Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to address Bill C-64, an act to establish an indemnification program for travelling exhibitions, at second reading.
This bill seeks to establish a program of indemnification for international exhibitions, and for domestic exhibitions that are shown in at least two provinces. It will empower the Government of Canada to assume the financial risk, and provide compensation, for damage to or loss of an item that is part of the exhibition.
The program's main feature is that it will allow museums to save several hundreds of thousands of dollars in insurance, which is a very significant amount of savings for the arts world, as the hon. member pointed out.
Let me say from the outset that the Bloc Quebecois supports the principle of the bill. Indeed, we fully agree with the idea of helping museums by assuming a financial burden, which they certainly could do without. However, we would like to see some amendments to the bill. I will elaborate on these in the second part of my speech.
First, let us take a look at how this legislation came to be. The facts to which I am referring are taken from a report prepared in February 1997 for the Canadian Museums Association.
Canada once had an indemnification program for exhibitions. That program was established in 1985, but abolished in 1995, as part of the program review. During its 11 years of existence, the program was used to insure 157 travelling exhibitions sponsored by 50 museums, for an estimated total value of $6 billion.
The program had been set up to help museums deal with the huge increase in the value of works of art and, consequently, in insurance costs, which had become prohibitive. Today, these costs have not diminished, far from it.
At the international level, various studies, some dating back to 1974, concluded that the establishment of government sponsored indemnification programs was more effective than commercial insurance for travelling exhibitions. Not only is this method more economical, because breakage is very limited, but it also has the advantage of eliminating the problems associated with legal interpretations of the policies and legislation of various countries, which is reassuring to art lenders. During the 1980s, studies done in Canada reached the same conclusions. It so happened that in 1981 the Art Gallery of Ontario was to host a Van Gogh exhibition. Shortly before the opening, one of Van Gogh's paintings was auctioned off for a very large amount. As a result the owners of the items on loan demanded that coverage be increased accordingly. The insurance premium went up so much that the federal government had to step in.
The following year, in 1982, during the annual federal-provincial meeting of ministers of culture, a resolution was passed to set up a task force to examine the details of an indemnification program for exhibitions, in consultation with representatives of federal and provincial museums. This task force pointed out the savings that such a program would produce.
In fact, according to the task force's figures, claims for breakage during travelling exhibitions from 1972 to 1982, a ten year period, were slightly higher than $300,000, half of which represented a single claim. The task force therefore recommended an indemnification program for exhibitions worth over $5 million.
In June 1985, the federal government announced the introduction of an insurance program for travelling exhibitions so that Canadians would have access to exhibitions that would otherwise cost too much, and so that Canada could host major exhibitions.
During its lifetime, the indemnification program cost the federal government and the museums $6.6 million, and insured 157 exhibits by 50 museums, for a total coverage of $6 billion.
Claims made over the 10 years of the program's existence totalled $550,000, which I would point out is far below the claims average for the Canadian insurance industry.
In 1995, 15 countries were offering support to museums in one form or another, in order to insure travelling exhibits. The program implemented in the United States allowed eligible museums and galleries to save some $90 million U.S. in insurance premiums between 1975 and 1977. Over that same period, claims totalled only $104,700 U.S. This shows how low the costs of such a program are.
In introducing this bill today, the federal government is merely catching up with other countries in the world that already have similar museum support programs.
Now that we have examined the background to this bill, I would like to set out the points which are, in my humble opinion, the most problematical. In fact, what I am doing is passing on to the House comments that are supported by the people who work in museums.
Although the Bloc Quebecois supports the principle of the bill, we would like to see certain essential changes made to it. First of all, the definition of travelling exhibit ought to be amended to include those not presented in at least two Canadian provinces; second, the annual eligible limit needs to be raised substantially; third, the two subjective criteria for eligibility of travelling exhibits, namely educational and professional quality of the exhibition, and significance and relevance of the theme and content to Canadians, ought to be changed.
First, the requirement to show the exhibition in at least two provinces is found in clause 2, which sets two conditions for an exhibition to be considered a travelling exhibition, namely that the total fair market value of the objects in the exhibition that are borrowed from outside Canada exceed the total fair market value of those borrowed from inside Canada, or that the exhibition be shown in at least two provinces.
The problem with the second condition is that international exhibitions are rarely shown in more than one province. In fact, they rarely shown on more than one continent.
Also, a more modest exhibition may be of interest to a province, but not to the other regions of the country. The Bloc Quebecois feels that the residents of one province are taxpayers just like the residents of two different provinces, and must be entitled to the same services.
This provision will also have a greater impact in Quebec, where exhibitions are often shown in French only and can therefore not be presented in English speaking provinces.
