Mr. Speaker, it is with great pride that I rise today in the House of Commons as a member of the government to address the Speech from the Throne, a speech which I can proudly say has been heralded as a return to traditional Liberalism.
I would like to thank our new governor general for her eloquent delivery of the Speech from the Throne and I congratulate her on her appointment.
In the Speech from the Throne the government has set out its vision for the next century by providing a comprehensive strategy to build a higher quality of life for all Canadians. The most striking thing about the speech is that the government has acknowledged that in order to successfully implement its strategy it requires consensus.
The Government of Canada cannot undertake this strategy alone. It can only do so in partnership and in collaboration, by working together with other governments, the provinces and the territories, the private sector, the volunteer sector and individuals. In fact, there is not a page in the Speech from the Throne which does not note the importance of working together or use the words “collaboration” or “partnership”. At the very beginning of the Speech from the Throne it is stated unequivocally as follows:
The best way to achieve the promise of Canada for every citizen is to work together to build the highest quality of life for all Canadians.
The issue that I would like to address today is the renewed commitment by the government to invest in Canada's arts and cultural sectors, for in doing so we are also investing in our national identity which ensures our sovereignty and serves as a method of nation building and of promoting a multicultural society.
As a passionate advocate of Canada's arts and culture and as the member of parliament for a constituency which is home to many of Canada's artists, including writers, singers, actors, performers, filmmakers and producers, I had started to hear concerns that investments in Canada's culture had become stagnant, that other interests and interest groups had overshadowed the importance of a continued investment in the arts.
I was actually confronted with concerns that the last two budgets had not addressed any new programs or incentives for our arts and cultural sectors, save and except those programs which had been envisaged in red book II, the Liberal election platform. While those programs and funding proposals had indeed been implemented, the fact still remained that these were not new commitments. Where was the vision for this sector that would lead Canada into the next century and ensure our cultural sovereignty and our national identity?
The concerns voiced by the arts community have been addressed and I applaud the government on its vision and leadership in continuing to promote our Canadian arts and cultural sectors.
The following are the themes that I trust will reassure and enhance our arts and cultural communities.
The government is now committed to ensuring that younger Canadians, from age 13, are given an opportunity to apply their creative abilities by providing them with a chance to produce their first works using traditional approaches and new technologies in the arts, cultural, digital and other industries.
This commitment acknowledges the importance of arts in making children creative and preparing them for a knowledge based economy. There is substantial empirical evidence to show that children who are exposed to the arts, especially music, at a very early age score much higher on the math and science components of the SAT examinations than those who are not exposed.
In November 1997 an article appeared on the front page of the arts section of the Globe and Mail which confirmed this evidence and concluded that arts, not computers, make kids creative. The article stated:
Arts education is not only cheaper, it may be essential training for a more creative flexible world. Arts, not IBM, makes kids smarter.
The article also went on to say that arts education by focusing on the creative process prepares our youth for the highly skilled jobs that our country requires and will require in the future.
Under international trade investment the Speech from the Throne noted that the government would increase its trade promotion in strategic sectors. It specifically noted that one of these sectors was the cultural sector. This statement gives new meaning and life to the maxim that culture is a third pillar of our foreign policy.
The government also committed to use the upcoming WTO negotiations to build a more transparent rules based trading system which not only provides for better access in world markets for Canadian companies in all sectors but also respects the needs of Canadians, especially culture as is noted.
On the section of infrastructure the Government of Canada has committed to building a cultural infrastructure. It is committed to bringing Canadian culture into the digital age, linking 1,100 institutions across the country to form a virtual museum of Canada. It will put collections from the National Archives, the National Library and other key institutions on line.
Specifically the speech also notes and vows to increase support for the production of Canadian stories and images in print, theatre, film, music and video, and the government has committed to increase support for the use of new media.
In dealing with physical infrastructure the government has agreed that it will work with other levels of government and the private sector to reach agreement on a five year plan for improving physical infrastructure in urban and rural communities across the country.
One of the areas of focus specifically noted for physical infrastucture was culture. I was delighted to see the cultural sector as a specifically designated area in which to improve our physical infrastructure. I say so because as a member of parliament from the city of Toronto we are looking at wonderful infrastructure projects. In the city of Toronto plans are under way to build a new state of the art opera house.
In Winnipeg the Manitoba Theatre Centre, at 41 years of age and Canada's oldest English speaking regional theatre, is in desperate need of repair. This need has also launched a private sector campaign to refurbish its two buildings.
This theme brings new hope to a request by the cultural community to restore funding for the arts in general and infrastructure matters in particular. More important, this commitment to improve physical infrastructure for culture appears to be a direct response to recommendations 32 and 33 of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage report entitled “A Sense of Place, A Sense of Being: The Evolving Role of the Federal Government in Support of Culture in Canada”, which was tabled in the House of Commons in June.
These recommendations call upon the Government of Canada to re-establish a capital fund and a long term financial strategy to deal with Canada's deteriorating cultural facilities. I applaud the government for its quick response to the committee's report.
In the section of the Speech from the Throne entitled “Canada's Place in the World”, the government stated that it would act like like-minded countries to reform and strengthen international institutions such as the World Trade Organization. It also specifically noted that it would work to develop a new approach internationally to support the diversity of cultural expression in countries around the world.
This commitment is a direct endorsement of the report of the cultural industries sectoral advisory group dated February 1999 wherein it was recommended that the government champion a new cultural trade covenant, a new international instrument that would lay out the ground rules for cultural policy.
In addition, this commitment to a new approach internationally to support the diversity of cultural expression also is a direct response to recommendation 29 of the report of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade entitled “Canada and the Future of the World Trade Organization: Advancing a Millennium Agenda in the Public Interest”, tabled in the House of Commons in June.
Recommendation 29 specifically calls upon the government to pursue the policy alternative contained in the cultural SAGIT report for a new international instrument on cultural diversity. Again I applaud the government for its quick response to the report and for the commitment to implement this recommendation.
In conclusion, I am proud to be a member of a government that not only has a vision but has strategies for all Canadians as we enter into the 21st century. The Speech from the Throne provides us with a blueprint to build the 21st century but, as the speech unequivocally states, we will build the 21st century together. All Canadians, every citizen, every government, every business and every community organization, have a part to play.