Mr. Speaker, I too rise to reiterate the New Democratic Party's support for Bill S-236.
I would like to begin with a short preamble. As my colleagues know, this year we mark Canada's 150th anniversary of Confederation. Being proud of a country's heritage and commemorating important historical events is worthwhile for most countries, but I think it is especially so for Canada. We should feel proud of our accomplishments. We are a country comprising remarkably diverse regions and remarkably diverse people.
When we are celebrating or commemorating events that have transpired, it is important that we are mindful of the myriad cultural perspectives and experiences that make this a great country. From coast to coast to coast, there are many different voices that contribute to the Canadian experience. We must remember that historical events have different connotations for different groups in different parts of this country. As Canada moves forward to the next 150 years of nationhood, I hope we can strive to be more inclusive of other voices and cultural narratives so that they might also be celebrated and acknowledged.
With that said, the bill has given us an opportunity to evaluate Charlottetown's role in the Confederation narrative. From what we have heard, there is consensus now among our colleagues that Charlottetown is the birthplace of Confederation, if we agree to think of Confederation as a lengthy process with many important stages and not as a finite singular event. That process indeed began in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, but there were, as others have acknowledged, other vital steps that occurred along the way. Therefore, the credit for Confederation cannot be attributed solely to Charlottetown. As some of my colleagues have mentioned in previous debate, Quebec and New Brunswick both played very important roles in that process of Confederation.
Although the bill is about recognizing Charlottetown, we must remember that Confederation was conceptualized there but not executed solely there. The point I alluded to in my short preamble was one I spoke about during second reading as well. I think it noteworthy that we remind ourselves, as the hon. member for Malpeque has done, that indigenous people and women were excluded from this beginning, this watershed moment the member referred to. I implored the government during second reading to ensure that recognition of Charlottetown would not therefore lead to a celebration of colonialism. As I understand it, there was little opposition to this particular point.
We have all acknowledged that the Mi’kmaq people who lived in that territory were shamefully ignored during the conversations that precipitated the union. These people had been living in that territory for thousands of years. The notoriously shameful conduct toward first nations people is not something that can be easily remedied or forgotten. However, I agree with the hon. member for Malpeque that Canada is in fact constantly evolving and that we are living in a very different time 150 years later.
I understand that at committee, efforts were made to amend the bill to mention the Mi’kmaq people, but these were not successful. I would like to take this opportunity to remind my hon. colleagues that we must consider this perspective when drafting all legislation of this kind if we are going to do justice to the so-called call for action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. We have to become more inclusive as a country, and as we look back to our historical celebrations with a more critical lens than perhaps in the past, we must, as we move forward, not omit indigenous participation in this country.
I also want to suggest that the heritage and tourism materials on Charlottetown's role in Confederation become inclusive and address that part of our history and the contribution of the Mi’kmaq people at the time and since then. As I mentioned in my previous speech, the materials developed must acknowledge their presence in the territory prior to the particular agreement and that they were not included in the negotiations about the very lands they had occupied for centuries.
It is also important to support indigenous people as they represent their own historical narratives. Confederation, as my colleague pointed out, and citing Professor Ed MacDonald to this effect, is not the Canadian story; it is one Canadian story, one of many that represent our collective history. Let us not make the same mistake that those who came before us made by ignoring other cultural narratives.
With this in mind, let me return to the matter of Confederation and defining its role in this process I referred to. Recognizing Charlottetown as the birthplace of Confederation is for many Canadians a foregone conclusion. I believe that one of my colleagues referred to it at committee as self-evident, and I am inclined to agree. The province is already promoting itself as the cradle of Confederation, and one arrives on the island using the so-called Confederation Bridge. I do, however, admire the tenacity of my colleagues in getting Charlottetown formally recognized as the birthplace as Confederation, what my colleague referred to as the “spark”. This has been many years in the making, so let me congratulate the hon. member for Malpeque and all those others who brought us to this point.
Complicated unions and political manoeuvring often have many moving parts. The union of the British North America would surely not have come together if it had not been for hard work and perseverance. As we mentioned during second reading, the initial conference was held September 1, 1864, in Charlottetown. Then New Brunswick governor Arthur Hamilton Gordon was instrumental in its organization. Without his insistence on the initial conference, perhaps things would not have come together as they did. Of course, it was Sir John A. Macdonald and George-Étienne Cartier who persuaded the Atlantic delegates to accept a greater British North America colonies union, with the so-called Canadians included, the people from the current provinces of Ontario and Quebec.
While many items were agreed to in spirit in Charlottetown, such as having a federal government and local governments, the details were confirmed during the October 1864 conference in Quebec City. Therefore, Quebec plays no less an important part in this process of Confederation. It just does not warrant the title of birthplace, in my opinion.
The British North America Act received royal assent on July 1, 1867. One can see how one needs to refer to Confederation as a process instead of as a singular event.
In some ways, this is a very Canadian story. It is filled with compromises and key players from various backgrounds. It is very interesting that, as my hon. colleague pointed out during a speech at second reading, our nation was not born out of revolution or war. It was born out of a series of conferences and negotiations that led to our Constitution, our country's founding principles, and indeed, the brilliance of Canadians since then has been just that, the brilliance of honourable compromise so that we can work together bringing various diverse regions and diverse communities together in what is modern Canada. It is imperative that we carry that diplomacy forward. It is vital that we forge relationships with care and mutual respect.
As has been pointed out, we cannot go back and undo the past. We have the option, however, of moving forward with a commitment to be more inclusive and to build stronger nation-to-nation relationships with indigenous peoples. Let us ensure that true reconciliation is a mutual undertaking for the future of all Canadians.
In conclusion, we support Charlottetown as the birthplace of Confederation. We acknowledge that the long process of Confederation did begin there. When composing heritage and tourism material, let us get it right this time by welcoming other cultural voices and perspectives. In doing so, we enrich our collective Canadian stories.