House of Commons Hansard #178 of the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was anti-semitism.

Topics

Stratford FestivalPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Conservative

Gary Schellenberger Conservative Perth—Wellington, ON

Mr. Speaker, funding for the Canada Council for the Arts has not decreased. In fact, in 2006 there was quite a substantial increase to that arts council, somewhere around $50 million. Right now the Canada Council for the Arts gets around $180 million, which it disburses to its peers as it sees fit.

Stratford FestivalPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the motion that the member has brought forward in regard to Stratford. We can talk about the economic and cultural benefits when we have festivals of this nature taking place in our community. To have members of the House stand in their place to acknowledge those contributions that help build the social and economic fabric of our communities is a positive thing. My question for the member is more a statement of mine and to see if he might want to add any other comments on his motion.

Stratford FestivalPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Conservative

Gary Schellenberger Conservative Perth—Wellington, ON

Mr. Speaker, one thing I would like to comment on is that $125 received by Tom Patterson back in 1952. He went to council and asked for $100 to go to New York City to seek advice or direction on how this festival might get started. The council did not think $100 would do it, so it upped it to $125. The idea came about because the railroad was leaving Stratford. There were CNR shops in Stratford where locomotives were fixed and he knew that there was going to be an economic lapse for the city. That small idea has grown into the Stratford Festival and southwestern Ontario now having a $140 million business, all told.

Stratford FestivalPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Conservative Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my friend and neighbour for this great initiative to recognize Stratford. I have seen many plays there, going way back to my high school days. We can certainly agree that the cultural and economic impact of Stratford is a great one.

My colleague mentioned something about a village in Suchitoto, El Salvador, that the Stratford Festival is partnering with. I would love to hear a little more about that initiative. I have some very good friends from El Salvador and I have a heart for El Salvador. I would like my colleague to expand a bit on that issue that he mentioned in this context.

Stratford FestivalPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Conservative

Gary Schellenberger Conservative Perth—Wellington, ON

Mr. Speaker, Suchitoto is a program called “Sharing a Dream” that was sponsored by the Canadian government, the Stratford Festival, and the people in El Salvador. It took some gang members and people who were unemployed and not only made them into actors but also a theatre company. Stratford not only sends actors there when there is time off but also stagehands, carpenters, electricians, and lighting people. People are trained in lighting and to be electricians. After a couple of years in that setting, they get jobs. It has helped to stop some of the gang wars in that area and it is very positive. I give them a lot of credit, along with our government, for doing that job.

Stratford FestivalPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to rise in House today to speak to the motion put forward by the member for Perth—Wellington, which states:

That the House recognize the Stratford Festival's distinct cultural and economic contributions to Stratford, southwestern Ontario and Canada since its inception in 1953.

Indeed, we owe great thanks to Stratford's Tom Patterson, a journalist who saw his community suffering from the withdrawal of the railway industry, and dreamed of turning his town into a cultural destination by creating a theatre festival devoted to the works of William Shakespeare. In 1952, Patterson received a grant of $125 from Stratford's city council to begin pursuing his dream. Under the leadership of Harrison Showalter, a local soft drinks manufacturer, who chaired the chamber of commerce subcommittee for the project, their journey began.

In the spring of that same year, with the assistance of Dora Mavor Moore, an early pioneer of Canadian theatre, the committee was successful in recruiting legendary British director Tyrone Guthrie as the festival's first artistic director. Guthrie's enthusiasm for the opportunity to produce Shakespeare's works on a revolutionary thrust stage was infectious enough to attract Alec Guinness, who performed in the festival's inaugural performance of Richard Ill on July 13, 1953, on a stage created to Guthrie's specifications by world-renowned theatrical designer Tanya Moiseiwitsch. That original theatre was housed in a giant canvas tent.

The second production of the inaugural season was a modern-dress version of All's Well That Ends Well directed by Guthrie. Both productions met with critical acclaim, and because of ticket demands, the initial four-week season of the Stratford Festival was extended to six weeks. Tom Patterson's dream had become a reality.

Robertson Davies, Canada's celebrated novelist, playwright and critic, hailed the Festival as an achievement “of historic importance not only in Canada but wherever the theatre is taken seriously—that is to say, in every civilized country in the world”.

I would add that although we engage in theatre in this House, those theatrics do not detract from the important motion that we are debating here today.

At the end of the Festival's fourth season in 1956, the tent was dismantled for the last time and work began on a permanent facility to be erected around the Moiseiwitsch stage. Designed by architect Robert Fairfield, the new building was one of the most distinctive in the world of the performing arts, its circular floor plan and pie-crust roof paying striking tribute to the festival's origins under canvas.

