Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this bill, which puts into concrete terms the government's idea to merge the National Library and the National Archives.
We in the Bloc Quebecois are opposed to this idea, because it is part of this government's centralist mind set and its propagandist obsession. The wider mandate of the new institution runs counter to the historical neutrality of the National Library and the National Archives.
The Bloc Quebecois demands that any reference to the interpretation of the history of Canada be removed from the mandate of the Library and Archives of Canada. This is part of a Trudeau-style nation-building effort and, as I said, seeks to instill a sense of belonging based on a single version of the history of Canada.
The purpose of Bill C-36 is not only to merge two totally different institutions—with two different missions—but also to transform the history of Canada into a veritable propaganda tool. For these reasons, the Bloc Quebecois opposes Bill C-36.
Speaking of propaganda, I would like to speak out against an initiative by the people in this government that happened a few weeks ago. The Minister of Citizenship and Immigration provided all federal MPs with copies of a document prepared for CItizenship Week, which was October 13 to 19, 2003.
The document, entitled “Planting the Seeds Activity Kit”, was sent to teachers of human and social sciences for grades 4 to 6, ages 9 to 12. Another, made up of four course outlines and complementary activity kits for grades 7 to 10, is called “Cultivate Your Commitment to Canada” and is intended for students in social studies, history, civics and citizenship classes.
Notwithstanding the avowed motives of the minister and the pedagogical quality of the documents, it is of concern to us to see the federal Liberal government interfering directly and unashamedly in an area that belongs exclusively to Quebec and the provinces: primary and secondary education.
The federal government's determination to ignore Quebec's prerogatives in this area is of great concern to me, as a parliamentarian and also as a citizen. The contemporary history of many states is replete with examples of government strategies aimed at controlling education. It would be naive to think that this is not evidence of an obvious desire to minimize, if not totally deny, any desire for a Quebec identity.
That said, the federal government's idea of interpreting history as it sees fit creates fears for the worst.
Let us look at the scope of this bill more closely.
It creates one single entity: the Library and Archives of Canada, resulting from the merger of the National Library and the National Archives of Canada.
Consequently, the government is establishing a new agency whose head is called the Librarian and Archivist of Canada.
The most serious concern about the mandate this agency will have is this idea of interpreting Canadian history. This is the core, the key element of this bill. Let us not forget that interpreting Canadian history was one of the key messages of the government when the bill was tabled in the spring. Can the words library and archives be easily confused?
I consulted reference books to get a better feel for the meaning of these two words. According to the Petit Robert , library means a room or building containing a collection of books for consultation.
It also means an organization with various services, including a reading or consultation room.
The Petit Larousse states, under library: room or establishment, public or private, where a collection of books, printed material, manuscripts, is kept, consulted or loaned.
As for the word archives, the Petit Robert give the following definition: a collection of old documents, put together and filed for historical purposes.
According to the Petit Larousse , it is a collection of documents relating to history belonging to a corporation or administration. Reference is also made to hospital archives, which are described as all documents pertaining to patients. The word also means the place where such documents are stored.
Finally, the archivist is the person who maintains the archives, a specialist in the conservation, filing, and study of archives, historical documents.
When we are aware of the difference between archives and library, it is difficult to understand why the government would want to have everything in the same place.
My hon. colleague from Joliette gave an example of the kind of documents that could be kept in one place but not in the other. Documents pertaining to cadastre record properties with buildings on them or under cultivation, with the names of owners. Clearly this type of record has its place in archives, but not in a library.
Other countries have understood this distinction and maintain it. Among them are France, Germany, Belgium and our neighbour to the south, the United States. These countries make a distinction between the archives and a library network. The institutions each have their own existence and administration.
Can you tell me why there is a wish to merge the National Archives and National Library here, when many countries such as France and the United States are doing things the way we do right now, with two distinct institutions? There is some intent behind this that is not very admirable, in my opinion.
I warn the government against trying to merge these two bodies, because it will cause great confusion about the mission of each of them, and about the administration.
Until now, no one has answered our questions about why they want this merger. Is there one member who can answer the question? Perhaps the parliamentary secretary, during questions and comments, will be able to find the time to answer me and explain why they want to merge these two entities, when in other countries this is not being done? That includes countries with solid reputations, such as France, Germany, Belgium and the United States.
