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Evidence of meeting #12 for Canadian Heritage in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was history.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Brian Levine  Executive Director, Glenn Gould Foundation
William Thorsell  Consultant, As an Individual
Robynne Rogers Healey  Associate Professor of History, Department of History, Political and International Studies, Trinity Western University, As an Individual

9:50 a.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

9:50 a.m.

Consultant, As an Individual

William Thorsell

—by funding people and mixing them up and moving them around.

9:55 a.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

No, that's the House of Commons you're talking about.

9:55 a.m.

Consultant, As an Individual

William Thorsell

Then instead of having islands with buildings that were built to be torn down six months later, as at Expo, where only a few buildings were saved.... Instead of that impermanence being built in, what you would see with the digital media is everybody who went out on their two-week mixed-up trip up to Prince Rupert, for example, and met all kinds of people there, going back and getting on the Internet and creating Facebook pages. There'd be a tremendous legacy of relationships and appreciation of the country. It's the most important thing you could do. It's invisible and critical. It's not testable, I suppose, but it's fundamental to the future of the country to get to know it.

9:55 a.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Not to add to this—and I'll get others to weigh in as well—but just very simply, should we have an Encounters with Canada across the country? Should kids amalgamate in a place like Prince Rupert from across the country? Should they go to St. John's, Newfoundland?

9:55 a.m.

Consultant, As an Individual

William Thorsell

Yes, absolutely, and what I'm suggesting here is that you don't have to come up with all of these programs. All you have to come up with is the principle for all of the people who want to do programs.

Mr. Levine's proposal, which I heard only this morning, couldn't be a more perfect way of mixing up and moving around people in the area of music. Somebody else is going to mix up and move around in the area of wilderness, like the things that you did. Somebody else is going to do it in the area of sport. Somebody else is going to do it in the area of clowns or something.

As long as it is a credible commitment to mixing up groups as they are created, and going off into some other part of the country to deal with other mixed-up groups or doing something like that, then you can look at any proposal. The idea is that we build this bridge, this literal and metaphorical bridge, focusing on individuals of Canadian history and Canadian society, and tying into the trail. I think it would just be a nice physical memento of the year. But the real legacy is much more profound than that, and much more long-lasting. Not only that, but it wouldn't end, would it? People who went out to Alberta and made friends while travelling there, and discovered that Alberta is much more wonderful than they ever imagined are going to go back there and take their kids, and take some other people with them. So it has a huge leg on it, I think.

If you have a rigorous strategic filter for the year, and give the year a brand, and say whatever we're doing, we're all in the same game of mixing up and moving around, then I think we can get something done.

9:55 a.m.

NDP

The Vice-Chair NDP Pierre Nantel

Mr. Levine.

9:55 a.m.

Executive Director, Glenn Gould Foundation

Brian Levine

I'm very, very glad you raised the issue of legacy, because it's something that I think about a great deal. By legacy, I think we all tend to refer to things of great permanence and value. To my way of thinking, there are two forms that it can take. One is the kind of physical monument that we use as landmarks in our cities and public spaces, and the other is what I think of as the monuments of human consciousness, the things that live within us. I think we sometimes tend to undervalue those because we can't see them. We all feel them, and we share them, but to understand how powerful and how long-lasting they can be, perhaps I can share an anecdote.

Something that I remember reading with keen interest about eight or ten years ago was that there were researchers at Laval University who were going to very small rural communities across Quebec and collecting folk songs that the farm people were still singing. They managed to trace the origins of those folk songs back to France in the Middle Ages—in fact, to the 1100s. None of these folk songs were preserved in France because of the sudden break that took place with the French Revolution, so the last repository was, in fact, here in Quebec. Imagine 800 years of a shared conscious legacy. It's something that holds people together and is powerfully felt.

When we create experiences that are jointly shared by people, whether they're positive or they're national traumas and tragedies, they affect us and they last going forward. So this is really an opportunity to create that kind of intense enriching experience, and those of us who were around in the centennial year—perhaps not all of us were—know that it was a transforming movement. We all sang the songs. We all shared the pride. We all felt that rush of confidence, and I think that we all carry around part of that within ourselves today and have passed it along even to young Canadians who weren't there.

