An Act to amend the Parliament of Canada Act (Parliamentary Visual Artist Laureate)


Second reading (House), as of June 22, 2021

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This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment creates the position of Parliamentary Visual Artist Laureate. It also corrects a reference to the Canada Council for the Arts in the English version of the Parliament of Canada Act.


All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Parliament of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

June 22nd, 2021 / 6:20 p.m.
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Lenore Zann Liberal Cumberland—Colchester, NS

moved that Bill S-205, An Act to amend the Parliament of Canada Act (Parliamentary Visual Artist Laureate), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, it gives me pleasure to rise today to speak to Bill S-205, which seeks to create the position of Parliamentary Visual Artist Laureate. This would be an officer of the Library of Parliament, similar to the current Parliamentary Poet Laureate's position. The mandate of the Parliamentary Visual Artist Laureate would be to promote the arts in Canada through Parliament, including by fostering knowledge, enjoyment, awareness and development of the arts. In this bill, the arts are defined as drawing, painting, sculpture, print-making, design, crafts, photography, videography and filmmaking.

I would like to thank the sponsor in the Senate of this bill, Senator Patricia Bovey, for her work in moving this legislation to the House. I would also like to acknowledge the artist Peter Gough of Nova Scotia, who was the originator of this wonderful idea. Sadly, Peter passed away before he could see his idea become a reality. However, there are many other incredible artists in Nova Scotia and across Canada who I am sure will be happy to see this bill move forward and honour his memory and the work of Canada's arts community.

Bill S-205 is based on the same concept, as I said, as the Parliamentary Poet Laureate. The Commissioner of Official Languages for Canada, the chairperson of the Canada Council for the Arts, and the president of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts have all provided their witness testimony about this important bill, as has the director of the National Gallery of Canada.

The position would have a two-year term with a mandate of promoting the arts in Canada through Parliament, including by fostering knowledge, enjoyment and development of the arts. I cannot emphasize enough or too greatly the contribution that Canadian artists make to our society, our collective well-being and our understanding of each other: lifelong Canadians, new Canadians, immigrants, first nations and refugees. The arts can break down barriers that exist between us, which is something we need today more than ever. Canada's artists have been illuminating what it means to be Canadian, where we have been and where we are going through many different media and from the views of many different cultures and regions. These are sometimes critical, but are reflective of who we are.

Over the past year and a half, we have been living through some of the most challenging times faced by our country in decades. The pandemic has forced us into isolation. It has led to loneliness and despair for many Canadians and for our youth, as well. I have to say our youth are looking forward to the day they can get out and enjoy the arts in person again and as my dear, departed niece, Maia, said to me shortly before she passed away this week, “What would life be without music? Life would be so depressing without music.” I have to say that I completely agree with her. Throughout this pandemic, Canada's artists have been there to provide us with a bit of light and hope while we await a time to come when we can be together again as friends, families and colleagues.

The arts are also economic generators. As the third-largest employer in Canada, the arts and culture sector employs some 600,000 Canadians and contributes 7.5% of our GDP. Research has demonstrated that the arts contribute positively to our health, education and the environment, and I suggest we need more arts in schools. The arts are mental health programs. Members can ask any child to tell their story, and I am sure they would rather do it through drawing, through writing or even through drama and putting on a personality, than try to speak as themselves. Sometimes this is much easier for people to do.

Where would the tourism industry be without Canada's arts and artists? The arts are a universal international language and the lens through which other nations recognize us as Canadians. It makes us different from the Americans. The Americans have their own arts and culture, but we need to support ours so we are not drowned out and so people can hear our own stories and our own voices, not just American ones.

The cultural components of international events are there not just to entertain but to show the world who we are, and we are very good at doing this. The Government of Canada has committed to restoring the cultural pillar to our foreign policy. We are depicting ourselves to the world through the arts, which on the international stage creates a greater understanding of who we are.

I believe it is time for our Parliament to have a visual artist laureate, whose works would preserve for posterity the events that grip us as parliamentarians and the work we do to make Canadians' lives better. I ask for members' support in making this initiative a reality. It is a tangible manner of thanking our artists for their contribution to Canadian society, especially during trying times such as these.

I would like to say the words of George Elliott Clark, our former parliamentary poet laureate. The poem is entitled “On the Proposal for a Visual Artist Laureate”:

The blank page—the blank canvas is—
Undeniably delicious—
Like fog, which obscures, then reveals—
What Hope imminently congeals—
A fantastic architecture—
Imagination born secure:
What Vision— the I of the eye—
Had dreamt, is What answering Why. . ..
Rainbows erupt from paint or ink—
And film sculptures light—in a blink;
A needle, weaving, is lyric,
And whatever is shaped is epic.
Art's each I articulate,
Whose vision ordains a laureate.

