Mr. Speaker, as I was saying, I will focus on my new responsibilities as the official opposition's heritage and official languages critic.
I will share my time with the member for Mississauga—Erindale.
I believe that the Conservative government should offer a coherent vision of cultural life in Canada, a vision that does not neglect our cultural industries, our artistic institutions, our museums, our artists or our public broadcaster.
The Conservatives did not do that. In the throne speech there was mention of finally acting on copyright, but there were no details as to content or timing. Legislation had been promised before June 2006 on this matter and then before Christmas 2006. Now, 18 months later, we may get this legislation.
When the minister spoke yesterday, many were hoping to hear a few details on that and her thoughts on a number of other important dossiers in the matters of heritage. Yesterday there was not a word. There was not a word about our public broadcaster, not a word about reassuring Canadians as to whether or not the Reform dissenting opinion of the Lincoln report in 2003 still holds, which would have privatized CBC. There was not a word from the minister on that.
There was not a word about a museums policy. There was not a word about the museums assistance program. The Canadian Museums Association had been given a commitment that a policy would be forthcoming before Christmas 2006. Christmas came and went and it did not get that policy. Yesterday there was not a word.
The Prime Minister announced that the Government of Canada would finance the operational costs of the new human rights museum in Winnipeg, which is fine, but there is still a question mark as to whether or not the $22 million will be coming from an existing envelope or whether the envelope overall will be increased. My information is that it is from the existing envelope, therefore choking off the existing museums, so much so that they have to do fundraising, as has been reported, to make acquisitions. There was not a word about all of this.
There was also not a word about increasing the museums assistance program. In the last election the Conservatives promised to actually increase the funding to small museums across the country. Lo and behold, what they did instead was the opposite. They reduced the museums assistance program. There was not a word about that.
There was not a word about the exhibition transportation services for museums and galleries, which is very useful to the smaller galleries and museums. This will expire at the end of March 2008. There was not a word about that.
There was not a word about the portrait gallery. Many people have been asking about that. What is the policy framework within which the government will be making the decision as to where the portrait gallery should be located?
There was not a word about the television fund. Will it ever be A-based? Will it be indexed? What about funding for Telefilm and the National Film Board? Will they be increased? Will they be indexed? There was not a word.
There was not a word about festivals. There was not a word about where the minister is vis-à-vis the CRTC and Canadian content and foreign ownership restrictions.
Right now we have a situation where the government has, by executive fiat, which comes from the industry department and not from the heritage department, directed the CRTC essentially to let market forces dominate. Is the minister's silence consent as to this direction for Canadian cultural industries, Canadian television and film content? If it is, perhaps she should have said so yesterday.
Canada's cultural and artistic communities have not been given enough information. They do not know what to expect from the Conservative government. This is not unlike what happened when the federal government copied the Liberal Party's promise during the last election campaign to double funding for the Council for the Arts. As it turns out, that is not at all what the government has done.
The minister talked exclusively about official languages earlier, and that is fine, but she could have mentioned her other portfolio: Canadian Heritage.
With respect to official languages, she congratulated herself on having signed service and education agreements with all of the provinces. I should hope so, because by the time the government came to power, those agreements had already been negotiated and confirmed. All she had to do was sign them. The Conservatives can go ahead and take all the credit, but they really should give credit where credit is due.
The minister said that she met with the ministers responsible for la Francophonie a month ago. However, she failed to mention that these very ministers issued a press release demanding that the federal government renew the action plan that was introduced by its predecessor in 2003.
Let us talk about this plan. This begs a fundamental question: does the Conservative government intend to renew the plan? It found all manner of ways to avoid this word, avoid this specific commitment. What the linguistic minority communities across the country are asking for, and what the ministers responsible for la Francophonie across the country asked for, is that the action plan be renewed. In the Speech from the Throne, there is not a single occurrence of the word “renewal”. The government has chosen its words carefully.
The minister wanted to focus on the issue of official languages; we were hoping she would, because it is not clear. Would the plan be renewed for one year, two years, five years? It is not clear. How much money would be allocated? Not a word. Are we talking about broadening this action plan? A promise was made after many consultations with the communities. It was a matter of broadening the plan to incorporate programs for young people, women, seniors, culture and international issues. Not a word.
She did not talk about the setbacks we have had under her government either; the cancellation of the court challenges program, for example. As for the Official Languages Secretariat, which was a branch of the Privy Council, the government decided to transfer it to Canadian Heritage, when we know full well that a secretariat located in a central agency has a lot more influence and a greater ability to take action.
Were it not for the existence of this secretariat at the Privy Council when I was minister responsible for official languages, we would not have succeeded in getting language clauses in the early childhood agreements with every province. What did this government do? It relieved the Privy Council of its role in official languages and gave that role to Canadian Heritage. The communities are having a hard time getting their bearings. The minister could have said a few words about this, but she chose not to say a word.
As for the new round of budget cuts just starting, which her department is subject to, would the action plan for official languages be protected from these cuts this time? Not a word.
As for the Department of National Defence in this struggle to promote linguistic duality, and we totally agree that it is the role of the Government of Canada to ensure that the Official Languages Act is respected across the country, there is not a word. National Defence has given up and there is not a word on this from the government.
Nor was anything said about one of the Prime Minister's first actions when he came to power, informing us that he intended to cancel all early childhood agreements—the very agreements that had been negotiated and that communities were celebrating from one end of the country to the other. It is a major setback for these communities. The minister did not say one word about this.
There is not one word about the fact that, after they were elected, the Conservatives decided that the Commissioner of Official Languages, an officer of this House, would no longer report to the Prime Minister but would report to another minister. Previous governments had indicated the importance they attributed to the issue of linguistic duality and the official languages. They said that, in terms of the government, the Commissioner of Official Languages reported to the Prime Minister. In terms of his mandate, he obviously reports to the House of Commons, as he should.
However, even more disturbing, there is not a word about Bill S-3. When in opposition, his government supported the bill, which dealt with the last amendments to the Official Languages Act made in November 2005, when everyone was celebrating.
Where are the plans that were to come out of the application of Bill S-3? Where is the regulatory framework? Where are the consultations that will result in the regulations? Where is the cabinet committee on official languages, the ad hoc committee that has not met, as far as I know, for 18 months? What is the minister doing about these matters?
All I can do, as did the Commissioner for Official Languages in his first report, is criticize the Prime Minister and his government for not having backed up these lovely words with concrete action.