We certainly have some absolutely magnificent historical sites and edifices and, of course, they should be added to, and maintained, preserved, loved, and cherished because they symbolize that inner experience. But if we can invest in that legacy of consciousness, I think that's probably the one that's going to pay the lasting dividends for the nation.

10 a.m.

NDP

The Vice-Chair NDP Pierre Nantel

Thank you, Mr. Levine.

May I have permission from everyone for an extra two minutes for Ms. Healey to answer Mr. Simm's questions?

10 a.m.

Associate Professor of History, Department of History, Political and International Studies, Trinity Western University, As an Individual

Dr. Robynne Rogers Healey

All right, I'll try to be concise.

I want to say that I can't imagine an historian who doesn't think that the past is there to guide us into the future. I would hate it if anybody assumed that I'm suggesting we gaze only backwards, because historians look back in order to move forward. That is a critical commentary.

I was sitting here thinking about people becoming part of the story, so with mix-up and move around, I think we need to leverage digital resources for this. As somebody who's lived in every region of this great country—and I currently live in the west beyond the west, living on the coast that is so far away that people forget it's part of the west—I would like to see this as inclusive as possible. Being from the west coast, I can attest to how difficult it is for our young people to get out of British Columbia. That's why they all go south. The movement is north and south, not east and west, because it's a huge country. I think we should encourage programs that allow students to mix and to move around. I was a student who participated in many of those kinds of programs.

But imagine what we could do with digital resources that could connect classrooms across the country, with resources that could connect first nations communities to non-first-nations communities, that could connect English Canadians and French Canadians, that could connect people from Richmond to people from St. John's. I think those kinds of opportunities exist today, and that is the kind of legacy that would provide us with something to move forward.

So we can mix up and move around. I'd like to see it happening physically, but I'm also saying that it can happen virtually.

10 a.m.

NDP

The Vice-Chair NDP Pierre Nantel

Thank you very much, Dr. Healey.

It is now Mr. Andrew Cash's turn.

November 17th, 2011 / 10 a.m.

NDP

Andrew Cash NDP Davenport, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

10 a.m.

NDP

The Vice-Chair NDP Pierre Nantel

No, sorry about that; I got confused here.

We'll go to Mr. Armstrong first.

10 a.m.

Conservative

Scott Armstrong Conservative Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley, NS

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

We have great sympathy for you on your first day in the chair. Congratulations.

10 a.m.

NDP

The Vice-Chair NDP Pierre Nantel

It's the second day.

10 a.m.

Conservative

Scott Armstrong Conservative Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley, NS

It's the second day. Oh, sorry.

I'm trying to organize my line of questioning, so I'm going to start in the past, as an historian myself.

Dr. Healey, you talked about a digital narrative. You talked about events in our past that we should celebrate to help inform people, including those who have come here after much of our history has taken place in communities.

When I look at the dates in history that may be pivotal in 2017, there are two that are close to me because I'm from Nova Scotia and my grandfather was a World War I veteran. On April 9, 1917, we had Vimy Ridge, and it will be the 100th anniversary of that in 2017. On December 6, 1917, we had the Halifax explosion, which was another pivotal date in history, particularly on the east coast, when the Mont Blanc and the Imo collided and killed thousands of people in Halifax and flattened a great part of the city. I'm sure there are other events in other regions that took place during that year.

Do you think we could use some of these centennial and other events that took place in Canadian history as centres to bring people together from other parts of the country? I could see our having an event, not just in Canada but at Vimy Ridge in that year—the centennial of Vimy Ridge and our 150th anniversary, our sesquicentennial. I believe a lot of our nationhood really began at Vimy Ridge. That was when Canada was reflected in European papers and American papers as a nation, not just part of the British expeditionary force.

I'm just going to stop here at this point. Can we use some of these pivotal events, particularly the centennials of some these events that took place during the First World War, to try to bring our nation together?

10:05 a.m.

