Mr. Speaker, the Throne Speech contains a paragraph that is devoted to culture, heritage and the Canadian identity. The paragraph states that the Government will announce measures to promote these essential national values.
One might wonder how such a short paragraph can respond to the challenges facing a department that is as wide-ranging as the one I am honoured to head. So a few words of explanation seem to be appropriate at the beginning of this parliamentary session.
Straight away, the very name of the Department of Canadian Heritage poses a problem. What do we mean by "Canadian heritage"? How can we justify grouping together in a single department elements as diverse as communications, the status of women, cultural industries, official and heritage languages, multiculturalism, national parks and sites, State protocol and amateur sport?
If we take the term "heritage" in its widest sense as meaning all of the combined property that enables each of us to see ourselves as an individual who belongs to a group or country, we can see that the department's name is fitting.
Today we can no longer restrict the meaning of heritage to the legacy of the past. Far more than a simple collection of traces left by history, the country's heritage is first and foremost the manifestation of the connection among members of a community and of its distinctiveness inside the global environment. Thus it is closely associated with the question of a country's identity.
In this perspective the seemingly vast range of activities supervised by the Department of Canadian Heritage is justified.
I can see three broad structures that will lead us to the same goal. First, the management of our natural and physical heritage: our national parks, our historic monuments, and our heritage canals.
Second, the management of programs that protect official languages, that promote the status of women and amateur sport, and that enhance our society's culture in other ways.
Third, the management of cultural development in Canada, and of means of communication which are of the utmost importance, not only in ensuring that we remain independent, but also as potent tools for economic development.
I would like to describe each of these three structures in greater detail. Our heritage appears at first glance to be a collection of historic sites, composed of 36 national parks, 750 historic sites and nine canals, located in all parts of the country. This sector is of enormous economic importance as it generates annual revenues of more than a billion dollars and provides jobs for around 30,000 people.
This sector lies at the very heart of our tourism industry and it is the envy of the international community, as we are at the forefront of what is known as "eco-tourism". One single statistic illustrates the popularity of these sites among tourists: in 1992, some 27 million people visited Canada's national parks and sites.
They are, of course, associated in our collective psyche with the beauty of our country. But they are also benefitting from the growing emphasis that western societies are placing on environmental quality. I feel, therefore, that they must follow the principles set out in the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.
Choices will have to be made and all parties, including the federal, provincial, municipal and territorial governments, will have to work together to make these choices. For instance, we want to make progress toward our goal of establishing land and marine base parks in all our distinct ecological zones. We also want to increase the number of historic sites which must serve as witness to all facets of our history.
In this respect I will encourage the unveiling of new areas of our collective history such as those related to women and native people, but we are facing as well severe financial constraints.
Some degree of self-financing might well open up some interesting avenues, but we must avoid the indirect consequences of over-commercialization. My role in this will be to safeguard the ecological and commemorative integrity of this important component of our heritage, as well as to make judicious decisions about its development.
I wish to share a few thoughts regarding the benefits that lie with a diverse society such as ours.
The history of our country is closely linked with successive waves of immigrants and the interaction between newcomers and the existing society. How immigrants adapt to the Canadian way of life will always be a major factor in the development of the Canadian identity.
The challenge is how to integrate diverse cultures with our existing cultures without melting them down into a single mould, thereby assimilating them out of existence. We must promote the development of a wholly Canadian identity as a rallying point for diverse cultures in support of a blueprint for a society based on consensus and continuity with our history.
Let us face the facts. The coexistence of cultures throughout the world is one of humanity's greatest challenges as this century draws to a close. Every day we hear people talk about racism or ostracism, both of which are exacerbated by hard times. This is a global phenomenon from which Canada is not exempt. We must consider the dangers inherent in self-centred attitudes. We must keep in mind the benefit Canada can derive from the diverse cultural makeup of our society.
In a world increasingly focused on economic and cultural globalism, our diversity could be to our great advantage as we strive to maintain our place in the community of nations.
We have to respond to this wave of intolerance that has swept western countries with better information about the advantages of cultural diversity. Perhaps we should begin with the very young and, together with the provincial governments, as they have jurisdiction over education, explore new ways of responding to the irrational violence that a fear of someone from a different culture may engender.
A foundation on race relations will be established precisely in order to throw new light on productive exchanges between the numerous ethnic groups that make up our population, the old and the new, and to unite the forces of multiculturalism around a cultural identity that is specifically Canadian. It might also be worthwhile to make more effective use of gatherings like the Canada Games and transform them into an authentic illustration of Canadian diversity by incorporating a cultural component.
I take this opportunity to remind the House that athletes from coast to coast are getting ready for the Lillehammer Winter Olympic Games. We all know how exciting it must be for them to represent their country at such an outstanding event. I am sure the House will join me in wishing them all the success in the world.
