Mr. Speaker, I move that the seventh report of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage, presented on Thursday, October 5, 2006, be concurred in.
I am grateful for this opportunity to propose to all hon. members in this House that the seventh report of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage be concurred in.
This report reflects a motion adopted by the committee on October 4. The motion reads as follows:
That, pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage recommend that the government maintain the Museums Assistance Program (MAP) at the same level as in fiscal year 2005-2006, that a new museum policy be established, and that the Chair report the adoption of this motion to the House as soon as possible.
I should point out here that this motion was not unanimously passed by the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage. However, it was supported by a clear majority of members who are worried about the damage done by those who are killing Canadian and Quebec cultures.
On April 10, following the throne speech, which was unacceptably silent on culture, I expressed in this House the concerns that were emerging in Quebec and Canada's cultural sector.
I remember saying that many people are concerned about the future of culture in Quebec and in Canada under a Conservative government, and that some even believe that the term “culture” is not part of the Conservative vocabulary owing to the absence of any significant vision for culture in the throne speech.
I remember telling this government about the importance of culture, explaining that culture is what enables humankind to create a framework for itself and for its development. It helps us to think for ourselves. It enables us to understand the world and to contribute to changing it for the better.
I remember telling this government that, in Quebec, many of us believe that culture is key to having a sense of belonging to a community. It represents the essential fibre of the Quebec people; it influences its thoughts, words, actions and daily life, and it enables the development of individual members of that community. For Quebec culture, this reality is intertwined with the exceptional need to affirm itself and to encourage the expression of its uniqueness in North America.
I remember saying that the silence on the issue of culture leads us to anticipate a slow death of culture by destruction of the arts, artists, the next generation in Quebec, of Quebec's identity, by the liquidation of our cultural sovereignty. I remember saying that this destruction will strike a major blow to Quebec's humanist and progressive culture.
I also remember asking questions. Would the silence concerning culture in the Speech from the Throne be hiding rather the temptation of a massive intrusion by the private sector, with its alienating financial power, into arts and culture? Are we headed towards U.S.-style homogenization and will we eventually undergo the unilateral, impoverishing ideological marking of content in the publishing media? Are we going to witness the accelerated deterioration of our public television and radio services, followed fatally by privatizations and moronic ratings races to sell available brain time to consumerism?
I remember asking the government, on April 10, are we going to witness the dismantling of the museums? The answer to all these questions, and in particular that about Canadian and Quebec museums, was brutal: $4.6 million was hacked from museum budgets.
Museums are vital institutions in communities throughout Quebec and Canada. There are just over 2,000 exhibit spaces in Canada and, of those, more than 400 are in Quebec. We must consider that 40% of these spaces are considered seasonal. Also, exhibit spaces are divided into three types of space: museums, exhibition centres and interpretation centres.
Museums are not only cultural centres but also centres where the arts, history and science are displayed and interpreted.
Quebec and Canadian museums welcome 59 million visitors annually. They receive support from over 400,000 members and 55,000 volunteers.
Quebec museums alone, on average, welcome between 12 million and 13 million of these 59 million visitors annually and employ some 6,000 professionals and employees.
Museums bring citizens together and exhibit our achievements both here and abroad. Museums preserve our history, our art and our scientific and cultural achievements. They are places of learning, for teaching our children, adults and families; they play a major role in building collective identities and in social integration.
The Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage and the Standing Committee on Finance have presented successive recommendations to previous governments and the current government in favour of new investment in museums. The urgency of having a federal museum policy is supported by the current Government of Quebec, by the provinces and territories of Canada, by the tourist industry, the cities, municipalities and several other entities.
In light of this data, the Canadian Museums Association and the Société des musées québécois recently called on the Government of Canada to immediately honour the election promise by the Conservative Party of Canada to implement a new Canadian museum policy with multi-year funding for museums across Canada as soon as possible. And they were absolutely right to remind the Conservative government of the promises it made during the last election campaign.
It is in black and white. Wisdom guides us. On December 16, 2005, the Conservatives made clear promises that are well illustrated in the questionnaire and responses I will read to you.
Question 1 states:
Does the Conservative Party of Canada support the development of a new Canadian Museums Policy to replace the current policy that dates back to 1972?
Here is the Conservatives' response:
Yes, the Conservative Party of Canada supports the development of a new museums policy for Canada. Canadians want to see the country's rich heritage protected and preserved for this generation and for future generations. It is not acceptable that this policy has not been updated and that Canadian museums have been neglected by the federal Liberal government. A Conservative government looks forward to working with the Canadian Museums Association to develop a revitalized and renewed vision for Canada's museums.
Question 2 read as follows:
Does the Conservative Party support the CMA's principal objectives for a new policy:
a. preserve Canada's national heritage, including artifacts of key importance held in museums across Canada;
b. support museums in their role as important economic engines in the revitalization of cities and communities;
c. increase engagement of citizens, visitors, volunteers, and members by greater outreach to community groups and the general public; and
d. stabilize the capacity of museums to achieve these objectives through multi-year funding, endowment programs, tax incentives, and so on.
The Conservatives answered as follows:
Yes, the Conservative Party of Canada supports these objectives. A Conservative government would look forward to discussing these policy objectives with the Canadian Museums Association and to developing a new policy for Canada's museums which allows us to fully realize these objectives.
Question 3 asked:
Does the Conservative party support the investment of $75 million per year, as recommended by the CMA, in sustained, multi-year, predictable programs, to meet these policy goals?