Associate Professor of History, Department of History, Political and International Studies, Trinity Western University, As an Individual

Dr. Robynne Rogers Healey

I would argue that we certainly can, and I think this reflects on my comments that we need to use local heritage to connect it to the larger national story. So yes, I would argue that the enthusiasm, the opportunities, the local volunteers who exist in those places, who will be able to work on celebrations of those events, can become a part of the larger story.

You talk about the Halifax explosion. This was an event that fundamentally and quite literally changed the face of Halifax. That story can be told to people in other parts of the country, as it's not just a Nova Scotia story. It happened in Nova Scotia, but it is part of the country's heritage.

I could see that happening across the country.

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Scott Armstrong Conservative Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley, NS

Mr. Thorsell, you talk about moving around the country. We look back at the first 150 years of Canada and we see about 80% of our people living within 200 kilometres of the U.S. border. Most of our history has taken place just north of that parallel. I believe that a big part our next 150 years is going take place in the north, where we have our northern sovereignty, particularly with some of the decisions being made at the United Nations level about 2013 and beyond.

Mr. Thorsell, speaking of mixing it up and moving around, do you think we could use the sesquicentennial to actually move a lot of our people into the north and establish greater northern sovereignty and a greater affection in our entire country for the north? That could be a lasting legacy, I believe, of the sesquicentennial. Do you have any comments on that?

10:05 a.m.

Consultant, As an Individual

William Thorsell

I think that is a perfect example of what you could do.

To go to your earlier example, this is where I think you need some discipline. For example, why would the 150th birthday focus a lot on things like the Halifax explosion or Vimy Ridge, which happened a hundred years ago or at other times? There's a risk of dissipation. There's a risk of good causes, worthy ideas, coming forward and our saying that it sounds like a good thing. It wasn't 150 years ago, but it was 20 years ago or 50 years ago.

Again, the rigour, the branding, the strategic focus on getting certain things accomplished in 2017 would probably lead me to say that those are great ideas, but they don't fit under this rubric, because we have important work to do and concentrate on. That is unless somebody were able to mix up and move around on the Halifax explosion or something

Clearly, the vast parts of the country that nobody, no significant population, has ever seen or been to are there to colonized in a way in 2017. In a sense, it's a year of self-colonization, isn't it? All those people from Edmonton, where I was raised, who have never even been to Ontario, much less to the Atlantic provinces, are going to colonize their own country. We're going to go out there and find out what it's all about.

Package this and market this well as a challenge to the nation, to know thyself. Open it up to all sorts of ideas. Tell people to come to you with all of their ideas, and no idea is crazy as long as they mix up and move around. Then I think we will find people in unprecedented numbers and with a certain amount of joy, and even a kind of mischievousness, saying, for example, that they have an incredible group and they're all going up to Spence Bay and are actually going to camp there and hike 10 days and will organize a group up there to stay with and so forth.

I think we would be amazed at the creativity and the sense of fun in projects—and even competition among groups, that “I've got a better idea than you for how to make this happen”. It would be a kind of national shared idea. Who has the best ideas to mix people up, not only by ethnicity but by age, by disabilities, via all sorts of different kinds of mix-ups. Say we have a proposal, like Brian's here, that is just going to blow your mind when it comes to how many different people are going to run into each other and move out.

By the way, I thought of something when you were speaking. When I was at the Globe and Mail, we were trying to cover multiculturalism, as a newspaper. It's not a beat. How do you cover multiculturalism? I asked reporters to go to one of the most diverse high schools in Toronto and to spend two weeks there to see how the kids there were getting along. What was happening? Did they have fights in the cafeteria? Did they have gangs and cliques? What was happening? I told them to go and embed themselves in there.

They came back two weeks later to report that the kids were getting along really well. They were dating; they were in games together. There were no police and there was no conflict to any significant degree. And yet there were all these different kids. I said, “Do you mean that there's no story there, except that it's a good story?” They said no, “There's a real problem with their parents.” This was because the parent of a Chinese girl was appalled that she was dating a blonde-haired kid from Rosedale. She was appalled that her daughter wanted to go into dancing instead of physics or something. So there was a lot of intergenerational conflict, and that story turned out to be a story of conflict, not among the kids but between the kids and their parents on the basis of what the kids were doing with each other and what their career ideas were.

