Mr. Speaker, the subject of this bill tonight is history. I think we should look back on our own history for a moment in this debate on this important initiative.
More than 60 years ago, the Royal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters and Sciences, the Massey commission, issued the most significant cultural report in Canadian history. That commission was chaired by Vincent Massey, then-Chancellor of the University of Toronto, who later became Canada's first Canadian-born governor general. I would just mention in passing, he is my mother's second cousin.
The terms of reference for that commission stated that “it is desirable that the Canadian people should know as much as possible about their country, its history and traditions; and about their national life and common achievements”. That report also noted that Canada lacked two essential institutions, a national library and a national historical museum. The National Library of Canada was created in 1953.
Today, I am pleased to speak about Bill C-49, a bill that will finally fulfill the dream to create the Canadian museum of history.
Why does the government consider it important to increase Canadians' knowledge of the history of Canada? Polls indicate that 92% of Canadians say that they are interested in Canadian social and cultural history, and yet only 40% of Canadians could pass a citizenship exam that tests general knowledge of Canadian history. This gap is troubling and puzzling.
Canada has a long and rich history. Our land has been continuously inhabited for more than 10,000 years. The Vikings visited our shores more than 1,000 years ago, and successive waves of immigrants endured the harsh environments of this huge land and made this country their home.
People continue to choose to make Canada their home. We are a nation of immigrants. Discovery and adventure are in our genes. We have an unlimited number of stories to be told, events to celebrate, people to admire. These stories tell us who we are, and how we came to be so blessed. They also guide us on how important our values are, the ones that help us accomplish so much.
Canadian history is not short. Canadian history is not boring. It is as interesting as any other national history in the world, and even more so. It is full of courage and romance. It expresses struggle and sacrifice. We should take pride in and celebrate it.
In four years, we will celebrate Canada's 150th birthday. This is a time to focus on people, places and achievements that bring us together as Canadians, an occasion to celebrate and take pride in all that makes Canada unique, an opportunity to explore and celebrate Canadian history. That is why the Massey commission called for a national museum in 1951, and that is why the government is creating one with this bill.
This government understands that our museums are uniquely positioned to make Canadian history come alive for all Canadians. That is why we have, despite a period of global economic uncertainty, maintained support for our national museums, continued to support Canadian museums through the museums assistance program, increasing funding by $4.6 million annually for student summer internships, and doubled the financial capacity of the Canada travelling exhibitions indemnification program.
This program would allow the 3.5 million artifacts in the national collection to be shared with the hundreds of museums across Canada, so all Canadians can experience their history and their culture. Marie Lalonde, executive director of the Ontario Museum Association, says that local museums would now be able to “offer their visitors distinctive exhibits and initiatives that would otherwise not be available”, thanks to the partnership with this new museum.
Our government believes in our national museums, and we recognize the tremendous value they hold for all Canadians. As we approach Canada's 150th birthday, it is an unprecedented opportunity to celebrate our history and those achievements that define who we are as Canadians. This national museum would be a focal point for Canadian history, with more than 43,000 square feet of permanent exhibition space presenting a comprehensive and chronological history of Canada.
In addition, 7,500 square feet of the museum would be reserved to showcase Canadian history exhibitions developed by other Canadian museums.
As the members opposite well know, the museum has already held a series of consultations with Canadians online and across Canada. More than 2,500 people took part in round tables and targeted discussions and more 16,000 people voiced their opinion online on a wide variety of topics regarding the exhibits and artifacts that would be on display in the museum.
Contrary to what the opposition claims, this would be a museum for Canadians, about Canadians and developed by Canadians. This is an exciting non-partisan project supported by Canadians of all political parties. To quote John McAvity, Executive Director of the Canadian Museums Association, “The federal government is sending a strong message that museums play an important role in our society.”
The Canadian museum of history would provide the public with the opportunity to appreciate how Canada's identity has been shaped over the course of our history. It would help us better understand that our history is living and shed light on why there are 30 million people around the world at least who would like to come to Canada to settle and begin anew.
Canadians deserve a national museum and infrastructure that tells our stories. I am proud of this initiative. I am particularly proud of the fact that we would achieve so much by making a relatively modest investment in the expertise and experience of the Canadian Museum of Civilization while using existing resources to create the new museum.
The Canadian museum of history would be a birthday gift to the citizens of Canada, a gift that would continue to contribute to our nation's legacy for decades to come.