Mr. Chair, this is the first opportunity that I have to share with the House the work done by the Department of Canadian Heritage under the Conservative government.
With me tonight are the Minister of International Cooperation and Minister for la Francophonie and Official Languages, the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and International Trade and Sport, the Secretary of State for Multiculturalism, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Works, the Pacific Gateway and the Vancouver-Whistler Olympics and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage.
Without a doubt, the Department of Canadian Heritage has an important and very broad mandate, with issues including sports, official languages, status of women and culture.
The government believes that all of these areas need and deserve support because they are important to Canadians. Each contributes to our Canadian way of life. They say what we are as a people, give expression to our values and tell of our unique histories and heritage. That is why we wholeheartedly supported the UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion on the Diversity of Cultural Expressions.
The convention, which came into effect on March 18, sets basic rules, so that the countries will maintain policies and promote culture. It recognizes the importance of cultural diversity in international, economic and social development. Canada was the first country to accept the convention. We will continue to be an international leader in the promotion of the convention, and in its implementation.
I announced that in June we intend to propose Canada's candidacy to be a member of the intergovernmental committee. We will also propose to host the first meeting of that committee, here in Ottawa, and to contribute to the committee's fund, so that it can continue its work.
However, it is not only on the international front that arts and culture must be supported. We must ensure that the support needed for our Canadian cultural industries are available and effective here in Canada.
This evening I will highlight a few areas where our government has acted through Canadian Heritage and Status of Women in our first year and a half in office. The government does support arts and culture and has done so in demonstrable ways. We have taken a number of steps to ensure that our support is effective, efficient and accountable to the Canadian public.
Over the past year, I have had over 200 meetings with artists and representatives of arts organizations around Canada to identify the priorities in this area. We want to ensure that resources will be invested in a focused fashion, achieving our goals and objectives. For me, this means setting priorities for investment, having a clear idea of the results to be achieved and reporting on those results.
The Canada Council, celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, is the federal government's primary agency supporting artistic excellence. In our very first budget, we committed a new $50 million to the Canada Council. This increase has resulted in the largest single grants contribution in the 50 year history of the funding agency. This new funding has brought in support to organizations such as les Grands Ballets Canadiens, le Théâtre du nouveau monde, le Musée des beaux-arts du Canada. This is an addition to the $150 million provided to the Canada Council for its work in every sector of the performing, visual, sound and new media arts world.
Moreover, our government believes that much can be achieved through partnership. Partnerships are an effective means to nurture, develop and sustain the arts sector, to leverage increased resources in support of the arts. It is a genuine indicator of public support for our cultural activities and organizations. That means partnerships with other levels of government, with business, with individuals and with the arts and cultural stakeholders themselves.
Through a new innovative mechanism, our government has made it more attractive for individuals and corporations to invest in the arts. In budget 2006 we removed the capital gains tax from gifts of publicly listed securities to charities. In its first year this measure has generated an estimated $20 million for the arts.
In budget 2007 we went even further. Building on this initiative, we extended the elimination of the capital gains tax on donations of publicly listed securities to private foundations. I am confident that this will also benefit the arts community.
I am very proud that the government recognizes the importance of local arts and heritage activities across Canada. They bring neighbours and families together to build stronger communities. They showcase local talent, encourage community participation and volunteerism, while providing a venue for celebration of our rich, artistic roots and heritage. That is why in budget 2007 we announced $60 million for the next two years to strengthen the cultural experiences of Canadians through events celebrating local arts and heritage.
The department is now holding consultations to establish the criteria for that future program. We will ensure that this new program will truly support activities that are meaningful to the community.
We will not let these resources be used for political purposes by one party, as the Liberal government did. This is why the process to develop the program, the criteria and the strict guidelines will not be completed before the fall.
With $50 million of new funding for the Canada Council, two new tax incentives to support the arts and $60 million for local arts and heritage activities, Canada's new government has clearly demonstrated its commitment and support for the arts sector in our first two budgets.
I would now like to show how Canada's new government is providing meaningful support to our museums in Canada.
Our government recognizes that our museums are the keepers of our history and treasures that tell the stories of our past.They collect and preserve our treasures and artifacts for generations to come. That is why in 2007 and 2008 we will be spending over $267 million on museums across Canada.
Our first priority must be our federal museums that maintain the story of Canada as a country. After years of neglect our national museums were in serious need of physical repairs and improvements.
In December I announced an additional $100 million for our national cultural institutions to address this urgent infrastructure need. This new investment will complement my department's cultural spaces Canada program that on a smaller scale supports the improvement, renovation and construction of arts and heritage facilities throughout Canada. In addition, the arts and heritage sustainability program invests in improvements in the managing of those museums and contributes an additional $1.8 million. At the same time the museums assistance program receives an annual budget of $9.6 million.
Finally, in our most recent budget we committed $10 million over the next two years for student internships in museums. Canadian museums had been requesting this additional help in this area for years. Under the previous Liberal government, only one-third of the needs in student employment was met. This measure was long overdue.
As I stated earlier, our commitment to Canada's museums totals $267 million.
I would now like to address the Status of Women portfolio. In budget 2007 we announced an additional $20 million over two years for women's programming, which included the $5 million for 2007-08 that I announced on March 7. This will bring the total budget for Status of Women Canada to $29.9 million, which represents the highest funding level ever in the history of this agency. With this new allocation, Canada's new government reiterated its support for the full participation of women in the economic, social and cultural life of Canada.
In keeping with the government's priorities, Status of Women Canada will provide strategic investments to implement tangible measures in key areas to improve the economic security of women and to continue to counter violence against women and young girls in Canadian society.
The women's program now has two components: the women's community fund to support projects undertaken at the local, regional and national levels--