At any rate, there is wonderful potential for people to wake up about in Canada and to come back and become ever more mobile as a result, and for our claims on our own territory to be strengthened.

10:10 a.m.

Conservative

Scott Armstrong Conservative Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley, NS

Mr. Levine, I think you have a tremendous project. When I was being educated I went on four youth exchanges—two from B.C. to Nova Scotia, by the way. It's not just the challenge of geography, but there's also a challenge of time. By the time they get out there and get rested and free of jet lag, then they have to come right back. If we're going to go from coast to coast we actually have to plan for extended stays to deal with the time issue as well as the geography.

Mr. Levine, I'm very excited about your program and moving children all around to different areas. One of my concerns is this. We've heard that this can't be top-down, that it has to be a bottom-up experience. It can't be just the federal or the provincial governments being very restrictive and saying this is what you're going to do.

The project you're already planning is a very bottom-up one. We just have to find a model that could support you and other people. Do you have any suggestions for recommendations that we could make in support of support programs like yours that are staring and others that are already at the visionary stage? How can we support that without putting limitations on ideas you've already had?

10:10 a.m.

Executive Director, Glenn Gould Foundation

Brian Levine

To hearken back to what I said previously, we need to understand the basic parameters of what government is hoping to see come out as a result. It should not be government saying it would like x number of young musicians, to use my model, to be performing in x number of cities, but a matter of giving Canadians as a whole the opportunity to share in the exchange of their cultures, whether through literature, interfaith events, music, painting. or whatever else. With these kinds of exchanges, the objective of lasting communications between the participants, and, as a result, their communities, will happen.

This is a very generic way of describing it, but if you understand the end results you'd like to see and if those are made clear as part of the terms of reference for any funding that's granted—and there should be reporting, as there always should be afterwards—there should be a deliverable that is less nitty-gritty or detailed as much as a broader picture of how we see this transformational year affecting our country and our society, going forward.

So if you can take a look at it from, let's say broadly, a broader policy point of view rather than x number of musicians performing in x number of cities point of view, I think you've basically got the starting point. I think if you take that view within the obvious limits.... It goes without saying that if you're working with young people, you have to have certain safeguards to ensure their safety, including background checks on the people who are going to be working with them, and all of those kinds of things. But if you basically are prepared to trust the people, the people who are creative and the public as a whole who are going to be basically providing the participation, this is really just about creating a forum for all of us in this country to come together.

We're pretty smart folks; we'll figure it out. If you basically give us the prod and the nudge, I think the Canadian people will do the rest.

10:15 a.m.

NDP

The Vice-Chair NDP Pierre Nantel

Thank you very much, Mr. Levine.

We will now start our second round. The time allowed will be shorter, only five minutes.

Mr. Andrew Cash.

10:15 a.m.

NDP

Andrew Cash NDP Davenport, ON

This has been an amazing morning of information for us, and I thank all three of you. We've come to expect this calibre of input from you.

Mr. Thorsell, I'd just like to say to you personally that you did a fantastic job in your leadership position at the ROM and, of course, at the Globe and Mail. It's an honour to have you all here today.

Mr. Levine, I think the idea of creating a Nobel prize of music excellence based here in Canada is a fantastic idea and one for which you'll find many allies in this room.

These ideas are excellent, and because I only have five minutes, let's try to keep these answers succinct.

El Sistema is a fantastically successful program in Venezuela with 250,000 children involved in it.

10:15 a.m.

Executive Director, Glenn Gould Foundation

Brian Levine

Actually, there are half a million now.

10:15 a.m.

NDP

Andrew Cash NDP Davenport, ON

There are half a million now. Well, there you go.

You know the story, but in 2007 a loan was leveraged for quite a lot of money, and with that money they built several regional centres for El Sistema. Not only is it a physical bricks and mortar legacy, but also, what goes into the bricks and mortar is the really lasting legacy of that program.

We have 10 hours of El Sistema in Toronto, I assume. How many kids does that serve right now?