Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Saint-Lambert.
As an archaeologist, I really wanted to be able to talk about the proposed changes to the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Bill C-49.
There are major differences between an anthropological museum and a history museum. Either the Conservatives do not understand this difference or they want to give the museum a much narrower mandate to better manipulate the institution, or both.
Bill C-49 introduces major amendments to the museum's mandate. The current mandate talks about establishing, maintaining and developing for research and posterity a collection of objects of historical or cultural interest. That sentence is completely missing from the new mandate. The museum's current mandate talks about working throughout Canada and abroad. The new proposed mandate only deals with Canadian history and identity.
It is important to understand that Canada is and was influenced in the past by the rest of the world. I see that this new narrower vision does not do justice to that.
According to the amendments proposed by Bill C-49, the museum's approach would be limited to understanding and appreciating just dates, events, historical figures and objects. This approach, which is completely outdated in the social sciences, leaves out a number of important aspects of a society's development. A study of historical heroes often leaves out women, children, aboriginal peoples and minority groups, not because they did not have an impact on our history or make cultural contributions. No, it is because unfortunately this impact is too often left out in the Conservatives' approach.
All kinds of moments and processes in our country's history could be lost because of this approach. For example, the development of the Lachine canal in Montreal and its role in the industrial revolution in the rest of Canada; the poor treatment of Polish settlers in the west who, left to their own devices, had to build dugouts to survive the winter; the fact that slavery existed in New France; the evolution of women's rights; and the evolution of the rights of the workers who built our economy.
Allow me to use a few archaeological examples to illustrate my remarks. Artifacts, in and of themselves, are interesting, but they only reveal a portion of the important information. The context in which the artifact is discovered is just as important.
In Mobile, Alabama, in the early 18th century, the lives of the colonists from New France were very difficult. Yet in a carpenter's house, archaeologists found a cup made of fine porcelain, an object rarely associated with a worker in a colony where life was uncertain. In attempting to understand why such an object was there, the archaeologists realized that to survive, the French settlers forged an alliance with the Spanish, who had access to imported goods from Asia thanks to their trading posts in Mexico.
The cup itself was magnificent, but the context laid bare its true history, which involved neither heroes, nor any date or event of great importance. If the approach to research and other areas favoured by the Conservatives at the Canadian Museum of Civilization is adopted, this kind of information will never become available.
Another example is our rich aboriginal heritage. It did not start with the arrival of the Vikings 1,000 years ago. It began at least 12,000 years ago when the ancestors of the aboriginal peoples first set foot on Canadian soil. Under the proposed new approach, with its narrow focus on characters, dates and events, most of this heritage will be swept under the rug, not to mention the oral traditions handed down from one generation to the next by the aboriginal peoples.
When the Canadian Museum of Civilization was built, its originators recognized the important contribution of aboriginal cultures to culture in general, and so they chose an aboriginal architect, Douglas Cardinal, to design the museum's structure.
The Conservatives have a bad habit of being led by preconceived notions, which they try to back up with so-called evidence, after the fact. For example, the Conservatives stated that the museum focused more heavily on, and allocated the lion’s share of its resources to, non-Canadian exhibitions. That is not true. At least 70% of the exhibitions presented in recent years focused on Canada.
Nevertheless, Canada's history was also influenced by that of other peoples, and museum goers really enjoy international exhibitions. These international exhibitions attract visitors who, in turn, visit the Canadian exhibitions. It is a win-win situation. For example, the exhibition Tombs of Eternity – The Afterlife in Ancient Egypt drew 240,714 visitors to the Canadian Museum of Civilization.
I am going to quote a passage from the museum's website regarding another exhibition:
Museum of Civilization reaches out across Canada and around the world Thanks to the phenomenal success of The Mysterious Bog People and other outreach projects, the Canadian Museum of Civilization’s travelling exhibitions program is connecting with a remarkable number of people worldwide.
Together, 10 of the CMC’s travelling exhibitions attracted 445,315 visitors between May 2005 and September 2006...
The Mysterious Bog People opened in Vienna, Austria, last week after a tour that began in Germany, with stops in England, the Netherlands, Calgary, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles and, of course, Gatineau...The total number of visitors worldwide could top 1 million during The Mysterious Bog People's presentation in Vienna.
The success of the CMC’s travelling exhibitions program underscores the importance of international partnerships in organizing successful exhibitions. The Mysterious Bog People, which reveals the fascinating early history of northwestern Europeans, is the result of a collaborative effort between four museums in Canada, the Netherlands and Germany.
“Such international exchanges help forge strong scholarly and people-to-people ties between countries,” says Dr. Victor Rabinovitch, President and CEO of the Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation. “More important, they deepen our understanding of other societies, and enable us in turn to share Canada’s rich culture and heritage with the rest of the world.”
Outreach activities also help the CMC display national treasures for Canadians from sea to sea.
This is forgotten with the new approach. The collective heritage of Canadians and human kind will be undermined.
The Conservatives say that they consulted Canadians about the new mandate of the museum. I said that their modus operandi was to go with a preconceived idea and then try to come up with the facts to back it up. That is how they proceeded as well with their consultations.
The minister made the decision to transform the museum and subsequently, people were consulted about certain aspects of this process. Canadians, and much less professionals, were never asked if they wanted this transformation. The department issued the following release, and I quote: “Representatives from the Museum are travelling the country asking Canadians what they would like to see in this new exhibition.”
Moreover, Canadians were asked to choose from among a limited number of events they wanted showcased within a predetermined timeline of 1,000 years, starting with the arrival of the Vikings. Among other things, this timeline excludes the Laurel culture which was already using copper in northern Ontario 3,000 years ago. This is a rather interesting fact, given that very few aboriginal peoples used metals.
Museum workers have already had to contend with staff reorganizations. The government has imposed changes and incurred spending related to the new mandate, even before the bill has been adopted. It has already begun to spend our money to make these changes which have not yet been approved by the House. This is arrogance, pure and simple. As always, the Conservatives want to impose their vision, but this time it is even worse. They want to rewrite history.
They spent $28 million to commemorate the War of 1812. This celebration of a long-ago war was completely out of proportion. Yet most of our history is a peaceful one. We survived few armed conflicts to become the nation that we are today.
Canadians do not want a politicized version of their country’s history. Decisions about the mandate of the museum and the content of its collection must be left to independent professionals, not to politicians.
The Canadian Museum of Civilization is the most popular museum in Canada. Why change this institution when no one has asked for this? Why spend $25 million to bring about this change, when more financial support should instead be given to small museums? Where will the department make cuts to find the $25 million?
If the Conservatives believe that Canada’s history is so important, why are they slashing $29 million from Parks Canada’s budget and eliminating 80% of all archaeologist and conservator jobs? Why have they cut all three research positions that relate to first nations’ national historical sites? Why have they cut deeply into the Library and Archives Canada budget?
The museum has built its reputation on research. Archeologists and historians have had access to primary source documents at the museum for their research for 135 years, or since 1877, at the museum’s predecessor, the Geological Survey of Canada. Researchers are very concerned. The collections are a huge resource for them.
Does the Minister of Canadian Heritage intend to make significant cuts to research and the acquisition of collections not directly related to exhibits? Unfortunately, that is the message sent by the recent abolition of the position of vice-president, research and collections.