Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my colleague from Saskatoon-Dundurn.
I am very pleased to take part in this debate and I hope it will enrich the reflection brought about in the House by the motion presented by the member for Richmond-Wolfe. I am happy to see that my opposition friend is concerned about the future of Canadian culture and to have this opportunity to present our own vision on the issue.
To start with, if I may, I would like to remind everybody that when we talk about Canada, when we promote Canada, we are promoting Quebec as well, recognizing it as a distinct society with its unique language, culture and institutions.
When we are promoting ourselves, we get richer. I would like us to see the debate from this angle, at least for a few minutes. I was shocked when I was told that Canada was not a friendly country. This is not true. Of course, Canadians are not all the same. Their experience is different, but the vast majority of them love and respect their fellow citizens in Quebec. I believe the reverse to be true also.
I have learned over the year that what we do not know well, we do not understand well, and when we do not know well and do not understand well, we cannot appreciate of course. It is very difficult to love.
I often hear some of my English speaking colleagues who are less, at times, than totally generous toward their Quebec colleagues. I would maintain that is a minority.
Very often when that happens, they know very little about Quebec. They know very little about its language, its culture, its institutions, the unique place. The reverse is also true. When someone knows very little about the other, when they do not understand, how can they appreciate, how can they care?
Unfortunately that is one of the problems that exist at times in Canada, not just in Quebec but in every single province and territory.
The world has never been so easily accessible. New communications technologies have made it possible to develop a greater awareness of the world around us and to have direct access to an ever increasing volume of information and knowledge. Through the Canada information office, the government wants to provide Canadians across the country with accurate, factual and pertinent information about our country, its institutions, its regions and its people. It wants to give a Canadian slant to the mass of data and information we receive.
But this slant is not only Canadian, it is also a Quebec slant, something that affects, for example, my community in my Franco-Manitoban riding. We just had the Festival du voyageur, we even had artists from Quebec who came to our region and were warmly welcomed. We have artists, writers, all kinds of people who go to Quebec and are appreciated there. That is today's world. There is this huge sharing, not only in Canada, but also throughout the world.
Culture is first and foremost an outlook on the world. In this sense, it is important to have instruments such as the Canada information office and Canadian symbols to convey this typically Canadian outlook not only to Canadians but also to people in other countries.
When we talk about the flag, some may say this is propaganda, but we can also appreciate that it is a powerful symbol that affects all of us. This is what some people fail to understand sometimes.
With the advent of the information highway, content communication is becoming vital for cultural expression. When I talk about content on the information highway, of course I am referring to Canadian content. It expresses and reflects the values, the ideals and the knowledge shared by all Canadians.
In this context, because of the importance of communicating our cultural heritage for the strengthening of both the national identity and the economy, the Canadian government had to take major steps recently.
The government made many efforts to ensure access to cultural content on the digital information highway. It has become an international leader in this area.
At the G-7 conference on the information based society and development held in South Africa, the government stressed how very important it is to have a diversity of views expressed and languages used on the information highway. In the area of heritage for instance, the government participates in pilot projects put forward by the G-7 to promote the most democratic access possible to world culture while respecting individual national identities. It takes part for example in a project called multimedia access to world cultural heritage and, through the National Library of Canada, in the Bibliotheca universalis project.
At home, the Canadian government has worked on setting up a task force on digitizing collections of cultural and scientific value. National institutions involved in heritage take an active part in integrating and developing new technologies. They are digitizing their collections and making them accessible to the public.
The government will explore many avenues to develop new ways of helping produce digitized Canadian content of heritage value. It also plans to promote conservation, distribution and access to this digitized content.
At the same time, the Canadian Heritage Information Network supports its institutions' efforts to make their collections available to a broader public. It provides, among other things, an Internet directory of Canadian museums and heritage sites. To date, the network has generated a total of 22 reference databases in both official languages and a few other information products available on Internet. More than 1.5 million netsurfers have visited its site.
This is an exceptional showcase for Canada and its culture, history and heritage. In addition, the Government of Canada has worked together with CultureNet and the Canadian Conference of the Arts to develop the cultural electronic network of Canada. This network will be a window on Canadian culture for people in Canada and throughout the world.
The government is committed to promoting the establishment of a Canadian information highway that would provide goods and services in both official languages. As it indicated at the round table conference on culture, a few days ago, the government will take every necessary step to promote the creation of Canadian content.
The federal government also adopted, and is currently reviewing, a number of measures designed to increase access to traditional markets, to promote greater dissemination of Canadian culture abroad, and to penetrate specialized markets for the arts, heritage and cultural industries. Among the initiatives taken, the government organized, in December, a national round table on the marketing of Canadian heritage goods and services abroad.
Given their mandate, museums as well as cultural and heritage institutions play a prominent role in the preservation, the promotion and the sharing of our heritage. Some 2,000 museums and institutions dedicated to preserving our heritage are important cultural tools, not only because of their number, but also because of their popularity with Canadians and foreign visitors. It is estimated that 56 per cent of those who visit our institutions are Canadians. It is also estimated that Canada's museums welcomed over 55 million visitors.
Through its museums assistance program, the Government of Canada provides direct support to these institutions, so as to increase access to collections, to manage these collections efficiently, and to ensure their preservation, for the benefit of current and future generations.
This summer, the government will provide more than 800 young Canadian students with an opportunity to work in institutions dedicated to our heritage, such as libraries and museums. This will be done through the Young Canada Works program, which will include Quebec students. This summer job initiative will not only help young people earn money, but also help them gain better knowledge of their country, their province, their territory, their history and their culture.
We must make sure that our tools to promote culture, and our heritage institutions, are at the service of Canadians, and we must also make sure they offer a typically Canadian content. Our cultural productions and our own perspective on events should also be shown on tomorrow's networks.
The Government of Canada wants to give Canadians as many opportunities as possible to undertake initiatives in order to express their own identity. As we move into the 21st century, we need to be able to express Canada's uniqueness.
Before concluding, I want to say a few words about my own province and francophones outside Quebec. There are around a million of them and people sometimes try to forget about them. In my riding, close to 20 per cent of the people speak French. A high percentage of English speaking citizens have also learned to speak French and taken up the French culture in our province.
There is also a solid core of francophones in other provinces. Need I remind the House that a third of the New-Brunswick population speaks French? For the million people outside Quebec who still speak French, their language and their culture are very dear to them. When they travel to the province of Quebec, they feel very at ease. When Quebecers come to our region, they feel comfortable.
When I travel to France, I feel at ease. I have friends who went over there and they felt the same way. Yesterday, I had friends over from France and we went to the Festival du voyageur , and they really liked it. They had spent some time in Quebec City and had felt also very welcome over there. They felt very at ease in our area too. Do not forget that strong ties bind us together.