I would like to say that much of my research for today's motion comes from the Stratford Festival. I would like to thank the festival archivists and historians whose work is so obviously a labour of love. I congratulate the current festival director Anita Gaffney, and wish to thank her for her assistance in providing festival information for me here today.

On July 1, 1957, the permanent theatre opened its doors for the premiere performance of Hamlet, with Christopher Plummer in the title role. The festival was so successful that in 1956 it began renting Stratford's Avon Theatre for non-Shakespearean productions, such as musical and concert productions, as well as film screenings.

In 1971, the festival established its third stage, renamed in 1991 in honour of its founder Tom Patterson. In 2002, the festival's fourth stage was created in the Studio Theatre, which debuted with a season of new Canadian work. Ever since that first season, the Stratford Festival has set benchmarks for the productions not only of Shakespeare, Molière, the ancient Greeks and other great dramatists of the past, but also of such 20th-century masters as Samuel Beckett, Anton Chekhov, Eugene O'Neill, and Tennessee Williams.

In addition to acclaimed productions of the best in operetta and musical theatre, it has also showcased and, in many cases, premiered works by outstanding Canadian and other contemporary playwrights. The festival's artists have included the finest actors, directors, and designers in Canada and the world, and Stratford's magnificent stages have been graced by such internationally renowned performers as Brian Bedford, Douglas Campbell, Brent Carver, Hume Cronyn, Brian Dennehy, Colm Feore, Megan Follows, Lorne Greene, Julie Harris, Martha Henry, William Hutt, Loreena McKennitt, Richard Monette, John Neville, Nicholas Pennell, Sarah Polley, Douglas Rain, Kate Reid, Paul Scofield, William Shatner, Maggie Smith, Jessica Tandy, and Peter Ustinov, the glitterati of the world.

Tom Patterson's vision endures today in the Stratford Shakespearean Festival, recognized as a “signature experience” by the Canadian Tourism Commission. Since its inception, the festival has drawn more than 26 million visitors to the community, generating $139 million in economic activity each year, creating thousands of jobs and stimulating tax revenues of $75 million.

Of all the visitors to the region, more than 95% of them come for the Stratford Festival. With an annual operating budget of $56 million, the festival receives Canada Council funding Heritage Canada funding. This and the box office revenues support training programs for actors and directors, the local community and those who provide goods and services in the region.

The New Democrats understand the value of investment in the arts for the intrinsic value of building our cultural identity. We also understand the value of investment in the arts for its economic value, creating good jobs and income for local communities and small businesses.

The NDP platform supports restoring support for Canadian culture that has eroded over the past 20 years of Liberal and Conservative neglect. The Canadian Arts Coalition reports close to $200 million in permanent cuts to arts and culture spending to be implemented in the 2014-2015 Canadian Heritage portfolio, at the same time as cuts from the two previous Conservative budgets are still being rolled out. The cuts include reductions to Telefilm, the National Film Board and Library and Archives Canada budgets, with the majority of the cuts being inflicted on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

Moreover, while the government lauds its protection of funding to the Canada Council for the Arts, the reality is that on a per capita basis, government funding to the Council has actually declined 2.5% since the 2005-2006 fiscal year.

All of these institutions have a valuable connection to the Stratford Shakespeare Festival. The CBC has filmed and broadcast productions of Shakespeare from the festival, and in an effort to diversify and expand its audience, the festival is embarking on exciting new projects such as the live simulcast productions of its plays in widescreen movie theatres across the country.

The Canadian arts community needs the support of its government in real funding in order to thrive. These cuts not only represent a backward ideology that stifles free thinking, they jeopardize creativity and community building. In very real terms, cuts to culture and the arts represent closed storefronts and unemployment for the people and communities that take their livelihood from the arts. Cuts to arts and culture funding threaten the presence of Canada on the international stage.

It is remarkable to me that the connection between a thriving arts community and a thriving economy is lost on the Conservative government, and let us be honest here, on previous Liberal governments, which made the deepest cuts to the CBC and left promises to restore funding unfulfilled.

The NDP proposes increased funding for the Canada Council, and exploring the creation of a new international touring fund. The NDP supports these measures because they generate incredible economic activity and bring in tourist dollars. They are an important investment in Canadian arts and the Canadian people.

The value of institutions such as the Stratford Festival to Canada's culture, identity and economy is enormous. Aside from its entertainment value, the festival has incredible cultural, social and economic impact. It contributes to the education of future generations of students, artists, actors and directors.