Parliament of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

June 22nd, 2021 / 6:30 p.m.
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Garnett Genuis Conservative Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise in the House today to speak in support of Bill S-205 and to affirm the importance of the arts for our national life and indeed for all people throughout all time in history. The appreciation of beautiful things and the enjoyment of them is fundamental to the human condition. It is part of what elevates our minds and develops our thoughts and creates space for our greater understanding of goodness and of truth, in unity with beauty.

I was thinking of jumping-off points for talking about this issue. I was reminded that in the Catholic tradition, today is the feast of St. Thomas More. St. Thomas More is known better for some things than for others, although he was a composite figure known for his many different contributions to politics as well as to literature. He is best known for how his career ended: He was executed for refusing to endorse the king's marriage. He did so on a point of principle and a point of conscience. Regardless of whether members agree with the particular stand he took, we can all admire the courage of a politician who takes a stand on a principle and understands that the things they believe in are more important than their career or even their life.

St. Thomas More was also a great humanist. He talked about justice. He talked about human dignity and spoke explicitly about the connection between the ill treatment of people and crime. His writings and comments on those subjects have been sources of inspiration and content for people across the political spectrum. Particularly on the artistic side, he was someone who was able to develop ideas and present political points, indirectly perhaps, in the form of beautiful literary compositions.

If members have not read it, I encourage all to read Utopia. This is where we get the concept of utopia as sort of a political construct. He wrote this relatively short book, Utopia, in which he imagined a voyage to a faraway country called Utopia, and he describes in detail the characteristics, the modes of interaction and the beliefs of this fictitious people. Of course, he was living at a time when it was difficult to make certain kinds of political points directly. As his later career demonstrated, if one believed in certain things and expressed those opinions, there could be very dire consequences, not just in today's sense of people being cancelled but of actually being cancelled.

He spoke about certain ideas and raised certain questions through this description of an imaginary society that operated according to different norms and different rules. There were many questions at the time, and there still are, about what he really meant in many aspects of this book. Was he describing an ideal society? On the other hand, there were things about that society that seemed to be different from things that he defended and advocated as a politician. Maybe he was not describing an ideal society; maybe he was simply trying to expand the creative imagination. He was trying to give flower to possibilities by creating a space in which it was acceptable to think about things that would have been seen as maybe too subversive if he had been commenting directly on norms or policies in his own country.

I think what Utopia demonstrates is the beginning of the tradition of trying to subvert established ideas through the subtlety that is possible through art when it is is maybe harder to present those alternative concepts directly. There has since been this whole genre of utopian or dystopian literature, with dystopia, obviously, being the inverse of a utopia. There are many great modern works that pick up on this tradition and use this device of imagining another place, another time, another context to subtly comment on our current realities. Some of the works of Margaret Atwood, of course, are famous in this regard, such as The Handmaid's Tale. The Children of Men is another great dystopian novel that I have read recently, and I think it has a great deal of value in it.

The point I am trying to make is that art has value in and of itself. It is also a vehicle by which questions can be raised and thoughts can be provoked that are not as obvious, not as directly accessible through explicit political speech, and, indeed, possibilities can be opened that are unexamined otherwise or harder to argue for directly.

That can be the case perhaps because of direct repercussions for those who propose contrary ideas, but that can also be the case simply because certain concepts are so out of the mould that it is hard to envision what they would imply unless they are actually described in a more literary format. Thomas Moore is one example of someone who successfully provoked the creative imagination through art and literature.

We can see the value in Parliament creating this position of a visual artist laureate as appreciating our artists, as affirming the value of arts as a mechanism by which Parliament uses its position, its leadership role within the country to affirm the importance of the arts. However, it is also an opportunity to recognize, in our national life, so many of the conversations we have about the big challenging issues facing our country. Questions of justice, questions of human rights and questions of how we behave and respond to certain challenges can be proposed and shaped through art.

With that in mind, I am very supportive of the bill. It is one of many private members' bills before the House, some of which have come from the Senate, that do have great value and that Conservatives are pleased to support. From what I understand, Bill S-205, like Bill S-204, which we were speaking to last week, had the unanimous support of all senators. Like Bill S-204, it also has a great deal of support in the House. By all indication, I think all members will be supportive of the valuable provisions contained in that bill. It is one of those things hopefully parliamentarians can work together on across different important private members' bills as well as across different chambers to move these things forward.

