Mr. Chair, thank you for leading this session that Ms. Fry, the chair, usually does.
Mr. Chair, ladies and gentlemen members of the committee, thank you for asking me to appear before your committee.
I am joined by Mr. Graham Flack, Deputy Minister of Canadian Heritage, and Mr. Andrew Francis, the department's Chief Financial Officer.
The work that you do is very important, and your studies in areas like the impact of digital technology on media consumption, the state of Canadian museums and the future of the CBC, directly relate to some of the portfolio initiatives that I will speak to today.
As committee members know, our government places a high priority on Canada's arts and culture. In budget 2016 we made a historic investment in the arts and culture sector: $1.9 billion over five years. This was the largest investment in the sector in three decades, and we're still the only G7 country having invested so much in the field.
Communities large and small continue to reap the benefits of programs, infrastructure, and initiatives that are helping to build a strong economy and a diverse and inclusive society. This has never been so important, particularly this year, Canada 150.
Since I last met with you in November, we have launched our year-long celebrations of the 150th anniversary of Confederation. The activities continue all year, giving Canadians a chance to come together, to reflect on our past, and to envision a future full of possibilities.
Over the past year it has been my great privilege to travel to all communities big and small across our country, to hear Canadians talk about their vision and ideas for the future of Canadian culture and content in our digital world, and about the importance of strengthening services in official language minority communities. I take my responsibility to each of them and to our government very seriously.
The digital shift has transformed our world; the lines between content creator, broadcaster and consumer are blurring. Canadians access content through different channels. We can no longer ignore it.
New international actors such as the big digital platforms have become prominent figures in the digital landscape. This is a unique opportunity for our creators to conquer new international markets. I look forward to presenting the first Canadian cultural export strategy that will help them to do so.
I also look forward to presenting my vision for our new cultural policy tool kit this year.
As for today, I will share a few examples of what we have accomplished so far, and what the 2017-18 main estimates will help us accomplish in the coming year. Our department is seeking $1.4 billion, an increase of $150.2 million, or 11.6%, from the previous fiscal year. Included in this amount are $1.2 billion in grants and contributions, $208.8 million in operating expenditures, and $25.8 million in statutory authorities. Let me highlight some specific initiatives that we have planned for this fiscal year to support our mandate.
The most significant increase in the main estimates is an allocation of $84.1 million to the Canada Cultural Spaces Fund. This funding is vital to help support Canadian creators and the expression of their creativity within our communities, in appropriate infrastructures. By providing this support, we will also strengthen the prosperity of our society and our economy.
Indigenous languages are an integral part of our Canadian identity. As such, the 2017-18 main estimates include $17.6 million to increase French and indigenous language services in the Northwest Territories, Yukon, and Nunavut.
Our government is also an ardent advocate for Canada's official languages. I have listened to minority official language communities since I arrived in this position in November 2015. We organized 22 round tables, and more than 7,000 Canadians took part in this consultation process.
The priorities of these communities are not only my own, but also those of our government. We are currently working on the action plan that will set out our government's vision and our strategy to ensure the vitality of our two official languages, and increase the level of bilingualism in the country. In this regard, we have had several successes in the official languages area that you are already familiar with.
A few weeks ago, our had the pleasure of proposing the candidacy of Madeleine Meilleur for the position of Commissionner of Official Languages. Our government is proud of the rigorous merit-based process that led to the selection of this candidate for this officer of Parliament position, a nomination that must be validated by the elected representatives of the House of Commons and the members of the Senate.
I want to remind you that the nomination process for the position of Commissionner of Official Languages was open to all Canadians. Right from the outset, the position was posted on the website of the Governor in Council, and was accessible to everyone.
The candidate had to meet very strict criteria regarding education and work experience, and had to demonstrate that he or she had the knowledge, skills and capacities necessary to staunchly defend our two official languages.
A third party, the Boyden Executive Search firm, assessed the 72 candidacies received, using the criteria set out in the position description.
The selection committee, made up of a majority of public servants, did an in-depth analysis of the files and chose 12 candidates who would move on to the next step, that of the interviews.
I want to specify that the selection committee worked on a consensus basis and that the opinions of all of its members were given equal weight.
In light of the interviews conducted by the selection committee, fewer than 10 candidates were chosen to move on to the next step, that of psychometric evaluations and reference checks.
Following these evaluations, the committee submitted its short list of candidates from the final selection to me.