Support for artists and creators is integral and vital to creating a thriving economy. Support for cultural events such as the Stratford Shakespeare Festival is key. In the words of Prospero from the Tempest, “We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep”. Shakespeare's musings on our mortality still ring true. Governments come and governments go, but the theatre, its value ,and indeed the Stratford Shakespearean Festival, endure. It is up to all of us to protect that which is so precious to ensure that it does continue to endure.

Stratford FestivalPrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Mr. Speaker, my speech today, in snowbound Ottawa, will be anything but a Winter's Tale. It will tell a story that began over 60 years ago, on July 13, 1953. On that day, what had until then been A Midsummer Night's Dream in journalist Tom Patterson's mind became reality.

The Shakespearean lovers among my hon. colleagues will already have guessed what my intervention is about. On behalf of the Liberal caucus, as the Liberals' spokesperson for Canadian heritage, I wish to express our support for the motion tabled by the member for Perth—Wellington, which reads as follows:

That the House recognize the Stratford Festival's distinct cultural and economic contributions to Stratford, southwestern Ontario and Canada since its inception in 1953.

The motion from the government side is all the more welcome in that, so far, most of the government's forays into cultural affairs have been a Comedy of Errors. Let us hope that the motion will not amount of Much Ado About Nothing so that Canadian artists and cultural creators can finally breathe a collective sigh of relief and declare, “Now is the winter of our discontent”.

What is the reason for this motion? The question must be asked, because a festival as well known and prestigious as the Stratford Festival certainly does not need such a motion. The festival's fame is much greater than any motions this House may devote to it.

The House has never felt a need for a motion recognizing the economic and cultural contribution of the Quebec winter carnival or the Calgary Stampede. It would not occur to the Austrian parliament to recognize the Salzburg Festival as a great festival. It goes without saying. Even just stating that the Stratford Festival is a brilliant festival is as inarguable as saying the sun shines in the day and not at night.

Why is this motion before us? Surely it is not meant to incite a debate. There is nothing to debate, because no reasonable person could oppose this motion or oppose the Stratford Festival. Is there even one member of this House who would say, in Molière's words, not Shakespeare's, “Hide this festival that I must not see”?

No one would say that, of course, and certainly not a Quebecker, considering all the Quebeckers who have performed at this festival, beginning with the illustrious Jean Gascon, who served as its artistic director from 1968 to 1974.

Still, if we must have a debate, I can find more to talk about. I have the wit for that. I could say, for example, that the motion before us does not do complete justice to the Stratford Festival.

In order to ensure that All's Well That Ends Well, I could suggest adding a few words to the member for Perth—Wellington's motion as follows: That the House recognizes the Stratford Festival's distinct cultural and economic contributions to Stratford, southwestern Ontario, Canada and the whole world since its inception in 1953.

It is my opinion that in moving this motion, the hon. member for Perth—Wellington simply wanted to give us a farewell gift before leaving politics. He wanted to make us happy, along with everyone who loves and supports the Stratford Festival. I will happily take this opportunity to declare my admiration for the Stratford Festival.

For my own pleasure, I will continue to dot my speech with little quotes from Shakespeare, although I ask the indulgence of my anglophone colleagues to my accent, which tends a little too much towards Molière or Tremblay to be truly Shakespearean.

Of the Stratford Festival, nobody can say Love's Labour's Lost. This is because the festival has done an outstanding job of fulfilling its mandate: to set the standard for classical theatre in North America, using Shakespeare as its underpinning.

While focusing on entertaining its audience with classical, contemporary and musical theatre productions, the festival has also brilliantly fulfilled at least three other missions.

First, the festival trains, develops and nurtures Canadian artistic talent. It taps into and helps cultivate the great talent our nation has to offer.

Second, festivals like the Stratford Festival are major catalysts in strengthening the social and collective bonds of a community. The collaborative effort that goes into the organization of such festivals, the shared joyful experience of participants and spectators on the opening day and at every performance really brings a community together.

Just last month, I had the pleasure of visiting the great city of Stratford, meeting with members of the Stratford arts and culture community, as well as local citizens there. What struck me most was how much this festival is rooted in the identity of individual community members and how much this festival has helped individuals heighten their sense of community.

Third, art festivals provide economic growth. As the city's largest employer, the Stratford Festival contributes significantly to the multifaceted nature of the city and surrounding region, drawing millions of tourists, as well as art organizations and businesses, which bring them substantial economic activity, investments and local job opportunities.

