Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to rise today in the House to speak in support of Bill C-53, an act to establish the Department of Canadian Heritage.
Over the past few months it has been my privilege as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage to work closely with him in advancing the department's initiatives on many fronts. I have had occasion to journey to the farthest reaches of our department's operations, visiting and consulting with local officials and community groups. Most striking among my findings was the intense enthusiasm of our Department of Canadian Heritage personnel whose zeal I am sure is fueled by the value they attach to their work.
The Department of Canadian Heritage is not some distant or insulated agency. It is an active participant in countless commu-
nities. In a real sense the department is a large part what makes many towns and cities into strong communities, very often the focal point, the gathering ground for communities, events or institutions that might not exist were it not for the support of the ministry.
From museums, parks and orchestras to sporting and multicultural events, literally millions of Canadians are attracted to our programs every year. The Department of Canadian Heritage is the guardian of our inheritance as Canadians. This department, this minister, stands at the gate protecting rich and unique elements of our culture, our vast stretches of unspoiled habitat, national historic sites, buildings and monuments, which offer Canadians a glimpse of the struggles that built this country.
The Department of Canadian Heritage is the protector of our artistic tradition, our sporting tradition, our official languages, the multitude of contributing cultures from our native citizens to the newest Canadian.
This is not a department which regulates a commodity. Our product is a better Canada, enriched with its natural and historic treasures.
Up to now, the debate taking place in the House has highlighted a number of interesting points, not the least of which being the diversity of programs administered by the new department.
Bill C-53 reflects very well the mandate sought by Heritage Canada and the scope of its field of endeavour. Although this has been mentioned by others, I should repeat that Heritage Canada incorporates programs from five existing or abolished departments.
It is easy for some to say that these programs have little in common, but this is a very superficial way of seeing things. A more thorough examination reveals that the three main areas of activity in the department have a lot in common, and I will come back to that later. More than that, they mesh very well and contribute to the prime goal of the department which is developing Canadian identity centres and encouraging the contribution of all sectors of society to the growth and vitality of our culture.
One of the major sectors of the Department of Canadian Heritage is Parks Canada, formerly a part of Environment Canada. National parks, national historic sites and the historic canals under the stewardship of Parks Canada represent some of the best examples of Canada's natural and cultural heritage. These gems are to be found in every region of the country. The economic activity and tourism generated by the department's operations in this program area are of vital significance to many local economies.
The parks service is mindful of its importance to these communities and has been at the forefront of efforts to fashion innovative partnership arrangements with private and not for profit enterprises in carrying out its mandated responsibilities.
The second major sector of the department encompasses those programs which are aimed at the promotion of Canadian identity and civic participation. As one would expect with such a broadly based mandate, this sector includes an impressive sweep of program areas. In fact some of the government's most important initiatives are being implemented in this sector. They include the promotion of official languages, the pursuit of excellence in amateur sport, the promotion of our cultural diversity, and the encouragement of the full and open participation of every Canadian in society.
Here then are the programs that speak to us regarding what it means to be Canadian, that set us apart from the rest of the world, and that have helped Canada earn its top ranking by the United Nations for overall quality of life.
The third main activity of the department is cultural development and heritage. This includes arts, broadcasting and heritage preservation, as well as cultural industries like film, video, sound recording and publishing.
As regards the wide variety of activities involved, the best way to describe them is to quote the short statement in the government's red book on the importance of culture. Here it is: "Culture is the very essence of national identity, the bedrock of national sovereignty and national pride. At a time when globalization and the information and communications revolution are erasing national borders, Canada needs more than ever to commit itself to cultural development".
This shows not only the importance of the department's programs, but also stresses what its prime objective should be: To develop policies and mechanisms to ensure a steady growth of artistic and cultural sectors both strong and dynamic.
During debate on the bill we have heard the Minister of Canadian Heritage outline the important connotations imparted by the term heritage. For me one of the most meaningful uses of the term is to capture myriad ways in which we express ourselves not only to our fellow Canadians but to the world. In my view heritage conveys the idea of the link between the past and the present in matters of human endeavour, whether they be related to culture, language, shared values or common experiences.
When I think of Canada and its heritage what springs to mind is a nation forged on the principles of respect for the use and
equal treatment of its two major languages, French and English; of respect for the cultural diversity, the traditions and the contributions of its aboriginal citizens and their languages; and of fundamental respect for basic human rights and values and an all encompassing and abiding devotion to democratic principles. It is no exaggeration to say that all these sentiments and ideals will find expression and action within the programs embodied within the Department of Canadian Heritage.
It is vital not to lose sight of what will be accomplished by the passage of Bill C-53. Moreover the bill should not be viewed in isolation. It is part of a greater reorganization of government being effected through the passage of various pieces of enabling legislation now in different stages of parliamentary review.
This redistribution of programs and responsibilities, as we are all aware, had its origin in steps taken by the previous government last June. The current government has put its stamp on the reorganization, redefined it and refined it. We are now proceeding with the task of confirming these changes in law.
This exercise, however, is but one component of our overall effort to provide Canadians with the most effective and open government possible. Toward that end it should be emphasized that the government's program review is ongoing and that the tabling of the various pieces of enabling legislation is part of the process.
The wording of Bill C-53 establishes the overall responsibilities of the Department of Canadian Heritage without being prescriptive as to how the mandate will be delivered. In other words the bill does not limit the types of changes that government may implement to make services more responsive and efficient in the current fiscal context.
The enactment of the bill will summon the coming wave of re-engineering efforts in the department that can only yield even greater efficiencies and more focused services. We must not allow Canada to grow pale from the leaching of its natural and cultural resources. We believe in a Canada infused by the advancement of our sense of Canadian identity and participation as a society and by the continuation of our cultural development and the protection of our priceless natural and cultural heritage.