As Minister of Canadian Heritage and minister responsible for official languages, I conducted interviews with each of the short-listed finalists. While it is not required, I thought it was important at this stage to take the extra step of consulting with my opposition critics, Madam Boucher from the Conservative Party, and Monsieur Choquette from the NDP, on the preferred candidate. Madam Meilleur's superior qualifications, expertise, and experience were acknowledged. Following these discussions, a formal letter of consultation from the was sent to the leaders of the opposition parties in the House of Commons and the Senate.
Ms. Meilleur's candidacy clearly stood out from the rest, because of her career and track record in defending and promoting the language rights of the Franco-Ontarian community. Her unique and specific expertise regarding official languages placed her at the top of the list of candidates following this process. I can mention her experience on the Ottawa municipal council, where Ms. Meilleur worked with her colleagues to create a bilingualism policy for the city.
This commitment to encouraging the inclusion of the francophone community of Ottawa in municipal life was also evident in Ms. Meilleur's intensive participation in the campaign to prevent the closure of the Monfort Hospital, the Franco-Ontarian hospital of Ottawa.
May I also point out that during her mandate as Minister Responsible for Francophone Affairs in Ontario, Ms. Meilleur supervised the creation of the position of French Language Services Commissionner of Ontario, and ensured the independence of that office.
Our priority was to recruit the most competent person to head the Office of the Commissioner, and to ensure the respect of the Official Languages Act. Ms. Meilleur is obviously that person, and her track record speaks for itself. I am proud to propose a candidate who will fight for official languages with the same strength and the same rigour as she has done all through her career.
Budget 2017 includes funding for initiatives that foster indigenous languages and cultures. I would like to point out three key initiatives: $69 million over three years to enhance aboriginal language initiatives to support community-based projects and activities focused on preserving and revitalizing indigenous languages; $14.9 million for Library and Archives for its ongoing work to digitize existing indigenous language and cultural materials; and $6 million for the National Research Council Canada, which is working with indigenous stakeholders as it develops information technology to help preserve oral histories.
Of course, we will seek additional funding through the supplementary estimates for budget 2017 initiatives once these funds are approved.
I am happy to answer any questions you may have.
Thank you for the question.
Indeed, we launched the Canada 150 celebrations on December 31, in 19 cities across the country. There are four themes that frame the celebration: environment, youth, diversity and inclusion, and reconciliation with aboriginal peoples. We have a $200 million fund to support programming for this celebration. We received project requests of about $1.7 billion, so as you can see there is a lot of interest.
I in fact had the opportunity of making an announcement with you at the Granby Zoo last week for an interesting community project. We awarded $148,000 to support an environmental project for the purpose of developing environmental awareness among the people of the regions of Montérégie and the Eastern Townships.
In the context of Canada 150, there are several events that will be announced shortly. We are going to celebrate four holidays in particular. The first is National Aboriginal Day, which is held on June 21; the second is the Quebec National Holiday, and the holiday of all francophones, which is held on June 24; the third is Canadian Multiculturalism Day, held on June 26; and finally Canada Day, which will be held as usual on July 1. Throughout these festivities, 19 cities will participate. In order to ensure that we have a good representation and support in the 19 cities, Canada Day will be celebrated in those 19 cities.
Those who would like further information may consult the website. There is also a mobile app, Passport 2017. I invite all of the members here, and the senators, to download the mobile app. People can have access to the information thanks to this mobile app.
Mr. Chair, it's great to see you here.
It's great to have you here, Minister, as well.
I want to talk a bit about what I think was a great mistake by the Government of Canada, which as part of its war on history chose to exclude history and Confederation as themes for the 150th anniversary of Confederation. What's becoming apparent now is that is creating a real disconnect between where Canadians—Canadian society at large—are and where the government is, and it is sort of painting the government as being elite and out of touch.
I want to show to you that despite the government's decision to exclude history and Confederation, there's an enormous grassroots community-based sentiment out there that is asserting those themes despite the government's stubborn, bloody-minded refusal to do so. I'll give you some examples from some organizations.
The Canadian Press, for example, has been running its series “Canada 150: History of a nation”. There's a different feature every week on Canadian history.
The Canada Games Council's website features a photo of the Fathers of Confederation on its home page, and the theme of the 2017 Games in Winnipeg is 50 years of the Canada Games, 150 years of Confederation.
St. Andrew's Church in Toronto had an event “Singing Our History: A Canada 150 Celebration”.
