are maintained but that we are also being wise stewards of taxpayer funding. We feel that we have that balance right.

Parks Canada
Adjournment Proceedings

7:30 p.m.

Bloc

Jean-François Fortin Haute-Gaspésie—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment responsible for Parks Canada for her answer.

Despite her answer, however, I still have a number of concerns about the conservation of Quebec's artifacts. It is important to understand that the most common approach in archaeological circles is to keep artifacts as close to their place of discovery or of origin as possible. Keeping collections from Quebec or Forillon in a warehouse in Gatineau will not make these relics of our history and our past more accessible to the community.

I would like the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment to think about whether it is appropriate to house this collection in places that are not accessible, when the collection is important to the history of Quebec. The minister should respond to the request made by the Musée de la Gaspésie to repatriate these artifacts from the Gaspé to their place of origin, in Forillon.

Parks Canada
Adjournment Proceedings

7:30 p.m.

Conservative

Michelle Rempel Calgary Centre-North, AB

Madam Speaker, our government values the relationship it has with the province and the people of Quebec. We appreciate the importance that the objects in Parks Canada's collection hold for local residents, particularly in the case of artifacts from Forillon National Park. To that effect, I would like to announce that our government is ready to work with local officials in exploring opportunities to transfer objects from Forillon National Park of cultural importance to the Gaspé region back to the communities. Parks Canada remains committed to working with local residents in a respectful manner on this sensitive issue and looks forward to exploring additional opportunities to work together, as do I with my colleague.

Parks Canada
Adjournment Proceedings

7:30 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Denise Savoie

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

(The House adjourned at 7:32 p.m.)