moved that Bill S-236, An Act to recognize Charlottetown as the birthplace of Confederation, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour for me to rise today to move second reading of Bill S-236, an act to recognize Charlottetown as the birthplace of Confederation.
I begin by thanking my hon. colleague and fellow Islander, Senator Diane Griffin, for sponsoring the bill in the other place and for ably stickhandling it through the Senate legislative process. Of course thanks are also due to the senators who engaged in fulsome and thoughtful debate on Bill S-236 and who brought profile to the story of the founding of our great nation, and improved on the original bill.
Let me turn to the nuts and bolts of Bill S-236. The bill aims to entrench, honour, and affirm Charlottetown's integral role in the history of our country as the place where, in 1864, Sir John A. Macdonald led the Fathers of Confederation in a discussion about the political union that eventually led to Confederation. Reflecting on that foundational time in our history is especially important now as we near the end of the year-long celebration of our nation's 150th anniversary, and look forward to the next 150 years as a progressive, inclusive, and growing country.
Our founding fathers, I believe, with the seed of the idea of nationhood developed in Charlottetown and followed up later at the Quebec Conference, built better than they knew. In addition, I think it is critical to recognize that Bill S-236 will be an important contribution to the story of our nation's history that has been told in part by a number of actions that have preceded it, both in this place and elsewhere.
The bill will complement the September 1996 proclamation by the Right Hon. Jean Chrétien that recognized the role of Charlottetown as the birthplace of Confederation, and affirmed the city as an integral part of our Canadian heritage.
Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson should also be recognized. In October 1964, he had the official opening of the Confederation Centre of the Arts as Canada's national memorial to the Fathers of Confederation.
It also complements two measures that were passed in the P.E.I. Legislative Assembly: the Birthplace of Confederation Act; and a unanimous motion passed in December 2016, supporting the declaration of Charlottetown as the birthplace of Confederation and urging all of us as parliamentarians to support that legislation.
The story of Confederation is a story of building relationships. It is what we do within Canada and around the world. It is what we have always done.
On September 1, 1864, leaders of the governments and legislatures of Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and the Province of Canada met in Charlottetown, P.E.I. for what came to be known as the Charlottetown Conference. There, they created a shared vision of a union of the British North American colonies, and the creation of a new country. They did so through peaceful and constructive conversation, which is something that cannot be said of all nations.
This point was vividly made by the University of Prince Edward Islands's Dr. Ed MacDonald when he appeared before the Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs during its examination of the bill in June. He said:
Other nations were born at the tip of a sword. We were born at the point of a pen by discussion and negotiation.
From this perspective, while the story of Confederation may be less dramatic than that of some other nations, I think that it reflects what is probably not a uniquely Canadian approach, but is perhaps quintessentially Canadian to the extent that we can work together collegially and try to find mutually beneficial solutions.
Certainly this Canadian approach is particularly relevant now, as we continue to take our place on the world stage and navigate international negotiations.
In both situations, we as Canadians look beyond our borders and within to re-examine long-standing relationships; reflect on our economic, social, and cultural values as Canadians; and show leadership to the world.
The parliamentary and public debate about the bill and about the story of Confederation that has occurred as we celebrate 150 years as a country has raised some issues that must be recognized. One is what many see as the lack of inclusive discussions at the Charlottetown Conference in 1864. No indigenous peoples were involved and no women participated.
I invite everyone though to cast their minds back to that year and to reflect on how common that situation probably was. “All men” was probably the rule rather than the exception to the rule. During the other place's consideration of Bill S-236, Senator Griffin read a statement from the Mi'kmaq Confederacy that reflects the importance of indigenous people to P.E.I.'s heritage as it does to the heritage of all regions of Canada.
The statement noted that Prince Edward Island has been the home of the Mi'kmaq people for more than 12,000 years, yet they were not invited to participate in the Charlottetown Conference. It also emphasized the continued importance of the inclusion of Canada's indigenous peoples on a nation-to-nation basis on all matters.
Over time, we have learned to be a more inclusive society, one that respects diversity in all its forms and values that brings. I am confident that the parties who would be involved in these types of discussions today would be more representative of our peoples and our regions than was the case 150 years ago. We cannot rewrite history. We can only move forward with the lessons that we learn from history.
I also want to recognize that while the Charlottetown Conference may be viewed as the watershed moment in the story of Confederation, the importance of the Quebec Conference in 1864 and the London Conference two years later cannot be understated. During consideration in the other place, the preamble of Bill S-236 was amended in order to acknowledge those important conferences. Yes, the bill would allow us to celebrate a particular city, but it would also allow us to honour and to affirm our built heritage.
A great many nations do so. As a member of the Canada-U.S. Interparliamentary Group, I had the privilege of visiting Independence Hall in Philadelphia, which is a landmark that is revered throughout the United States and recognized around the globe. This physical place, built heritage, gives Americans and international visitors a sense of history, a sense of place, a sense of how the United States came into being.
Some 20 years ago, I had the occasion to take my American counterparts onto the floor of Province House in order to hold our final Canada-U.S. IPG session. As we walked on the worn steps we explained to them that Province House is the location of the province's legislature and very importantly is the national treasure where the founding discussions about our country occurred. It may be just my imagination, and most people around this place know I do not have a big imagination, but I want to think that I saw awe in the eyes of my American colleagues that mirrors that which I saw when visiting Independence Hall. Although as is often the case with the Americans, they thought the place was a little smaller.
Province House is a national treasure where the Charlottetown Conference took place. It is one of the world's oldest still functioning parliamentary buildings and the only remaining building of the Confederation conferences. Built of Nova Scotia sandstone, we islanders are privileged that this building still stands strong in Charlottetown and remains the centre of political life.
The United States has Philadelphia's Independence Hall and no doubt other countries around the world have buildings they associate with their founding fathers. Such buildings provide citizens and visitors with a physical place to connect with history and gain a sense of how a nation came to be.
It is my hope that Charlottetown's Province House can be such a place, where visitors can stand as they admire the Confederation chamber's high-vaulted ceilings, upper balcony, cornice mouldings, and worn steps and reflect that they are in the same location where Canada's Fathers of Confederation met more than 150 years ago to discuss the future of our nation. Among others, Parks Canada is to be commended for the work that it continues to do to preserve and protect Province House in order to “give our past a future”.
Let me reiterate the bill's fundamental objectives: to affirm Charlottetown as the birthplace of Confederation; to complement provincial efforts; and to build on the designation of Charlottetown as the birthplace of our country in order to honour, celebrate, share, and educate. In reiterating that the story of Confederation is one of relationship building, let me say that I look forward to respectful and non-partisan debate in this place, and I urge my colleagues to support this bill.
To conclude, in addition to those I mentioned at the beginning of my remarks, let me thank a number of others who contributed in important ways to where we find ourselves today with this bill. Philip Brown must be commended for his passion and persistence, along with Sharon Larter and Leonard Cusack for their efforts; island MLA Jordan Brown; former MP and colleague George Proud, who introduced a similar bill many years ago; and the people from New Brunswick who helped bring national attention to our efforts through a friendly and spirited dialogue, exactly the sort that we would expect of Atlantic Canadians, about the story of Confederation. Last but certainly not least, let me thank my island colleague, the hon. member for Charlottetown, who is the House of Commons representative of the place that Province House calls home and will in due course be sharing his unique perspective on Bill S-236.