That, in the opinion of the House, the government should, on an annual basis, proclaim the first day of the Lunar Year as the beginning of the 15-day “Spring Festival”, in acknowledgement of the many celebrations and gatherings that take place in communities across the country, as well as in recognition of the tremendous contributions of people of Asian heritage to Canadian society.
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak today on Motion No. 38.
In the springtime, many families in Canada and around the world pay special attention to the first day of the lunar new year, which marks the beginning of the 15-day spring festival.
Spring festival, sometimes called the Chinese new year, has existed for over 4,000 years. It is the most important and festive holiday in Asia. Millions of Asians around the world celebrate spring festival, including those in China, Cambodia, Indonesia, Korea, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam, just to name a few.
Many customs accompany the spring festival. People do a major spring cleaning of their houses, their clothes, and their utensils. A number of goods are purchased for the new year, including edible oil, rice, flour, chicken, duck, fish, meat, fruit, candies, and nuts. Children receive new clothes, shoes, and red packets with good luck money, and they exchange gifts with seniors, friends, and relatives.
There are fireworks, a dragon dance, kitchen gods, the beating of drums and cymbals, and many celebrations. Chinese eat noodles and dumplings called jiaozi to signify a long life and the end and the beginning of time.
Traditionally, the festival was a time to honour ancestors. It was the one time of the year when people could rest. Family members from near and far would travel to be with loved ones in time to usher out the old year and welcome in the new.
Today, all over China, passenger trains, buses, planes, and river boats are packed with millions of holiday travellers. Shops do a lot of business, kitchens are busy preparing elaborate feasts, and the streets are filled with the sounds of firecrackers. It is the time for entire families to reunite for an average of 15 days. Most employees will get vacations, while students take a one-month absence from school.
Martin Palmer, a British expert on China, once said that spring festival is an exact Chinese cultural symbol when all its elements are assembled, namely kitchen gods, lion and dragon dances, red packets offered to family, and symbols of good luck.
The two key reasons for the festival are to celebrate a year of hard work, have a good rest, and reunite with family; and to wish for a lucky and prosperous coming year.
Asian communities in Canada are well organized. The Chinese community, for instance, has many community centres and media outlets serving the population. It has a long history dating back to the 19th century. Starting in the 1890s, cities and larger towns developed their own Chinatown districts in Canada.
The Chinese Canadian community is currently the largest ethnic group of Asian Canadians, centred mainly in the provinces of Ontario and British Columbia. In a 2011 survey, Chinese Canadians, including mixed Chinese and other ethnic groups, made up 4.5% of the Canadian population, or about 1.5 million. As the Chinese Canadian population in Canada continues to grow, Chinese culture has become an integral part of the Canadian cultural landscape.
Chinese Canadians were essential to the building of Canada's Pacific railway and joined the Canadian Armed Forces in World War II.
Unfortunately, beginning in the 1880s, hundreds of Chinese railway workers died in Canada due to accidents, winter cold, illness, and hunger. It is said that at least four Chinese workers died for every mile of track laid.
Canada's first prime minister, John A. Macdonald, said that British Columbia could either have Chinese workers on the railway or no Chinese workers and no railway. Since British Columbia's entry into Confederation was contingent on construction of a national railway, without the Canadian Pacific Railway there would be no Canada.
It is our responsibility to remember the exceptional contributions made to the Canadian mosaic and culture by people of Asian background. My motion is an opportunity to commemorate not only what the Asian community contributed to Canada but the Canadian government's recent support for the Asian community to tell their story.
Canada is a multicultural society, whose ethnocultural makeup has been shaped over time by immigrants and their descendants. Each new wave of immigration has added to the nation's ethnic and cultural composition. Canada's population includes six million people, about 20% of the population, who were born outside of Canada. Recent immigrants to this country are more likely to have come from Asia and the Middle East than from other countries. It is, therefore, not surprising that Asian traditions, such as the spring festival, are celebrated by an increasing number of people in Canada every year.
In 2014, over 153,000 Chinese students were studying in Canada, representing the largest group of foreign students in our country. International students enrich our classrooms and their knowledge and skills are welcome in our schools.
Multiculturalism makes life better for all Canadians and helps to build strong, diverse communities. Many Canadians are interested in learning about Asia, but do not have the opportunity to travel outside of Canada. The spring festival is a fun way to learn more about Asian customs and family traditions from within Canada. Here we can bring this tradition into focus and have the community serving together, enjoying the day and the time with the greater community. This fits with the spirit of multiculturalism.
Many Canadian cities join their Chinese neighbours in the celebration of these festivities. For instance, the Canada-China Business Association stages a multicultural spring festival event in Richmond, B.C. Although the spring festival is not a nationwide public holiday in Canada, it is a festive occasion for many people.
Prime ministers of Canada have celebrated the lunar new year and spring festival and issued official statements honouring the spring festival. Canadian organizations participate in Chinese new year. For example, since 2011, Canada Post creates a new stamp annually to commemorate the Chinese new year with an animal. In the past, the Royal Canadian Mint marked the event with a series of new coins. It is my hope that this annual announcement will contribute to the enrichment of Chinese Canadian history knowledge for both Chinese Canadians and mainstream Canadian society.
It is important to remember that the Chinese community in Canada put down historical roots, not just in China but on both sides of the Pacific. Motion No. 38 would encourage Canadians of Asian descent to carry on the rich traditions of their heritage, reminding us again that Canada's strength comes from the richness of our cultures and the diversity of our people to recognize the important contributions Asian Canadians have made to Canada and to honour their values of hard work, enterprise, and community. The spring festival is a non-partisan and non-religious event.
Motion No. 38 encourages participation in the cultural life of Canada. The motion builds on the fact that the festival has already become part of Canadian culture. Many of the Asian organizations in America and around the world hold large celebrations and parades to share its spring festivity. Cities like Sydney, London, New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco have held many successful lunar new year parades that attract thousands of crowds every year.
Motion No. 38 would enable Canadians to maximize opportunities for future generations and to embrace the natural linkages between this country and the Asia Pacific region. This motion would bring together friends from Asia and Canada, and makes Asian culture accessible to the local mainstream and minority communities. The celebration of the Chinese new year has served as a platform for bringing the community together and reminding that diversity and inclusion are sources of strength.
We are stronger, as Canadians, because of our diversity. We have become not a melting pot but a beautiful mosaic, different people, different beliefs, different festivals, different dreams but one country. Our differences make us stronger. We should celebrate our diversity and learn to work together. The Government of Canada believes in a united Canada that looks forward with a shared purpose; a country that is strong, not in spite of our individual differences but because of them.
Earlier this week, I explained in writing to all my colleagues in the House exactly why Motion No. 38 was good for Canada and for all Canadians. I would ask for the support of MPs from all parties in the hope that we can expedite this motion and officially recognize this significant event, spring festival, across Canada.
I am pleased to note that I have received widespread support, bordering on high praise and heartfelt encouragement from virtually all my colleagues across party lines for Motion No. 38, for example, from the hon. members for Richmond Centre, Vancouver East, Vancouver Kingsway, and the Scarborough ridings. I wish to thank everyone and every party for their full support and hearty encouragement.
I ask members to please support Motion No. 38 and join Asian Canadians at the spring festival 2017. Remember to have plenty of food and drink, and do not forget the dancing. Xièxie.