In the context of the legislative timeline we have in front of us, unfortunately it looks like the Prime Minister is trying to malign the work of Parliament to create the impression that Parliament is not working. The reality is that this Parliament has worked substantially to move certain important issues forward; it just has not always worked in a way the government has liked.

One example the sponsor of this bill will be familiar with is the work being done at the Canada-China committee, a committee that was created even though the government did not want it created, a committee that undertook important studies, did important work on the situation in Hong Kong, a committee that has been part of discussions that have happened at other committees as well on recognizing the Uighur genocide, something that happened through the leadership of Parliament and not through the leadership of the government. Now we have a situation of Parliament asserting its rights to access documents. These are important cases of the leadership of this Parliament.

If the Prime Minister is critiquing Parliament, it has less to do with the fact Parliament is not working and more to do with the fact that, from his perspective, Parliament is working too well. Parliament is doing things the government may not like, but nonetheless Parliament has been able to lead, oftentimes through the collaboration of opposition parties and sometimes working with individual members of the government as well.

Nonetheless, we are in the situation now as we approach the end of the spring session where it looks very much like the Prime Minister, in trying to malign the work of Parliament, is trying to position himself to justify calling an election. If that happens, of course, it will put important legislative initiatives that have not yet passed in jeopardy.

We should reflect on the fact that as we possibly come to the end of the spring session, in some cases, we have bills that have been passed in the Senate and are now in the House. If the House could find a way of dealing with them, it would allow us to move forward ahead of the spring session so those bills could become law.

As I have described, this is important legislation. It recognizes the profound role that arts play in our national life, the profound role of beauty in the human experience and also the role arts can play in provoking questions and ideas that might not get discussed otherwise.

Parliament of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

June 22nd, 2021 / 6:50 p.m.
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Matthew Green NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today in support of Bill S-205 as a proud Hamiltonian and member of Parliament representing Hamilton Centre, which for generations has been an epicentre of the arts, a refuge, a place where artists have come to live, create, explore and indeed share their contributions with the rest of Canada. I am excited about this act to amend the Parliament of Canada Act to create a parliamentary visual artist laureate, and I am struck by the ways in which visual art has had an impact on my life.

Those who are familiar with Hamilton or have had the privilege of visiting our incredible city no doubt will have stopped at some time by the Art Gallery of Hamilton. Any child who went to school there would no doubt recall the trips to the Art Gallery of Hamilton. In particular, any small child, I can assure members, can spend hours at the permanent installation of the Bruegel-Bosch Bus by Kim Adams, if given the opportunity to experience it. In fact, any person looking at that installation could spend hours wondering, dreaming and interpreting its meaning.

There is so much in the arts that enriches our lives in society. As I walk around my own riding of Hamilton Centre, I am struck by the beauty, inspiration and indeed the stories that are told through our public art. There are barriers to art. There are certainly class implications to art and people's ability to access it in fair ways. Perhaps there was a time in our city when art was confined to places like the art gallery or other institutions that may not have been accessible to the public.

I think the opportunity to have a national parliamentary visual artist laureate speaks to our calls for open access to art, understanding that everybody, regardless of income or area code, deserves to have exposure to the splendour, the beauty and the stories of art.

I would like to take this moment to acknowledge some of the profound impacts that local artists have had on our city. There was a time, not too long ago, when Hamilton was an affordable place to live. Of course, that has changed over the years, but what remains are the artists who, over the last 10 or 15 years, decided to make Hamilton their home. There is a unique culture, a collectivist culture, within Hamilton, where artists take care of one another and create spaces that might not be present. I had the opportunity and pleasure of serving with the Hamilton Community Foundation in the transition from the idea of art as philanthropy versus art as a part of an actual built institution or forum within our cities, and I would like to thank my dear friend Jeremy Freiburger with Cobalt Connects for helping me provide some of that reference point.

I think about the ways in which a parliamentary visual artist laureate could set an example for the rest of the country and, as the previous speaker mentioned, give a snapshot of the uniqueness of the diversity within this country. I thought it important and I raised the question, when the sponsor from Cumberland—Colchester presented this private member's bill, about the importance of having this artist laureate be reflective of Canada's diversity, because it is often the case that when we go into these spaces, we do not just look for who is there; if we are coming from diverse communities, we often recognize who is not there. That is why her reference to our 2016-17 poet laureate George Elliott Clarke was so important to me, because I recall hearing some of his many works where he would speak truth to power in ways that might have been absent without his lived experience.

When I reflect on that and I look at the ways in which our neighbourhoods have been transformed by public art, the way in which there is a wonder in finding and discovering new pieces of art, whether they are murals on walls, whether they are from graffiti artists who have contributed to our community, or whether they are sculptures, any way in which visual art presents itself, I am deeply grateful.