On behalf of the Liberal Party of Canada, I thank everybody involved in the Stratford Festival for the great success they have achieved in promoting Canadian culture on the international stage and for showcasing what Canada has to offer to the global arts and culture scene. With no end in sight, the Stratford Festival espouses the Bard's words in Twelfth Night:

Be not afraid of greatness. Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them.

The Stratford Festival's greatness was not thrust upon it. That greatness is the result of vision, talent and hard work.

Let all Canadians and people abroad celebrate the festival's great success. Let them come to Stratford in great numbers to participate in this signature world-class experience.

Now, with sincere apologies to the author of the Scottish Play, I would remind all of my colleagues that: to vote or not vote in support of Motion No. 545, that is not the question. There is no question that we must vote for it.

Stratford FestivalPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

St. Catharines Ontario

Conservative

Rick Dykstra ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage

Mr. Speaker, I do not know if my colleague, who is the critic for the Liberal Party on the Canadian heritage committee stole a little of my thunder or whether I will reiterate some lines he may have used, not only because they are famous and great and written by Shakespeare but also because they speak volumes to the topic that we are addressing tonight.

Friends, parliamentarians, countrymen, I come not just to praise the member for Perth—Wellington but to ask for support for Motion No. 545:

That the House recognize the Stratford Festival's distinct cultural and economic contributions to Stratford, southwestern Ontario and Canada since its inception in 1953.

My good friend was right: we must decide to support or not support, and that is the question this evening. By putting forth this motion, the member is highlighting the importance of the cultural sector to the Canadian economy in creating jobs. The Stratford Festival is a standout example of an organization that historically had an incredible cultural impact locally, nationally, and internationally.

I would like to speak about the economic impact of this festival, especially for the city of Stratford. In 2010, a Conference Board of Canada study concluded that just under $140 million of spending can be attributed to the Stratford Festival. That $140 million is a significant contribution to the Stratford community, which has a population of just over 30,000 people.

What is more, $76.5 million of revenue goes directly to local businesses as a direct impact of this festival. Revenue flows through various industries, including hotels, bed and breakfasts, local cheese and agricultural producers, and local shops and restaurants. Local businesses like these are the heart of our communities. These businesses are what help our communities succeed.

The Stratford Festival achieved this by following a vision of co-operation with local business to come together and demonstrate the value of art in the community and by working hard to make this vision come to life.

The Government of Canada has been a proud supporter of the festival for many years. This government and previous governments have funded arts organizations to ensure that Canadians can enjoy our shared culture and heritage. We recognize that arts and culture give us an identity that makes us proud to be Canadian.

This House's recognition of the cultural and economic impact of the Stratford Festival is also the recognition of the positive impact that private sector partnerships with a not-for-profit community can produce: a vibrant, innovative, resilient arts organization that makes a long-term positive social, cultural, and economic impact on its community.

Since 2006, through funding programs at the Department of Canadian Heritage and the Canada Council for the Arts, our government has invested significant taxpayer dollars into the Stratford Festival. This funding helps generate thousands of jobs in Ontario, including 2,500 jobs in Stratford alone.

Considering the $139 million economic impact, it is a strong return on that investment. We know that our investment is delivering concrete economic results, and the Stratford Festival continues to think about ensuring its long-term sustainability by considering ways in which it can build other revenue streams.

The Stratford Shakespeare Festival Foundation has used this program as leverage for private sector support and for the festival's endowment fund, which is now valued at over $62 million, making it one of the largest endowment funds held for a not-for-profit cultural organization in our great country.

I encourage members to support this motion to recognize the Stratford Festival, the tremendous contribution that our cultural sector makes in our communities with the support from their public and private partners, and the hard work of the member for Perth—Wellington.

I will finish my remarks a little early to help speed along the passage of this motion, but I have one final thought. Before I conclude with that final thought, I want to indicate how much I have enjoyed debating and arguing with the member for Perth—Wellington as to whether the Shaw Festival in Niagara is actually this country's epic display of both theatre and art or whether it is the Stratford Festival.

Stratford FestivalPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

An hon. member

We can share the honour.

Stratford FestivalPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

Conservative

Rick Dykstra Conservative St. Catharines, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am hearing from across the floor, in a very non-partisan way, that we can share the honour.

I think if Niagara or Stratford were to be displayed to the rest of the world, they would show an amazing example of what culture, theatre, and heritage are, not just to our country but to the world.

Finally, to the member for Perth—Wellington, who announced that he is retiring at the end of this Parliament, to quote Shakespeare, “No legacy is so rich as honesty.” If that is true, the member has left a great and distinguished legacy, and I am proud to have served with him in this House. The member of Parliament for Perth—Wellington has been a dedicated public servant, serving his community as a counsellor and as a local firefighter. He was a champion for his constituents and, of course, in the very essence of the motion this evening, a champion for the Stratford Festival. His efforts are appreciated, and his presence in this House will be missed.

