moved that Bill S-214, An Act to establish International Mother Language Day, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
This is a time when our nation is weathering some very formidable challenges that some would use to draw out our differences, namely to challenge that most fundamental Canadian value, the one where we care about and act in the common good. Canada is too valuable in the world to have this value damaged, so I am here today with an opportunity, one that reflects, in a small way, the solemn obligation we have in this place, indeed one that we must accept as our imperative, to promote and achieve unity through respect, understanding and dialogue. It may be a small offering toward that goal, but Bill S-214, the call to designate every February 21 as mother languages day across Canada, is intended to raise our awareness of the value of honouring and protecting the cultural and social richness of the languages many of us brought to Canada, or, which is very important, the languages that have been spoken in our land since time immemorial.
An important point to note is that the bill does not propose the creation of a statutory holiday. It simply opens up opportunities for people in every community to celebrate the unique aspect of their culture and history. It is that unique aspect that comes with the language they brought to Canada and maybe still speak at home with their children to keep that heritage alive.
It is a unique honour to sponsor Bill S-214 in the House to hopefully make real the dream of people in our British Columbia community to create a moment for all Canadians to reflect, in yet another way, on an essential aspect of our nation that makes it the place where so many in the world want to live. It is a fact of this country that we are stronger because of our differences, not in spite of them.
I can relate personally to this point because back home in Fleetwood—Port Kells and Surrey, we enjoy an incredibly diverse community: 30.3% of us in Fleetwood—Port Kells are of European heritage and 30.1% of us are from South Asia. This statistic is maybe a year old, and I have a very strong feeling that this ratio has now reversed and that our South Asian community is indeed the largest in my riding.
We have a healthy range of cultures and languages in those two large groups, but we have to add Chinese, at 13%, and Filipino, at almost 10%. There is also Korean, Japanese, Croatian, Latin American and African, and measurable populations of many other cultures. We also absolutely must shine a light on the thousands among us in my riding, in Surrey and indeed right across Canada with aboriginal heritage, who are in urgent need of help to keep their ancient languages alive.
This diversity is highlighted in many ways. It is highlighted in the arts, in the way we worship, in the sports we play, in the ceremonies we celebrate, in the cultural events that we hold in our communities for ourselves and for our neighbours and, to add a personal favourite, in our food. I am delighted to hear that we are going to be celebrating Filipino food just in time for my going back home to Fleetwood—Port Kells. I can tell the Filipino restaurant in my riding that my staff and I will be there to celebrate the food and enjoy its hospitality.
Then there are the languages with the symbolism and idioms that reflect the heartfelt values and character of each community within our community. Long ago, in work to communicate public services and policies, which included invitations to participate in their development and delivery, I grew to appreciate the power of relating to people with the words that carried the meaning and context that delivered the necessary message in a way that promoted the understanding they needed and the engagement they had an opportunity to provide.
Doing this is not just a simple matter of translation. We do not just take a word in a language and find the English word that tries to mean the same thing, because there is more to words than just the bare, fundamental meaning.
We need instead to transcreate, which is to adapt thoughts in one language to something that delivers the clear intent of the communication. Our excellent parliamentary translation services staff are well experienced with this.
The opportunity to celebrate our mother language opens the way to share the words and phrases of one language that may have no equivalent in another, and in doing so we learn something about our neighbours in this country of ours. Here are some examples.
In Brazilian Portuguese, we have the word saudade. No single English word can do justice to the emotion it communicates, emotions of longing and nostalgia. In Brazil, they have the beija-flor, or the kisser of flowers, a name that creates such a beautiful image of the creature we call the hummingbird.
In Chinese, the expression meng die captures a similarly beautiful sentiment, while the English equivalent “dream to be a butterfly” offers only a glimpse of a much broader picture than one might imagine when that word comes up in conversation.
Thousands of people in Fleetwood—Port Kells speak Punjabi, and they have a short, very precise expression, raula, which I am told means “a really messed-up situation”, so I will be listening for that one. My Punjabi is very rusty, as members will hear in just a second. There is another Punjabi saying, Suno sab di, karo apni, which offers the wisdom to “take advice from everyone but do what you think is best.”
To be called a Bayani in the Filipino community is high praise. That one word describes a hero, and not just any hero but a patriot who uses their bravery, courage and kindness to further the human race or the cause of the community.
Of course, we have indigenous languages. Coincidentally, this is National Indigenous Languages Day in Canada, an important reminder of the work we must do to protect and preserve the languages that may well be extinct without our intervention. Our government has made that a priority with an allocation in the 2019 budget of $334 million over five years, and there was more in the 2021 budget to fund these efforts.
In B.C. alone, funding through the Indigenous Languages Act provided the First Peoples' Cultural Council additional funding of $6.86 million last November to increase investments through grants for projects that had not previously been funded or that needed additional funding to complete their work. This one measure is covering immersion strategies, language planning, resource development and more to support the revitalization of the 34 first nation languages that we have in B.C. This brought the total federal support for the First Peoples' Cultural Council to $14.6 million, an investment in preserving our history to be sure but also in enriching and strengthening our indigenous culture today, which can be shared right across our diverse communities.
That sharing, by the way, sets up some amazing events. I will never forget a huge gathering of our Sikh community a few years ago in Bear Creek Park. I was up on the stage looking over a sea of turbans of every colour, and there they were enjoying the Red River Reel as performed by a Métis band. This happens only in Canada.
Bill S-214 represents a unique and truly timely opportunity. Establishing every February 21 as Canada's annual opportunity to observe and celebrate mother languages day is something our culturally diverse communities can, as they see fit, use to bring their neighbourhoods closer together in the spirit of what it truly means to be Canadian, and as a way to remind us and remind so many thousands of us why it was they worked so hard to be here with us.
Speaking of events, I should add that as part of this government's pandemic supports, $200 million was dedicated to fund festivals and cultural events because of the fundamental value that they add to the community over and above the enjoyment of each other's cultures.
In closing, I must recognize three of the many people who have worked so hard for years to see this day created. First is the vision and energy of Mohammad Aminul Islam, who has held Mother Language Day events in Surrey for a number of years, at least before the pandemic, and discovered the equity that the celebration he sponsored built between communities when they gathered in the spirit of sharing, discovery and enjoyment.
Second is B.C. Senator Mobina Jaffer, who tried more than a few times to get this bill through the Senate, where she was successful, but getting it through the House of Commons was a bit more of a challenge. The machinations of government held it back more than a couple of times, but her persistence and passion for the idea of creating this day were the catalysts for the steps being taken—once again, in the other place—that we have here before us this evening.
Finally, I want to thank my friend and colleague, the hon. member for Cloverdale—Langley City, who took up this cause in our 42nd Parliament and who was generously ready, willing and able to second Bill S-214 on this occasion.
These people and so many others have seen the importance of promoting, protecting and preserving the languages that flavour our cultural diversity. Appropriately, on this National Indigenous Languages Day in Canada, there is one word from our Coast Salish peoples that perfectly fits their efforts and our opportunity with Bill S-214. The word is tsetsuwatil. It is one word that takes five in English to convey. It means “working together for the common interest”.
Mother Language Day is an observance that can really take root in any and every community across our nation, and I call on my colleagues here to help make its success a reality now and to help Canadians be ready to celebrate it on February 21, 2023. I give my thanks and gratitude for this opportunity.