Mr. Chair, I am pleased to rise to address the committee of the whole as it considers the main estimates for the multiculturalism program in the Department of Canadian Heritage for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2008.
Canadians of all backgrounds make vital contributions to the development of our economy, to our cultural landscape, and to building a welcoming and respectful cohesive society. Our Conservative government is committed to genuinely listening, engaging, and delivering results on behalf of new Canadians and of cultural communities.
As the Prime Minister said last year on Multiculturalism Day, June 27:
In the 21st century, millions of people around the world still view Canada as a land of opportunity — a country in which where you’re going matters more than where you come from. And every year, our country benefits from the arrival of thousands of men and women drawn by the equality of opportunity that exits here.
As Secretary of State for Multiculturalism and Canadian Identity, I view my work as, in part, that of an ambassador establishing links between the Government of Canada and our country's cultural communities.
Since being named secretary of state four months ago, I have had the pleasure of attending more than 100 meetings, events and celebrations with dozens of communities and organizations across the country. Indeed, in the preceding year as Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister I attended dozens more.
From these events and meetings in community centres, churches, temples, synagogues, mosques and private homes across the country, I have heard about challenges that face newcomers to Canada and the priorities of members of our many cultural communities.
My consultations have clearly established for me the following priority issues for new Canadians and cultural communities. The first is the issue of economic integration and the need to ensure that new Canadians can practise in the profession of their choice and have their qualifications recognized, and to enter into the circle of prosperity here in Canada.
Second, I hear from new Canadians and members of cultural communities a desire not to be separated off into cultural ghettos but a desire for full and total equality of opportunity in Canadian society.
Third, there is the desire for education so that all Canadians, including newcomers who we welcome every year, nearly a quarter of a million, learn about our history, values, institutions and symbols.
Fourth, combating the ongoing reality of racism in Canadian society is also a priority, as is fostering inter-community and interfaith understanding and dialogue to ensure that we build national cohesion in this pluralistic society.
Fifth, to engage young people in particular through meaningful and practical programs that deliver results, like mentorships that can help bridge gaps between communities and the mainstream, and between different cultural communities themselves.
The sixth and final priority is a desire to see a multiculturalism articulated that, while celebrating our differences, leads, as I say, not to ghettoization but to national cohesion.
Our government embraces the tremendous diversity of our country and this evening I want to speak about what we have done to reinforce Canada's model of pluralism in order to strengthen social cohesion.
The principles of multiculturalism are entrenched in Canadian law. In 1988, Prime Minister Mulroney introduced the Canadian Multiculturalism Act. It was the first act of its kind in the world.
We are pursuing the efforts undertaken by Prime Minister Mulroney to build a society that supports community participation as well as individual contributions and respect for all.
In light of what brings us here tonight, I would like to outline the work the new Government of Canada is doing, through the Department of Canadian Heritage's multiculturalism program, to strengthen pluralism in Canada.
The government supports measures that work, that is measures that help ethnocultural communities respond to the challenges they face.
With the multiculturalism program, the new Government of Canada funds projects recognizing the value of our diversity and addressing issues facing cultural communities.
For example, there is the issue and challenge of foreign credential recognition. Labour market access is a crucial factor in integrating ethnocultural communities. Our government recognizes that people with foreign credentials too often encounter closed doors. We are committed to doing everything we can to help open those doors to those who face barriers. That is why we are funding projects to support professionals so they can take action to address labour market access issues. This will allow new Canadians the ability to begin the qualification process and to search for employment that uses their talents, their skills and their experience.
Another project I am very proud our government has launched is the participation in the Aga Khan's Global Centre for Pluralism. Canada has much to share with other countries in terms of diversity. I am very pleased that Canada has been selected as the site for the Global Centre for Pluralism. I believe this illustrates the regard in which Canada is held as a society that embraces pluralism.
Our government is providing $30 million for this centre, which is a partnership between the Aga Khan Foundation and Canada's government. This international institution will serve as a cornerstone of peace, stability and human development in the 21st century.
I am also proud of our government's work with respect to redress of historic injustices, immigration restrictions and wartime internment measures, in particular, this government's historic work to redress the historic injustice of the Chinese head tax and the exclusion act.
In the April 2006 Speech from the Throne, Canada's new government made a commitment to apologize for the Chinese head tax. On June 22 of last year, as we know, the Prime Minister offered a full apology to Chinese Canadians in this chamber for the head tax, while he expressed deep sorrow for the subsequent exclusion of Chinese immigrants. Let me note that we marked in ministerial statements here on Monday the 60th anniversary of the repeal of the Chinese immigration act which effectively banned the Chinese from entering Canada.
To give substantial meaning to this apology, at the end of August 2006 we announced that surviving head tax payers could apply for ex gratia symbolic payments of $20,000. On December 1, 2006 the Minister of Canadian Heritage announced that persons who had been in conjugal relationships with head tax payers who were now deceased could apply for similar ex gratia payments. I am pleased to announce that as of May 11, 163 symbolic payments have been made to the head tax payer generation as a real and tangible sign of redress on the part of the Government of Canada.
Related to that of course, and I notice that I am getting heckled from the opposition, when the Liberal Party was in government for 13 years, it refused an apology for the Chinese head tax, refused redress, refused to even consult the community meaningfully on these issues. When it came time for the Prime Minister to stand up and make this historic apology in this House, half the Liberal caucus was absent from this place, including the Liberal Party's leader. I know members of the Chinese community wonder why the Liberal Party has expressed no regret for its total irresponsibility on that issue.
Let me say that we continue the issue of redress as it relates to the community historic recognition program and the national historic recognition program. As part of our government's commitment to this, we have committed $24 million to be disbursed through the CHRP, as well as another $10 million for the NHRP. These programs will contribute to strengthening the sense of inclusion of all communities in Canada and will highlight the contribution of these communities in building our country. We are not only delivering on this very important promise, but we as a nation are taking one more step in correcting past hardships.
Another initiative that I am particularly interested to be involved with is the cross-cultural round table on security. In a time of heightened concern about security, the government understands that measures should be designed to help foster social cohesion and national identity and recognize that ethnocultural communities share with all Canadians a desire to promote national and community security.
The cross-cultural round table provides insights on national security measures that may impact Canada's diverse communities. It promotes frank dialogue in the protection of civil order, mutual respect for all Canadians and common understanding.
The Department of Canadian Heritage worked with the Ministry of Public Safety in setting up the cross-cultural round table. I give due credit to the previous government in this initiative, and we continue to participate in setting its priorities and strategic direction.
Finally, I would like to touch on Canada's action plan against racism. This is a government-wide effort to combat racism and remove barriers to the full participation of every Canadian to our society.
Canadian Heritage, in cooperation with the Department of Citizenship and Immigration, the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development, and the Department of Justice, has launched eight new programs, with a budget of—