For those members who know my community, there was a time when the public's perception of my neighbourhood was one of a stark industrialism, which has its own artistic beauty, but certainly is beautified by works of public art. I think about the ways in which those works are representative of our city, the ways in which this visual artist laureate could be representative of our country.

If I may take this moment, I would like to acknowledge the newly named executive director for Hamilton Artists Inc., my friend, neighbour, multidisciplinary artist and filmmaker Derek Jenkins, and the newly named collective public programs coordinator, John Hill, who is an Oneida artist and who believes that art can give people the tools to imagine new and hopeful worlds. I love that. I love the promise that it brings, and I feel like that could encapsulate the promise that this private member's bill could bring.

We have so many talented artists in our city. I could spend an hour today pitching all the amazing people who would make incredible visual artists laureate. I think about the way they are connected to all the incredible community groups within our city, like the Coalition of Black and Racialized Artists, which has served a mandate to support and uplift the much-needed diversity within our arts and culture scene.

I think about the visual alchemist Stylo Starr, the world-renowned photographer George Qua-Enoo, the incredibly important and affirming work of Herstory Doll creator Queen Cee, or her husband, Leon 'Eklipz' Robinson, who has the distinct cultural legacy as a graffiti master, hip hop extraordinaire, poet, photographer, painter and filmmaker. In fact, I had the privilege of working with him on a project where he took small children and allowed them to create their own art in our incredible Gage Park, which remains there today, by the pump track, indeed a monument to the creative nature of our children and their ability, when they are connected through programs to art, to build beautiful things in our community.

I often also reflect on the ways in which some of my favourite works reflect the struggle that people have felt in this country, and I reference the Montreal mixed-media artist Kit Lang, whose work Incendiary: Mary Joseph Angélique reflects the historical and present-day truths facing the African Canadian diaspora in Canada; or the Hamilton-born artist Kapwani Kiwanga, whose contributions can offer a critique on settler colonialism; or the works of Syrus Marcus Ware, whose portraits commemorate the activists and the revolutionaries of our communities to ensure that Black, indigenous, racialized, queer or trans people, or people living with disabilities, are given safe and creative spaces. I think about Camille Turner and her perceptions of Canadianness and her performance in the persona of Miss Canadiana, which confronts the ideas of the Black body as being foreign or other.

The list goes on and on, about the incredible opportunity that this private member's bill provides the House of Commons today to honour, to lift up and to exalt the artists and the artistry that we have in this country, the multiculturalism and diversity that make this country unique.

In closing, I would like to thank the hon. member for Cumberland—Colchester for bringing this important private member's bill and allowing me the opportunity to stand in the House today to share with the members just some of the many incredible artists we have from my city in Hamilton Centre.

Parliament of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

June 22nd, 2021 / 7 p.m.
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Sonia Sidhu Liberal Brampton South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am proud to speak today in support of Bill S-205, which calls for the creation of a parliamentary visual artist laureate.

I want to thank my colleague from Cumberland—Colchester for bringing this important bill to the House of Commons. I would also like to thank Senator Bovey for introducing the bill and for the role it would play in promoting the arts across Canada. Senator Bovey has had a long career as a promoter of the arts, and we would all be hard pressed to find anyone who matches her expertise in this field. She previously called for this in a bill introduced in the last session of this Parliament, as did Senator Wilfred Moore in 2018. Twice it has successfully passed the Senate and made it to the House, so let us work together to pass Bill S-205 in this House.

Similar to the poet laureate, this would be a non-partisan officer of Parliament in the Library of Parliament tasked by this institution with promoting the arts throughout the country by fostering knowledge, enjoyment, awareness and development of the arts. The position comes with a wide mandate, as the visual arts can include drawing, painting, sculpture, print making, crafts, photography, videography and filmmaking. The mandate would be to promote the arts in Canada through Parliament by producing or commissioning artistic creations. At the request of the Speaker of either House, he or she could produce artistic creations for use in Parliament or on occasions of state. The artist laureate could also sponsor artistic events and give advice to the Library of Parliament regarding the library's collection and acquisitions to enrich the library’s cultural holdings.

Like other countries, Canada finds itself in a place where we are looking back at our history and reconsidering whom we choose to commemorate and celebrate. This is why I particularly appreciate the fact that the bill specifies that the final laureate must be chosen from a list that reflects Canada's diversity. If this bill is passed, over time we will find ourselves with laureates representing the many cultures that exist within Canada: anglophones, francophones, indigenous people, newcomers, men and women, and people of all backgrounds working in all mediums of the visual arts.