Is it a question of saving money? If so, I would like to know how much.
I am afraid, though, that there is some trickery, some propaganda strategy. The grand new mission for Library and Archives Canada will be nothing other than a way for the federal government to satisfy its appetite for more visibility. Its hidden agenda is to use this new organization to promote its vision of Canada, its own vision of Canadian culture and history.
For a good forty years, the federal government, led by the Liberals, has been trying to rewrite history in its own way. We are particularly sensitive to this.
My hon. colleague from Trois-Rivières recently wrote:
For the past 40 years, the federal government has been refining its vocabulary and clarifying concepts. For the past 40 years, the central issue in this debate is Quebec's current and future status. Some, such as myself, promote the idea of a sovereign Quebec in charge of its destiny. We are sovereignists. The other side promotes the idea of a Quebec with permanent status as a Canadian province, along with the other nine provinces and three territories.
Why not call these people provincialists instead of the more noble term federalists, a concept that has no place in this debate, since it implies the distribution of and respect for the powers of all members of a federation and a federal government, and for their power relationship.
Here, clearly, are two doctrines concerning the potential and scope of Quebec and its people.
On the one hand, the provincialists in both Ottawa and Quebec City want Quebec confined to provincial status and therefore diminished, and its government kept it under Ottawa's thumb and therefore inferior. The provincialists see Quebec merely as a Canadian province equal to all the other provinces, whose collective influence ends at the Canadian border.
On the other hand, the sovereignists see Quebec as master of its own destiny and a participant in important international debates, enriched by its francophone and Latin differences. They see a Quebec that is open to the world and contributing to it as a developed country.
But back to the debate, we in the Bloc Quebecois believe, along with the people in my riding, that there is indeed a Quebec nation, one with its own culture. We are far from the definition given by the Minister of Canadian Heritage, to whom Quebec culture is nothing more than a regional dimension of what is termed Canadian culture.
This is the context within which we must approach this bill. It is the vehicle of the famous concept of “nation building”. That is the reason behind the notion to integrate, by merging the two entities, a centre for the interpretation of history.
This government has its own way of rereading historical events and of deforming reality. The Minister of Canadian Heritage gave as her definition of the Fête nationale du Québec that it was the holiday of all French Canadians. Nothing could be more wrong. When we go back in history, French Canadian was the term applied to the residents of Lower Canada, the Quebec of today. From a religious feast day, we have moved on to a civic holiday, one that is more inclusive and reflects the contribution of all the cultural communities to the life of Quebec.
The minister's comments provoked anger and indignation on the part of Acadians. June 24 is the national holiday for Quebec and Quebeckers. Acadians have their own national holiday on August 15. It is this type of conclusion and distortion of history that may result from this bill as it stands.
When the bill was introduced in the spring, the Minister of Canadian Heritage indicated in a press release that “the purpose of the bill is to give Canadians greater access to their history and culture”.
There are a thousand and one ways to interpret the history of Canada. Based on what a nation such as Quebec experienced, perception of events may differ.
I believe that Library and Archives Canada is not entitled to use its own interpretation of the history of Canada in order to promote and try to convince the public of the historical value of this version. The mission of Library and Archives Canada is to make historical information available, not to create its own version and distribute it across Canada as propaganda.
Asking the newly formed Library and Archives Canada to interpret history so that it is better understood by Canadians shows a great deal of arrogance by the federal government.
In conclusion, the Bloc Quebecois believes that the broadened mission of the new institute only fuels the propaganda for Canadian unity. The new mission goes against the principle of neutrality that the Library and Archives Canada always sought. The government is trying to impose its own view of Canadian history. The Bloc Quebecois will do everything it can to maintain the exceptional reputation that Library and Archives Canada always had.
The Bloc Quebecois is against broadening the Library and Archives Canada mission and the interpretation of Canada's history as proposed by clause 6 or clause 8.1( e ) and ( i ). It is designed for nation building à la Trudeau and to foster a sense of belonging to a single version of the history of Canada; a version that would effectively deny the aspirations of the Quebec nation and its great ability for achievement. For these reasons, the Bloc Quebecois will vote against this bill.