Thank you very much.
Members of Parliament, I am honoured to be here today to talk with you about ideas and inspiration for the 150th anniversary celebration of our great nation.
I thank you for this invitation. I am pleased to have the opportunity to discuss this important moment in the history of our country with you.
Anniversaries are an important part of how society makes its collective progress and defines its goals for the future. I remember back to 1967, when Canada was celebrating its 100th anniversary. One of my strongest memories from that time was Bobby Gimby's iconic song, Canada.
The French version is entitled Une chanson du centenaire.
That song embodied the pride and the sense of accomplishment Canadians were feeling at that time. It became an anthem for our 100th anniversary and was very iconic.
Now on the journey towards Canada's 150th anniversary, we have the opportunity to create new memories that Canadians will remember for generations. Canadians are united by core values. They share history and a sense of common purpose. We cherish our shared history. Our government will join Canadians in celebrating our heritage, in promoting our values, and in standing for what's right on the world stage.
I've had the opportunity to be involved with other large-scale celebrations like this in the past. Those experiences give me hope for what this celebration could be and could mean to Canadians.
As Canadians we aren't really known for patting ourselves on the back, but I believe that these milestones provide us with an opportunity to celebrate the diversity that makes Canada unique, strong, and successful. This is Canada's time.
In 1999 I had the privilege of serving as chair of the organizing committee for the world junior hockey championship, which was held in Manitoba. If you have been to a world juniors game or have ever watched one on television, you're well aware of the passion and excitement that accompany this tournament. In fact, just this past year in Edmonton and Calgary, although we didn't end up with the hockey result we wanted, we couldn't have been prouder of the way our Alberta family represented Canada in the process.
In Manitoba, many of the games were held outside of the capital city in smaller rural markets like Portage la Prairie, Selkirk, Brandon, and Morden. Every single one of those games was packed to the rafters with people and emotion. They were able to share in this experience directly as a community. One of the points we must carefully consider is how to showcase and celebrate our vast geography, rather than having geography become a barrier to participation.
Not only did the experience with the world junior hockey championship solidify for me that hockey is without a doubt Canada's game, it revealed to me the values that make Canada a great nation: hard work, perseverance, dedication, teamwork, and integrity.
Hockey has a way of bringing out the best in Canadians, of bringing the nation together, to rally behind a cause. Our 150th anniversary celebrations present the opportunity for people to coalesce in a similar way.
I just have to say on a small note, Mr. Chairman, that it would be quite exciting if Winnipeg's new NHL franchise, the Jets, were playing the Nordiques de Québec in a winter classic of the Stanley Cup in 2017.
The 2010 Vancouver Olympic and Paralympic Games also serve as an example of the ways in which large-scale celebrations can lead to a greater sense of pride and national character. John Furlong, the Vancouver Olympics Committee CEO, said the Olympics were Canada's games in Vancouver. During the closing ceremonies, he commented that “Canadians tonight are stronger, more united, more in love with our country and more connected with each other than ever before.”
People came from around the world to participate in the events in Vancouver and Whistler, and the atmosphere was absolutely electric. The sporting events, along with the celebrations of music, dance, and theatre in Manitoba House, where the Canadian Museum for Human Rights was featured as part of Canada Place, made the experience unforgettable for visitors.
The respect of the four nations that hosted the games created an even greater sense of togetherness and connectedness, honouring the place and people that graciously welcomed the world.
What really stuck out for me was the awakening of a national spirit, a sense of national pride in the hearts of Canadians. Watching the gold medal hockey game outdoors on the big screens at Canada Place with thousands of people was a once-in-a-lifetime experience I don't think many will forget.
This was a feeling of pride, not only for Canadians who were there, but also for people well beyond Vancouver. It was evident in all corners of the country. The 160 Olympic torch run that passed through every province and territory in Canada represented this inclusivity and togetherness that we had all hoped that the Vancouver Olympics would mean for Canada. Well-planned, well-executed celebrations have the capability to fundamentally change the way people see themselves, their country, and their place in it.
While today's headlines focus on Her Majesty's diamond jubilee, in 2010 during the royal visit to Canada the Canadian Museum for Human Rights had the incredible honour of receiving a cornerstone from Her Majesty the Queen. The stone, selected specifically for the museum, was from Runnymede, site of the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215. The Magna Carta, or the great charter, is often touted as a precursor to modern constitutions and charter rights and liberties. Tens of thousands of people attended the celebration at the Forks in Winnipeg, and Canadian and international media shared the moment with viewers across the country and around the world.
Queen Elizabeth II's gift was a very important gesture, not only because it speaks to the long and storied history of Canada, but because it also speaks to the long and storied history of human rights, a history that continues to unfold every day in all parts of Canada and around the world. This represents Canada's human rights voice in the world.