As for our second point, which is to raise the annual maximum liability, we are not the only ones to raise this issue. Indeed, all the museum officials to whom we talked unanimously condemned the indemnification program's annual maximum liability, since that maximum can be reached with three major exhibitions.
This ceiling is all the more unacceptable because experience has shown that claims by museums are below the insurance industry's average, and that an authorized maximum is set for each eligible exhibition.
However, this measure coupled with clause 5(a), which limits accessibility to the program to exhibitions valued at $500,000, will restrict the bill's application to big exhibitions and the major facilities.
Need we remind you that the major exhibitions—Picasso, Renoir, Daumier and Van Gogh—at the National Gallery of Canada alone represent a total value of several billion dollars. Consequently, the Bloc Quebecois would like the Minister of Finance to raise the annual ceiling for eligibility to the indemnification program considerably.
I would remind the hon. members that clause 3 of the bill provides that the government's liability cannot exceed $450 million per exhibition and $1.5 billion annually for all exhibitions.
Furthermore, clause 5 permits the governor in council to make regulations for the purpose of, first, limiting the minimum value of eligible exhibitions and, second, establishing the criteria for the conclusion of indemnification agreements.
We have been told that the minimum value of eligible exhibitions would be $500,000. This minimum is way too high for small travelling exhibitions. The Société des musées du Québec, for example, is asking for a limit of $200,000. The Bloc Quebecois supports its recommendation.
Finally, the criteria to be considered in the conclusion of indemnification agreements provided in the bill include, in subparagraphs 5( b )(ii) and 5( b )(iii), and I quote:
(ii) the educational and professional quality of the exhibition,
(iii) the significance and relevance to Canadians of the exhibition's theme and contents,
The Bloc wants these overly subjective criteria deleted. Why does the government want the privilege of deciding on the educational quality of exhibitions and their significance for Canadians? Does it hope to use travelling exhibitions for propaganda purposes? I put the question.
Furthermore, the Bloc Quebecois is not alone in its reservations. They are shared by the president of the Société des musées du Québec, Hélène Pagé. She made her views known at the hearing held at the head office of Radio-Canada in Montreal on February 25 by the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage.
I should begin by pointing out that the Société des musées du Québec is made up of 250 museums in Quebec, which, according to a recent survey, were visited by some 14.8 million people in 1997-98.
So as to clearly convey Ms. Pagé's thoughts to members of the House, I will read what she said:
—we have seen the draft bill and it is quite worrisome because there does not seem to be an understanding of what a travelling exhibit is. There are two conditions. The travelling exhibit must contain more foreign objects than Canadian objects, whereas we know that an exhibit that comes from abroad does not include any Canadian objects, or else it must travel in two provinces. The great international exhibits are presented once on the European continent, once in the United State and in one Canadian province. They don't go to two provinces.
She states further:
Secondly, the regulations are worrisome because here again, it is somewhat coloured by politics. A regulation will decree what makes an exhibit have educational value and interest for Canadians. I don't understand that this can be done by regulation. There is no trust in the museum professionals. Who will decree that this exhibit interests Canadians or not; that the Monet exhibit in Montreal is not really interesting for Canadians? There is truly a problem there, and a connotation of political intervention in a bill for which we had high hopes.
Another thing is worrisome. We have learned that it would only apply to exhibits of a value of $5,000 and up. Only the large national museums are able to present that kind of exhibit. The others only present that kind of exhibit on an exceptional basis. If a small museum in Newfoundland or Quebec presented an exhibit worth between $90,000 and $200,000 and an unfortunate fire occurred, it would be a total catastrophe. The museum would not be compensated.
Therefore, this is a bill that will be useful to the big museums but not the small ones. Right now, throughout the country, the smaller museums are experiencing a great deal of difficulty.
That was a long quote, but an interesting one. As members can see, there are very clear concerns among museum directors about this bill, and the government needs to be attuned to them. The professionals working in this field, those who are knowledgeable about it, need to be trusted. If competent people like Mrs. Pagé voice reservations, the government needs to heed them, and to make the changes they are asking for.
It would be a great disappointment if we were to feel obliged to oppose this bill on next reading just because the government's intent was to make political hay from an indemnification program.
It has been clearly demonstrated that this program was a highly economical one with great advantages for the museums.
Why should the program not be expanded to include more museum exhibitions, since this is easily done? I would remind this House that every possible precaution is taken by museums. Every possible effort is made to protect exhibits and to ensure that they are not damaged. Hence there are virtually no losses and very few accidents.
In conclusion, the federal government has a duty to demonstrate its confidence in the museum community, by amending the bill as requested, solely in order to include as many exhibitions as possible. I trust that the government will be responsive to the real needs of the museum community.