I might add that, in my opinion, the preservation and the promotion of our official languages does not turn Canada into a tower of Babel. Let us keep the individual freedom to use the language of our choice, but recognize that the English and the French languages give us access to two of the greatest sources of world culture. They are part of our national heritage that the government must maintain and develop.
Allow me finally to express a few thoughts on cultural policy. Culture is neither an abstraction nor a decoration. It is above all a viewpoint on the world and a manifestation of our civilization. There can be no identity without culture and this is recognized in the Liberal Party's plan of action: "Culture is at the very core of our national identity. It is the basis of our sovereignty and the pride of our nation".
In an era of trade globalization and fantastic breakthroughs in information technology, our cultural resources have become powerful tools of economic development. In 1992, the cultural sector contributed about 22 billion dollars to the gross domestic product. It employed nearly half a million people, which represents an employment growth rate of about 21 per cent between 1987 and 1992.
As impressive as it may be such growth must not mask the problems facing our cultural industries. These industries do not have access to the capital and market they need to compete on their home turf with the major producers of mass culture, mostly our neighbour to the south, the United States. This is why I think it is of paramount importance for Canada to maintain its freedom of action under the international agreements linking us with the United States, Mexico and our GATT partners. We achieved success in this respect and we can now bring new policies to the forefront.
In the past we have set policies in place to stimulate production, strike a better balance with foreign products and pave the way for greater creative expression from our artists. We made great progress. Nevertheless I do not think our traditional policies alone will be enough to surmount the challenges presented by the globalization of cultures, by financial constraints and by the revolution of the communications field. We will still be called upon to adapt our policies and to be innovative.
Our new policies will always seek to stimulate the production, the marketing and the distribution of our cultural products at home and abroad. We are preparing legislation which should allow our authors, producers and performers to earn a decent living.
I hope to update the Copyright Act so as to take into account new technologies that have changed the way cultural products are distributed and to recognize the rights of creators. We must also diversify the funding sources of our cultural industries. We absolutely need a better marketing plan for our cultural production at the international level.
In addition to being composed of two linguistic groups, the Canadian market is too small to ensure that our producers and creators survive and thrive. A global cultural market is coming into existence and Canada must promote in that market its unique production whose international reputation is well established.
I wish to remind the House that the department of heritage also has the mandate to ensure Canadian participation in international exhibitions. I was thrilled to learn that the last Canadian manifestation of this kind, which took place last year in Taejon, South Korea, has proven to be most profitable because for the first time Canada relied on the economic partnership.
Furthermore, the evolution of our society prompts us to review the operation and the mandate of our great cultural institutions. Among them, broadcasting is without doubt the most popular and most powerful cultural tool. More than 99 per cent of Canadians own a radio, 99 per cent a television set and more than 75 per cent a VCR. That shows the immense power which these media have at their disposal.
In this perspective, it is important that the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation find its proper place as a public broadcaster and that a funding mechanism better suited to the present situation be put in place.
The government will announce shortly the appointment of the new president of the CBC.
The government's commitment to Canadian strategy for an information superhighway is a good sign for our cultural industries. The information superhighway will be more than a technological infrastructure. It will be a powerful vehicle for Canadian content. It will enable us to distribute our cultural products more effectively and make them accessible to all Canadians.
This initiative will naturally be in keeping with our Canadian cultural policy. I will soon begin working on this project with my colleague, the Minister of Industry.
Just as important for our creative industry is the Canada Council. Cultural products are not just consumable and exportable goods. They are, first and foremost, the works of artists, creative men and women without whom the cultural industry could not survive.
The Canada Council's function is to support those artists when they start on a project or do experimental work. It also provides a fund that offers financial stability to the performing arts, theatre, ballet and orchestras. It is therefore vital that we ensure maximum efficiency on the part of this institution which is essential to the promotion of the creative spirit in Canada.
Given the shift toward globalism which marks the end of this millennium, we must rely more than ever on our creative men and women to provide us with a feeling of identity and a sense of belonging.
It is clear that the mandate of the Department of Heritage is a challenging one lying at the very heart of the major issues facing our country today.
Now more than ever Canada's cultural complexity must be seen not as a problem but as an asset at a time when opening up to the rest of the world is just as important as preserving our own identity.
Whether it is our historic sites, our national parks, the achievements of our athletes, the influence of our artists, the diversity of our population or the success of our cultural industries and institutions, all these things highlight our willingness to excel as a people.
I intend to bank on this huge wealth and particularly on the younger generation to ensure our country holds an enviable position at the dawn of the third millennium.
It is no doubt clear by now that the Department of Canadian Heritage, far from being obsessed with the past, is instead looking toward the future. It is resolutely concerned with the important challenges which face the societies of today.
I have faith in Canadian men and women, and I call upon them to take up these challenges and help our country to advance in the world of tomorrow.