The arts community often runs on a not-for-profit basis and often needs the support of government institutions and grants. Our government provides funding for the Canada Council for the Arts, Telefilm Canada, the National Film Board, CBC/Radio-Canada and other institutions that cultivate our artists and bring them to the world stage. In 2017, the government announced an additional investment of $300 million over 10 years for the Canada cultural spaces fund, more than doubling the program's annual budget until 2028. As well, budget 2019 included additional investments to support arts, culture and celebration through five Department of Canadian Heritage programs, and to support arts presentation. This is one more way we can show our support for the industry.

The pandemic has been difficult for the entire arts community. Museums and galleries had to close their doors, and artists' businesses slowed. However, many have embraced the new challenges that this represents and found news ways to deliver their programming online, and our government has been there to support many of them.

In my community, the Peel Art Gallery Museum and Archives, known as PAMA, features a variety of permanent and touring exhibits of paintings, photography, sculpture, historical artifacts, and also serves as the main cultural archives for our region. It showcases historical and modern indigenous artwork, artifacts of local history, pieces by local artists and much more.

Last October, PAMA received a grant of $100,000 so they would have the resources to continue their work in preserving our local heritage during the pandemic. It was also just recently announced that they would receive $800,000 from the federal government to make much-needed infrastructure improvements to their facility.

In my community, there are many initiatives that promote the creation of arts by members of many diverse communities. The International Film Festival of South Asia is one such example. As the largest South Asian film festival in North America, IFFSA is an outstanding platform for local artists to showcase their talents. The festival is not only limited to movies. This festival has a deep social role promoting civic engagement and culture dialogue.

In my riding of Brampton South, the arts sector is also supported through other federal initiatives such as the Canada summer jobs program. Summer jobs in the arts are supported through the Beaux Arts Brampton gallery, right in downtown Brampton, and the Arts and Culture Initiative of South Asia. Perhaps artists who come up through the Peel Art Gallery, or any of these other local programs, would one day find themselves as the parliamentary visual artist laureate.

Art, in all its forms, has the potential to be both a reflection of a society and a reflection of its strength and weakness. It is a manifestation of our hopes and dreams, as well as our daily struggles. Through paint or stone, artists do not just open themselves up to us, they open us up to ourselves.

I am looking forward to not only the passage of this bill, but also the great works of art that would be promoted by our nation's future laureates.

Parliament of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

June 22nd, 2021 / 7:15 p.m.
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Pierre Paul-Hus Conservative Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise to highlight the fact that, despite the great importance we place on arts and culture, I find it unfortunate that we are debating Bill S-205, which seeks to create the position of parliamentary visual artist laureate.

At a time when the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons are going around telling the media and anyone who will listen that the Conservative Party is filibustering and blocking important legislation, here we are at 7:20 p.m. debating a bill to create an artist laureate position. Is this bill critically important to moving our country forward?

We know that the Prime Minister probably wants to call an election this summer. I just wanted to put on the record that, notwithstanding the importance we place on arts and culture, which are so important to society, I find it very odd that we are debating this matter today when the government is falsely accusing us of filibustering on all the other bills.

That said, I want everyone to have access to the arts. It is very important. Despite what some may think of us Conservatives, we are educated people, we travel and we visit cathedrals, monuments and museums. We are not totally stupid, far from it. However, we do not like being told that we are holding up critically important parliamentary business. With only 24 hours left in the parliamentary session, we are currently debating a bill to create an artist laureate position.

Parliament of Canada ActRoutine Proceedings

May 13th, 2021 / 10:15 a.m.
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Lenore Zann Liberal Cumberland—Colchester, NS

moved for leave to introduce Bill S-205, An Act to amend the Parliament of Canada Act (Parliamentary Visual Artist Laureate).

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to table Bill S-205, the national artist laureate act, an act to amend the Parliament of Canada Act. I wish to thank Senator Bovey of Manitoba and Senator Moore of Nova Scotia for creating this bill that brings us together from across the nation and reminds us that art is a shared experience. Bill S-205 would appoint a parliamentary visual artist laureate for successive two-year terms to promote the arts in Canada through Parliament by fostering knowledge, enjoyment, awareness and development of the arts.

Art speaks in a visual language and our own perceptions translate the stories. Whether it is a simple handprint on a cave wall 60,000 years ago, petroglyphs carved in the rocks, a sculpted form, a sketch, a cartoon, a photograph, art endures. Like the artists who enrich our lives, art strives, art inspires, art thrives long after we have shuffled off this mortal coil.

(Motion agreed to and bill read the first time)