To borrow from Shakespeare one last time:

Farewell, my [brother], fare thee well:

The elements be kind to thee, and make

Thy spirits all of comfort! Fare thee well.

Good luck to my good friend, the member for Perth—Wellington.

Stratford FestivalPrivate Members' Business

6:35 p.m.

NDP

Tyrone Benskin NDP Jeanne-Le Ber, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise in the House today to speak to this motion. I congratulate the member for Perth—Wellington for bringing it forward.

This is a particularly warm motion for me, having spent two seasons as a company member of the Stratford Festival in 1992 and 1993.

On a trivia note, the current artistic director is Antoni Cimolino, and my first production was in Romeo and Juliet, in which Antoni Cimolino played Romeo with Megan Follows as Juliet, back in the day.

I wholly support the motion, and the intrinsic value of institutions such as the Stratford Festival is something that I will be focusing my remarks on.

The Stratford Festival, as we have heard, has a very long and storied history, starting off with $125 from a Stratford citizen, Tom Patterson. It turned into a $56 million-a-year budget through hard work, dedication, and vision.

This massive endeavour, which now supports four stages in Stratford, started off in a tent. This massive endeavour, which started off as an idea of one man and brought in the likes of Sir Tyrone Guthrie and Sir Alec Guinness to launch this dream, has now turned into an enterprise that brings in over $139 million worth of economic activity to the Stratford region. This is where we need to understand the intrinsic value of arts and culture and of the Stratford Festival.

As I mentioned, the budget is some $56 million a year, but only 2.3% of that budget is funded through government grants. The project grants afforded to Stratford upon occasion are just 2.3% of its core funding, so it generates an incredible amount of money beyond its government support.

This is not to say that it should get more money. However, it is to say that the value that the government gets in return for every dollar spent on arts and culture is massive. It is not one to one, or one to five, but rather one to ten.

A 2007 Conference Board report showed that arts and culture is responsible for $85 billion worth of economic activity in this country. In that time, I think the total arts funding was around $8 billion.

Stratford grew from a $125 venture to a $139 million revenue-generating entity. To take that a little further, the value of the work that Stratford does goes far beyond just the simple dollar value. Each year, close to 200 actors are hired by the Stratford Festival. There are close to 100 creative teams, 250 artisans, 80 stage crew, 200 front-of-house personnel, and 170 administrative and fundraising personnel.

There are more than 2,500 jobs created around the Stratford Festival every single season, and this has been going on since 1953, albeit smaller numbers in the beginning, but it has grown to this.

Over and above, there is the massive talent that has been generated by the Stratford Festival, including Canadian icons such as Len Cariou, Brent Carver, Megan Follows, or our well-loved William Shatner, our adored Christopher Plummer, Douglas Campbell, Colm Feore, Eric McCormack, and the list goes on and on. We have had international luminaries such as Peter Ustinov. We have had John Colicos, Hume Cronyn, Uta Hagen, James Mason, Brian Bedford, Nicholas Pennell, some of whom I have managed and had the pleasure of working with. This is the calibre of the performers who have graced the Stratford stages over the years.

One of the things I find quite wonderful is the pay it forward position that Stratford has taken in the arts community and on a social level as well, in the forming of the Birmingham Conservatory, where young Canadian actors can take their skills to the next level through working on the stage as well as working with renowned performers as teachers. The festival gets some $300,000 through Canadian Heritage for this practice.

That pay it forward position is something that is really important to the longevity of arts and culture in our country. It is one thing to create work that tourists and audience members will remember. It is another thing to take that energy and pay it forward to the next generation of actors, directors, and playwrights.

Stratford has been responsible for the development and/or the premiers of many plays, including Harlem Duet by Djanet Sears; The Swanne, a massive trilogy by Peter Hinton, the former artistic director of the National Arts Centre; and Fair Liberty’s Call by Sharon Pollock.

It is important that we and the government understand the value of arts and culture, because every dollar we pull away from arts and culture is $10 we are taking out of the economy. Every dollar we invest in arts and culture brings to the value of the work that is being done a social consciousness, our identity, and a strength of self that is purely Canadian.

The Stratford Festival has done this for some 62 years. I congratulate the artistic directors, past and present. I congratulate all those who work at the Stratford Festival and all those who helped build the Stratford Festival. Also, I congratulate my colleague from across the way for his initiative in bringing the motion forward.

