Madam Speaker, the Canadian government is coming to the House of Commons today for second reading of Bill C-53, an act to establish the Department of Canadian Heritage and to amend and repeal certain other acts.
First of all, the surprising thing is that the government took nearly a year to draft Bill C-53, which for all practical purposes confirms what Prime Minister Kim Campbell announced when her cabinet was sworn in in the summer of 1993. In so doing, the present Prime Minister and his government are confirming the same mistakes in decisions made by the previous government when for economic reasons Ms. Campbell decided to reduce the size of cabinet and merge several departments; among those decisions was the creation of the Department of Canadian Heritage. This is totally unacceptable, both for Canadians and for Quebecers.
At first glance, this bill seems to be a purely technical measure that should pass quickly without lengthy debate, since its primary purpose is to establish a department, Canadian Heritage, and amend all related laws accordingly. After thoroughly examining this bill, we unfortunately must come to the conclusion that such is not the case.
This bill is more than a purely technical measure. It would create a department where the minister would have the following powers, duties and functions, under clause 5:
-initiate, recommend, coordinate, implement (and promote) national policies, projects and programs with respect to Canadian identity and values, cultural development, heritage-
Madam Speaker, through you, I draw the attention of members of this House to the fact that the adjective "Canadian" refers to the following four items in the list I just read, so it should be taken to read as follows: "In exercising the powers and performing the duties and functions (assigned to the minister by section 4), the minister shall initiate, recommend, coordinate, implement (and promote) national policies, projects and programs with respect to Canadian identity, Canadian values, Canadian cultural development and Canadian heritage".
Accordingly, you will not be at all surprised to learn that the Bloc Quebecois cannot support such a bill, for many reasons, but mainly these.
First, this bill shamelessly infringes on what so far has been considered provincial jurisdiction: culture.
Second, the steadfast obstinacy of the Canadian government in refusing to recognize the distinctiveness of Quebec society is totally unacceptable.
Third, based on our reading of this bill and on the old saying that the past is a guide to the future, it is far from obvious that the Department of Canadian Heritage provides the guarantees required to defend the French language and culture, especially those needed for the francophone and Acadian communities in Canada to continue to develop, flourish and even exist.