Mr. Speaker, I am happy to have this opportunity to respond to the Speech from the Throne.
I am particularly proud to be Minister of State for Multiculturalism and Status of Women. I cannot think of a position that I would rather be in as I look at the words in the Speech from the Throne.
I have always been passionate about multiculturalism, equality and human rights. I have devoted my life to creating a better world where women and men from all backgrounds feel they are accepted and valued.
It is a great moment to be the minister responsible for Canadian multiculturalism and belong to a government that continues to cherish and value diversity as a fundamental ethic of Canadian society. I am pleased to underscore that February is Black History Month, a time when we recognize the many achievements and contributions of black Canadians who have done so much to make this nation what it is today.
This year marks the 400th anniversary of the arrival of Mathieu Da Costa in 1604, who is believed to be the first person of African heritage to have set foot on our shores. More than 1,000 young people participated in the Mathieu Da Costa challenge this year demonstrating that our youth certainly value diversity.
As the Speech from the Throne states, we want a Canada with strong social foundations where people are treated with dignity, where they are given a hand when needed and where no one is left behind.
I think everyone of us in this chamber wants to ensure that no one is left behind in our society. Moreover, the Speech from the Throne goes on to say that changing the way things work in government will help all Canadians to achieve their goals, starting with strengthening Canada's social foundations.
It means removing barriers to opportunity. This philosophy is given concrete expression in our openness to immigrants and refugees, and as clearly stated in the throne speech, abhorrence of racism. These powerful statements are possible because we, as a society, have held these values for decades.
Our commitment deepened in 1971, when Parliament adopted the multiculturalism policy. Tomorrow, I will have the privilege of tabling the annual report on the operation of the Canadian Multiculturalism Act for 2002-03. It will outline how federal departments and agencies are advancing the values and principles of multiculturalism. It is a document that is full of extraordinary facts, and indeed there is much about multiculturalism that is extraordinary.
I wonder if members are aware that Transport Canada has adopted a diversity strategy and that the Canada Council for the Arts increased its grants to culturally diverse artists and arts organizations by almost 7% in 2002-03.
I want to share with the House the results of two recent groundbreaking surveys. One of these surveys revealed that 80% of Canadians believe that multiculturalism enhances the value of Canadian citizenship. The other study revealed that the vast majority of the population, 86%, say to us that it has not been discriminated against or unfairly treated. What an achievement. At the same time, we know that some people registered that they have been treated unfairly.
All of this incredible progress has occurred because Canada has laws, like the Canadian Multiculturalism Act, to ensure that the multicultural heritage of all Canadians is valued.
I am living proof that we live in an open and inclusive society. But as long as people express that they have experienced racism and discrimination, we still have work to do. I am confident that the action we have already taken will benefit many generations after us. We must continue to act.
The action plan against racism that we are working on right now will be a powerful way to address the challenges we still face. This plan is a direct result of our international engagement following the world conference against racism held Durban, South Africa in September 2001.
Canada's multiculturalism policy of encouraging people to retain their cultural identity as Canadians is recognized as a model for the world. The action plan against racism is a continuation of this openness and philosophy of diversity.
Thirty 30 years ago Prime Minister Trudeau adopted the multiculturalism policy that led to the adoption of the act in 1988. Today we are celebrating its 15th anniversary.
As one of my predecessors, the former minister of state for multiculturalism and citizenship, the hon. Gerry Weiner, once said about this law:
Gone are the days when multiculturalism was a side show for new Canadians or those labelled as “ethnics”. Today's multiculturalism is about removing the barriers of discrimination and ignorance which stand in the way of acceptance and respect.
Gerry Weiner was right. The multiculturalism policy is an all-embracing and adaptable vision for Canada, one that gives us the openness and freedom to take our place on the global stage, while creating the kind of society we want for our children.
We now live in a country where more than 18% of us were born outside of Canada and where more than 13% of us are visible minorities. In urban centres, this figure is much higher.
The new deal for cities outlined in the Speech from the Throne is designed to help our communities become more dynamic, and more culturally rich and cohesive. This in turn will make them stronger partners in building Canada's social foundations.
I look forward to working with my colleagues to ensure that the cities' agenda includes all the urban multicultural strategy that supports inclusive institutions, and dynamic and cohesive communities.
With the increasing diversity of our population, Canadians understand more than ever that the task of nation building is not dependent solely upon political and economic structures. It is profoundly influenced by the social and the cultural relationships between communities within our society and by their participation in that society.
It is important to say that government is committed to gender equality, as affirmed strongly in the Speech from the Throne.
It reflects the priorities of women in Canada in all their diversity, priorities fundamental to equality, ensuring we can contribute to every aspect of the life of our country.
The commitment to gender equality is essential to strengthening Canada's social foundations. Canadians want a government that fully and truly engages them, reflecting their unique perspectives and shared strengths, as women and men. Gender equality is a goal we all share. Gender equality is key to economic and social success. And gender equality is central to effective government.
This is why we have been working on an agenda for gender equality, a framework that helps the Government of Canada to incorporate a gender perspective in its policy development, promoting understanding of the benefits of equality and engaging citizens.
The Speech from the Throne reinforces the government's commitment to gender equality. We were pleased by the clear statement that was made in the Speech from the Throne on the issue of gender equality because it is a commitment that the agenda for gender equality facilitates.
The future of our children is Canada's future. This has an impact on women as both parents and caregivers. The Government of Canada is committed to investing in the future of our children, particularly aboriginal children, ensuring that they get the best start in life, protecting them from exploitation and abuse, and supporting them in lifelong learning.
The government will improve access to quality health care, and build stronger and safer communities. These are concerns close to the hearts of many women for whom violence can be a daily reality.
The Speech from the Throne highlights the new recognition that our social and economic goals are inseparable. A stronger economy requires stronger social foundations, and economic strength and a more equitable society are clearly linked.
The government has committed to supporting new approaches to community development, known as “social economy”. That support further recognizes the contributions of women in improving the social conditions of their communities and in building a strong and vibrant social economy that meets people's diverse needs.
I will close with two thoughts. When the multiculturalism policy was adopted 33 years ago by the Right Hon. Pierre Elliott Trudeau, he stated:
A policy of multiculturalism within a bilingual framework is basically the conscious support of individual freedom of choice. We are free to be ourselves.
But this cannot be left to chance. It must be fostered and pursued actively. If freedom of choice is in danger for some ethnic groups, it is in danger for all.
The Right Hon. Pierre Trudeau's words ring true today as they did 33 years ago.
Whether one is talking about strengthening Canada's cities, strengthening our social foundations, strengthening our economy or our standing in the world, multiculturalism and gender equality will continue to play an important role in our government's plans for the future.
This week the government pledged to ensure that every citizen has a strong voice and can contribute to building our nation. More than half of those voices belong to women. They must have every opportunity to improve their lives and participate in securing Canada's future.
I call on all of my colleagues to support the Speech from the Throne, the ideas expressed therein and let us work for quality of life for all of our citizens, men and women.