Stratford FestivalPrivate Members' Business

6:40 p.m.

Conservative

Gary Schellenberger Conservative Perth—Wellington, ON

Mr. Speaker, as I stand here in this place for the last time presenting a private member's motion or bill, it humbles me to listen to some of the kind words I have received here this evening.

The Stratford Festival and its management over the years has been one of the easiest things to support and promote in my riding. I am not going to make a great, long speech because I feel the warmth from everyone here for the arts and for the Stratford theatre. It is wonderful.

With that, I am just going to thank all those who have supported this motion. I will see them at the theatre, I am quite sure. The Stratford Festival invites everyone from the House to come and visit Stratford. It is a wonderful part of southwestern Ontario, with the greatest theatre not only in Canada but also in the world.

Stratford FestivalPrivate Members' Business

6:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Stratford FestivalPrivate Members' Business

6:45 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Stratford FestivalPrivate Members' Business

6:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

I declare the motion carried.

(Motion agreed to)

Pursuant to order made on Wednesday, February 18, 2015, the House shall now resolve itself into committee of the whole for the purpose of considering Motion No. 16, under government business.

I do now leave the chair for the House to go into committee of the whole.

(House in committee of the whole on Government Business No. 16, Mr. Bruce Stanton in the chair)

Rise in anti-SemitismGovernment Orders

6:45 p.m.

Calgary Southeast Alberta

Conservative

Jason Kenney ConservativeMinister of Employment and Social Development and Minister for Multiculturalism

moved:

That this Committee take note of the troubling rise in anti-Semitism around the world, as discussed at a meeting of the United Nations General Assembly on January 22, 2015.

Rise in anti-SemitismGovernment Orders

February 24th, 2015 / 6:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Assistant Deputy Chair Conservative Bruce Stanton

Before we begin this evening's debate, I would like to remind hon. members of how the proceedings will unfold. Each member speaking will be allotted 10 minutes for debate, followed by 10 minutes for questions and comments. Pursuant to an order made on Monday, February 23, 2015, members may divide their time with another member. The debate will end after four hours, or when no member rises to speak.

Members will recall that during take-note debates, members may take a seat in the chamber as they choose.

We will now begin tonight's take-note debate.

Rise in anti-SemitismGovernment Orders

6:45 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Conservative Calgary Southeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, I wish to thank you for the opportunity to open this important debate in committee of the whole on the growing wave of anti-Semitism we are witnessing around the world.

I will begin with a word of thanks to my hon. colleague, the member for Mount Royal, who proposed the debate this evening following his involvement as rapporteur in the special session of the General Assembly of the United Nations in New York, three weeks ago. I would also like to commend the good work done by my colleague from Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, who, with our former colleague Mario Silva, co-chaired an all-party parliamentary inquiry a few years ago into the issue of anti-Semitism here in Canada.

Tonight, as a committee, we debate what is the most ancient, durable, and pernicious form of hatred: anti-Semitism.

Regrettably, in all of human history we see various forms of xenophobia and bigotry directed at religious and ethnic minorities, and minorities of all kinds. However, there is one particular kind of hatred rooted in history, which seems to transcend time and culture, which is passed from one generation and one century to the next. It has its roots in ancient history, yet it has very modern and contemporary manifestations. That, of course, is the ancient and pernicious evil of anti-Semitism.

It is difficult for the rational mind to conceive of such an irrational hatred, rooted in fear, prejudice, myth, and stereotype, yet we cannot deny the evidence. I recall in 2009 visiting and laying a wreath at the mass grave of Jews of the “Holocaust by bullets”, massacred at the ravine of Babi Yar near Kiev, Ukraine. In the course of 72 hours, troops from the Nazi SS Einsatzgruppen lined up and individually shot more than 30,000 Jewish children, women, and men for the sole crime of being Jews.

I am bound to admit that for me, being there was a kind of revelation, because in people tend to think of the Shoah as something industrial, the murder of people on an industrial scale. We think of Auschwitz and Birkenau. However, in Babi Yar, we can see a place where Nazi soldiers killed Jews one by one, one person at a time.

It was a killing on a personal scale, not the industrialized killing of the Nazi death camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau. It revealed for me the depth of the evil of the Shoah, which of course itself was a manifestation, a culmination of an unthinkable evil of centuries of European anti-Semitism, which itself had been expressed over the course of the centuries in pogroms, in attacks, in the obliteration of Jewish communities.