And that brings me to my vision for the 150th anniversary of Confederation in 2017. As Canadians, we take pride in our history and look forward to our future as the true north strong and free. From our earliest days, we have always come together to advance our common purpose, all of us ready to do our part to move Canada forward, using our diversity as strength that makes Canada's social fabric stronger.
Our human rights history is a critical part of our history as a nation: one cannot be recounted without the other. I see the 150th anniversary celebration as an opportunity to honour our history, to look at where we started as a nation and look at where we find ourselves today. Our human rights history is our common history. It is the foundation of our identity as Canadians.
We have many stories to tell--some well known, some less familiar--and these stories can unite us as a country. Like the passing of the torch I mentioned earlier, the 150th anniversary celebrations present an opportunity to strengthen the fabric of our nation and serve as a positive catalyst for growth for generations to come. But what if, instead of a torch, we passed on the stories of our nation, the stories of perseverance, of struggle, of community, of triumph?
February is black history month in Canada. I'd like to recount the story of Viola Desmond, one of Canada's human rights heroes. In 1946 Viola Desmond, a black Canadian from Nova Scotia, travelled to Glasgow, Nova Scotia, on business. Because of car trouble, she had a few hours to spare, so she decided to take in a movie. Viola purchased a ticket and made her way into the theatre, unaware that racial segregation laws prohibited her from sitting in a seat on the main floor with white people. She was supposed to sit in the balcony reserved for black people.
When Viola refused to move from her seat on the main floor, the police were called and she was dragged out, put in jail, and fined $20 for breaking provincial laws. She was also charged with defrauding the government, as the ticket to the main floor was more expensive than that of the balcony seat. Following the incident, Viola began to speak out about racial segregation, and the public became galvanized around the cause. Finally, in 1954 Nova Scotia repealed its segregation laws. It wasn't until decades later, in 2010, long after her death, that Viola Desmond was granted a pardon, cleared of all charges against her, and provided an apology.
It was just announced a few days ago that a stamp honouring this human rights hero will be distributed through Canada Post. This story reflects the values that we cherish as Canadians: diversity, freedom, justice, perseverance, collective action, and learning from our mistakes. Think of this as another of Canada's national resources: our stories.
Our human rights history is not blemish-free. Trail-blazing is never without its misgivings or mistakes. For example, we should recognize that even these 150th celebrations will not be viewed in the same way by all people. For many aboriginal communities, this is not necessarily an event that warrants celebration. But by looking honestly and openly at our past, by engaging in a diversity of voices and perspectives and by celebrating what has been accomplished to overcome these mistakes, we will serve to make our nation more united, more proud, and more just.
We can use this anniversary to continue on our journey of reconciliation. To tell these stories, the museum could develop dynamic, bilingual, online exhibits, travelling exhibits, and activities at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. The stories chosen for the exhibits would be wide-ranging and would aim to engage many groups and communities, including aboriginal communities, francophones, anglophones, allophones, persons with disabilities, labour groups, and ethnocultural communities, to name a few.
State-of-the-art technology as well as art, theatre, and artifacts would make the travelling exhibits appeal to a large audience. Interactivity will provide Canadians with the opportunity to learn more about their neighbours and about themselves, strengthening the bonds of citizenship between us.
We could partner with the other national museums we're sharing with today to ensure that Canada's newest national museum, the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21, for example, has immigration experiences of new immigrants that are well connected to human rights.
These exhibits could also be used long after the 150th celebrations are over and travel to other museums of conscience globally, demonstrating to the world the progress being made in Canada on human rights.
A social media campaign could accompany these exhibits. It would engage a younger audience and encourage them to learn more about their history and to get involved in writing new chapters. Through YouTube we can challenge Canadians to tell their own stories and the stories of their communities--their Canada.
While the vision for the Canadian Museum for Human Rights emanated from the vision of a private citizen, the late Israel Asper, it evolved into a partnership of the Government of Canada, the Province of Manitoba, the City of Winnipeg, the Forks North Portage Partnership, and the Friends of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. People from across Canada and around the world adopted this vision of the museum as their own, and thousands of individual donors, labour organizations, and the private sector contributed generously to the shared vision of what our project means and can accomplish for this country and the world.
Partnerships between the federal, provincial, and municipal levels of government and the private sector are opportunities that must be considered in the development of plans on the journey to the 150th anniversary of Confederation.
Many successful Canadian companies have stories to tell in the context of the development of our nation. They should be invited as active partners to both have their stories told and to invest financially in community, sporting, arts, and cultural events.
On this journey toward marking the 150th anniversary of Confederation in 2017, I invite all Canadians to imagine ways to build a better society, a fairer society. I then challenge them to take action to make that society a reality.
I believe that to achieve our vision, we must work together, learn from our past to reinforce innovation, and encourage philanthropy and volunteerism. We must build on our proud history toward a brighter future.
I thank you for the privilege of speaking to you.
Let us work together to make this great year in Canadian history unforgettable.
Each of us can answer the call to service in our own way and together can continue this bold experiment we call Canada.
Thank you very much.