The Conservative Party answered, and I quote:
As was confirmed at our policy convention last spring, the Conservative Party of Canada affirms the federal government's role in the preservation of Canada's natural and historical heritage (such as national parks, museums and historic sites) for the benefit and enjoyment of all and as an enduring reminder to all Canadians of our common inheritance. The Conservative Party of Canada supports stable, long term funding—
And I stress the words:
stable, long term funding for Canada's museums.
And they continued:
We believe that continuity of programming is important and can only be achieved through stable, predictable funding. Canada's museums conduct the valuable work of educating Canadians about their nation's rich history through their conservation and preservation efforts.
This is still the Conservatives speaking.
Canadians are avid visitors to our museums and enjoy viewing museum exhibitions and collections, but many do not recognize that the “behind the scenes” work of conservation and collections management is expensive and labour-intensive. Canada's museums make this look effortless—
How compassionate. It continued:
—but are increasingly strained by a lack of funding.
This is the Conservatives speaking.
Although we would need to see a definitive plan before making a specific funding commitment, please be assured that generous funding for Canada's museums would be a priority for a Conservative government.
Big words. Big mouths. Easier said than done. A hundred rejections hurt less than one broken promise, wisdom teaches.
In reality, the answer of the Conservatives, these culture poachers and vultures, is a brutal one: a $4.6 million slash in the museums assistance program.
Last October 4, the Société des musées québécois passed resolutions at its annual general meeting in the Saguenay region asking the Conservative government to keep its election promise and adopt a new museum policy as soon as possible along with funding to provide multi-year support for museums. They also asked the Conservatives, as the Bloc Québécois has been doing, to revoke their decision to cut the budget of the museums assistance program until a new museums policy has been adopted.
The $4.6 million in budget cuts announced over the next two years amount to one-quarter of the funding currently provided under MAP. If the 50% in budget cuts over the last 10 years is added to that, for the Canadian heritage minister to announce these reductions is totally incomprehensible, especially when the federal government is telling us that it is running a $13 billion surplus.
This situation is all the more paradoxical in view of the fact that the Conservative government is campaigning to have the convention on cultural diversity ratified by as many countries as possible and this convention requires the signatories to ensure a fair income for their artists so that they can make their voices and works felt on the national and international scenes. Ultimately, the Conservative government is making a decision that undercuts this convention and shows no consideration for the difficult situation facing artists and producers who show their works.
This is extremely disturbing news for the Regroupement des artistes en arts visuels du Québec, which is trying to persuade Canadian museum directors to pay visual artists more for their exhibition and reproduction rights—these people, whose average annual income is about $3,500, will be the first to suffer from Ottawa’s decision—but also for all Quebec museums, which suffer from chronic under-funding. Cutting the rations of museums is no way for this government to contribute to the development of the cultural and artistic forces in Quebec and Canada.
While elsewhere in the western world museums are doing tremendously well thanks, in part, to substantial government financial support, museums in Quebec and Canada have been suffering from chronic under-funding for nearly a quarter of a century now and are growing ever weaker.
Allow me to share some reactions to these cuts. In a press release, the Société des musées québécois denounces the cuts made by the Government of Canada.
Montreal, September 26, 2006
The Société des musées québécois was dismayed to learn late yesterday that the Minister of Canadian Heritage was cutting the budgets of some of her department's programs. These cuts are devastating to museums, because the only Canadian Heritage program dedicated exclusively to museums will be reduced by roughly $4.6 million over two years. In fact, these cuts represent a 25% decrease in the already inadequate museums assistance program (MAP) envelope.
According to Guy Vadeboncoeur, president of the SMQ, “this is extremely disturbing news for museums in Quebec, which have suffered from underfunding for several years already”. The museum community is especially surprised at these cuts because last week, the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage tabled a report and a recommendation in favour of a new museum policy for Canada.
The situation is also paradoxical, because these cuts affect the mounting and circulation of numerous art, history and science exhibits. Recently, consultations had been held to examine MAP's parameters. They showed the strategic importance of this program and underscored the inadequacy of the program envelope—
Here is the reaction to the cuts to the MAP from the Canadian Museums Association, which was in shock.
Ottawa, September 25, 2006
Late this afternoon, the Minister of Canadian Heritage, Hon Bev Oda, announced a series of cuts to her department. In particular we are alarmed that the Museums Assistance Programs has been selected for a $4.6 million cut. MAP is the one program that is dedicated solely to museums.
We are shocked, puzzled and feel betrayed by these cuts—
Quebec and Canada are on the same wavelength on this.
I will conclude with the reaction of the Quebec minister of culture and communications, Ms. Beauchamp. The headline of the article that appeared in the Journal de Montreal on September 29, 2006, read:
MINISTER BEAUCHAMP IS WORRIED
Ottawa announces $4.6 million in cuts to museums.
In a press release yesterday, the Quebec minister of culture and communications, Line Beauchamp, expressed her concern following the federal government's decision to cut $4.6 million from its museums assistance program...For Quebec museums, this could mean a shortfall of over $500,000 annually.
The Quebec minister of culture and communications said:
I am surprised by the federal government's decision to slash the museum assistance program, while considerable effort is being made in Toronto to bring together tourism and culture...Museums are a main component of tourism products across the country.
Later, the article went on:
According to Minister Beauchamp, the federal government's cuts only undermine Quebec's ongoing efforts to strengthen its museum network.
In light of all my arguments, my proposal to adopt the seventh report of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage represents a simple gesture inspired by the desire to protect our museums. We must, absolutely, resist this civilized-seeming barbarity.