I went, as it happened, from that visit to Babi Yar in Ukraine a few weeks later to the teeming metropolis of Mumbai, a city with a population about two-thirds the size of Canada's population. In Mumbai, I went to visit the Chabad-Lubavitch House that had been run as a local refuge for Jewish travellers by Rabbi Holtzberg, who provided a bed and a kosher meal and spiritual guidance to young Jewish travellers passing through India.

I visited that place because just a few weeks before, the rabbi and his wife, Rivka, had been brutally murdered by jihadist terrorists who attacked the city of Mumbai. What is remarkable is that those jihadi terrorists attacked large-scale installations like the train station and the Taj hotel, but they sought out this one very small, obscure Jewish home in a back alley of this enormous city. I went up to the top, the fifth floor, of that building, quite frankly walking through the scenes of complete devastation, of death, the scenes of anti-Semitism. I could smell the odour of death in that place. As I went to the top floor, I looked out over this enormous city of 20 million people and I thought to myself that, out of 20 million people, they targeted this place, this one particular place. This one place was like a magnet for their hatred. Why? It was because it was a house of Jews. Something suddenly connected in my mind that the evil that had brought those jihadi anti-Semitic terrorists to the Chabad House in Mumbai was the same evil that inspired the members of Hitler's Einsatzgruppen in Babi Yar in 1940 to commit their massacre on the eve of Pesach, or Passover.

These phenomena are connected. They echo through time and history. It is no coincidence that the European anti-Semitism, which ultimately was culminated in the Shoah, was grounded in certain myths like the so-called chronicles of the elders of Zion. Is it not perverse that we should see the television serialization of the chronicles of the elders of Zion being played in Arab countries like Egypt on television to this day? Is it not obscene that we should see in schools around the world some of the most basic and crass anti-Semitic myths and stereotypes being taught to young children in a form pedagogical child abuse, I submit? We must speak frankly about this.

When we see the attack on the Hyper Cacher store in Paris a month ago, the attacks on synagogues in Copenhagen a week ago, the attack on the Jewish Museum of Belgium in Brussels last November, and the attacks against institutions within the Jewish community around the world, what we see is the phenomenon of the new anti-Semitism.

We have seen this transition, from the rancid old anti-Semitism of Europe to the virulently violent new anti-Semitism that is spreading across the world. Tonight I join with colleagues from all parties in condemning both forms of anti-Semitism.

Canada is taking a leadership role in combatting this phenomenon of hate. We did so in joining the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance and in chairing it two years ago. We are doing so through Holocaust education efforts. We are doing so through recognizing our own history of anti-Semitism, which our government did in acknowledging the injustice of the wartime immigration restriction measures on Jewish European refugees, in building a monument at Pier 21; by funding projects to educate current and future generations; by taking a zero tolerance approach toward Semitism; and by de-funding organizations that give expression to anti-Semitism dressed up as anti-Zionism. It was always said that Jews were denied citizenship in Europe, and now the new anti-Semites say that Israel should be denied membership in the citizenship of nations.

We will call this new anti-Semitism for what it is, which is why Canada was the first country in the world to withdraw from the tainted Durban II and Durban III process, and why we were proud to host the Inter-parliamentary Coalition for Combating Anti-Semitism in 2010, again thanks in part to the member for Mount Royal, which published the Ottawa protocol, which provides an extremely helpful definition of what constitutes anti-Semitism.

Let me cite from it as I close. It states:

Let it be clear: Criticism of Israel is not antisemitic, and saying so is wrong. But singling Israel out for selective condemnation and opprobrium—let alone denying its right to exist or seeking its destruction—is discriminatory and hateful....

As Canadians stand in solidarity with the Canadian Jewish community, we stand in solidarity with the Jewish community around the world, including with those who, every day, live lives of dignity and courage simply by maintaining a democratic Jewish homeland in the State of Israel. For all of them, we stand on guard.

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6:55 p.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Chair, I thank the minister for his intervention and his passion on the discussion around anti-Semitism.

I know we have discussed in this place some concrete examples, which I will talk about in my comments, but I think we should also acknowledge the events in Montreal today, which shocked us all. Sadly, we see these events happening. What happened in Montreal—Nazi graffiti being painted on cars in the west end of Montreal—is something we can all condemn in unity and solidarity.

There is one issue I would like to touch on with the minister, which I brought up when he was Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, and that is what we have seen recently in Europe, focusing on Hungary. I have an issue with how we talk about anti-Semitism. In his comments, the minister talked about the old and the new. I come from the position of calling it what it is. When we see it, it is what it is. When we see what is happening with some political parties, one in particular in Hungary, we have seen anti-Semitism being pronounced within a political program.

I questioned the minister at the time he was Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, asking if we should look at our immigration policy if people are feeling threatened, as we have seen in Hungary. I will read a quote and then ask him a question.

The Foreign Affairs committee actually heard directly from a woman in May 2013, Regina Waldman, who is the president of Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa. She was speaking about her experiences as a Jewish person in Hungary and stated:

Personally, I was humiliated to be so surrounded by police.

She was talking about trying get around in Hungary.

The whole city has been blocked by police cars. It took me quite a long time to get here today—

She was testifying:

—simply because I couldn't get in or out of any area that had anything Jewish, whether it's a Jewish neighbourhood or a synagogue.

She could not even get to a meeting to testify without being threatened.

My question is very simple. Should we not take that into account when we are talking about immigration and the government's policy of safe countries? Sometimes the government declares a country to be safe, but testimony like that would suggest that it is not always. Would he not agree that we should be looking at allowing people, like our friend and others, to immigrate to Canada who feel threatened by anti-Semitism?

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7 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Chair Conservative Barry Devolin

Order, please. Before we go to the minister, I would like to remind all hon. members that there is a 10-minute question and comment period. I know there are members who want to ask questions. That was almost three minutes long. I would go to the minister, but I would ask him to be more brief in his response.

The hon. Minister for Multiculturalism.

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7 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Conservative Calgary Southeast, AB

Mr. Chair, the question was, should we not permit people to immigrate from Hungary? The answer is of course we should. We receive Hungarian immigrants every year. Any Hungarian nationals and people from any country in the world are free to apply for immigration to Canada and to be treated fairly under our rules.

I join the member in condemning the hatred perpetrated by Jobbik, that extremist party to which he referred in Hungary, and to the even more extreme violent manifestations of hatred in Hungary. We have raised these concerns directly with the Hungarian government. I have raised them directly with Prime Minister Orban and with Zolan Balog, the minister of social affairs and minister responsible for minorities, on several occasions. Indeed, I met with leadership of the Jewish community in Hungary. I visited the magnificent grand synagogue of Budapest as an expression of solidarity.

I will inform the member that Hungary will be taking over the gavel as chair of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance from the United Kingdom. Canada was chair last year. Hungary will be chairing the IHRA next year.

While we were concerned about a lack of sensitivity on the part of Hungary in recognizing its own history of anti-Semitism during the Shoah, I am pleased to report for the member that there has been a significant change of attitude in recent months, and we hope to work constructively with our partners to work with the Hungarian government in its chairmanship of IHRA.

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7 p.m.

Conservative

James Lunney Conservative Nanaimo—Alberni, BC

Mr. Chair, the member opposite mentioned an attack, an anti-Semitic incident, in Montreal just today that was reported in the news. Swastikas were put on cars and bullets were left in envelopes on cars as a very serious signal to people in a residential apartment building. We have had the anti-Semitism conferences here and in London.

I think we all want to join together in shouting out that these kinds of anti-Semitic threats against our population of Jewish people in Canada will not be accepted in this country. I know that all members have an interest in doing that. I just wanted to ask the member to remark on this particular incident. I am not sure everyone in the House was aware of it. It was just reported today.

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7:05 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Conservative Calgary Southeast, AB

Mr. Chair, I regret to say that I have been in meetings and was not aware of this, but regrettably this is not a novel incident if there were indeed expressions of anti-Semitic hatred. This is something we see all too often. Let us be honest. In the House we are also discussing these days the problem of global terrorism, particularly of the jihadi variety, and there have been planned attacks, thankfully prevented, against Jewish community installations in this country.

One thing our government has done is to create the security infrastructure project that provides 50% grants to vulnerable community installations, including synagogues and Hebrew schools, as well as facilities of other faith communities. If they have been subject to expressions of hatred or vandalism or threatened by this kind of terror, we will provide funding to upgrade their security facilities to help keep those communities safe, because that security, we believe, is in part a public responsibility.

This is not just about condemning rhetorical anti-Semitism; it is also about maintaining public security against the violent expressions of anti-Semitism.

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7:05 p.m.

NDP

Wayne Marston NDP Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Mr. Chair, all parties in the House believe that all Canadians should be able to live in peace and have peace of mind. This is the first I have heard of this, but what happened today is offensive to us all. The added security is clearly necessary and I am pleased to hear that the government is providing that.

In my remarks later on, I will talk of my own personal case, but one of the things I am concerned about is that anti-Semitism is a learned behaviour. It is sometimes handed down generation to generation, but it is still a learned behaviour. I wonder if the government has looked worldwide at best practices to confront it and to make changes before it gets to this terrible level.