The students at Waterdown District High School have prepared an exhibit that looks at local history and then connects it to the larger Canadian story.
The Toronto International Film Festival has been running an exhibition “150 Essential Works in Canadian Cinema History”.
You see that from organizations like that as well as from the universities and the academic sector in Canada. The University of Regina, for example, has been having a lecture series, “The Making of Canada Series”, which focuses on Confederation. York University is holding a conference “150 Ideas that Shaped Canada”. Simon Fraser University has been having a lecture series “Canada 150: Confederation in Question” which examines various aspects of Canadian history.
Then there are communities, of course, that are spontaneously doing this. Mine, Georgina, has focused on history. Brockville is celebrating 150 years of history in 150 days for Canada 150. Okotoks, Alberta, is celebrating “Our Place in History”, a community history since Confederation. Nanaimo is celebrating Canada's 150th anniversary with stories that intersect local and national history. Whitchurch-Stouffville is having historical lectures and a Jane's walk of pre-Confederation homes, tying it back to our history. Sault Ste. Marie is holding a number of events. My favourite is a Confederation lobster lunch to pay tribute to the original Confederation conference.
The disconnect between the sort of elite approach of the government to ignore history and where ordinary Canadians are is so bad that The Beaverton ran a satirical article saying that 75% of the Canada 150 budget has been spent on hiding the worst parts of natural history. When you can get satire like that, I think that tells you how great the disconnect is between what Canadians intuitively understand the 150th anniversary of Confederation to be about—it's about celebrating our history and Confederation—and the bloody-minded refusal of the government to include that as a theme.
I have no problems with the themes you have, but will you acknowledge that it was a mistake to exclude history and Confederation as themes of the 150th anniversary of Confederation?
Mr. Chair, I would just like to correct the record here.
Of course, we're extremely happy to be celebrating the 150th anniversary of Confederation. One of the key elements we'll be inaugurating on July 1 is a major renovation at the Canadian Museum of History, the History Hall, which will be presenting the history of Canada. That will be one of the key legacies of our government.
We've also been involved in funding many of the history-based projects, one of which was mentioned by my colleague and has been presented by the Toronto International Film Festival, TIFF. I just want to make sure my colleague understands that this was funded by Canadian Heritage.
I would like to provide you with other examples. One is Equal Voice's Daughters of the Vote project celebrating the 100th anniversary of women being able to vote. Of course, we were all there and saw 338 beautiful young women sitting in our seats. That was a great moment in our Parliament.
To give you some other examples, there is the monument that will celebrate the Stanley Cup's 100th anniversary, and the Vimy Foundation's project, the First World War in colour, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Vimy and Passchendaele battles.
On Prince Edward Island, which my parliamentary secretary is very fond of, there is the commemoration of the Charlottetown Conference of 1864. We gave $5 million to the project Celebrate the Creation of Our Nation, 2014-2017.
I know that my colleague Mr. Van Loan is very interested in museums, especially museums that present history projects, which I'm very fond of. I would like to give him examples of projects that we have funded to support the importance of history.
The Waterloo Region Museum has received nearly $200,000 for its exhibition presenting the impacts of women on Canadian society from Confederation up to now. There's an exhibition at the Justina M. Barnicke Gallery called “A Story of Canadian Art” to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Confederation, and at the Musée maritime du Québec, an exhibition called “Sur les traces de Franklin”, which talks about the great quest of Franklin in the context of his travels across the Canadian Arctic.
There is another project that my colleague Mr. O'Regan would really like, because it's at Memorial University in Newfoundland, at the Grenfell Campus Art Gallery. It's called “Architecture and National Identity: The Centennial Projects 50 Years On”.
I could go on. I would also like to say that for my part, coming from Montreal, I was there for the launch of the 375th anniversary of the city, which was on May 17. I really hope that in the context of the 150th anniversary, we take this opportunity to reflect on our past, but also envision a future full of possibilities.
Thank you, Madam Minister, Mr. Flack and Mr. Francis for being here.
I want to say right from the outset that considerations regarding Ms. Meilleur are not my main concern. There is no doubt at all that she has defended the interests of francophones. I won't speak on behalf of my colleague Mr. Choquette, but it is clear that the non-partisan nomination announced during pleasant, perhaps sunny, campaigns, and so on, all of that is a bit awkward. It forces you to skate over thin ice, and you have all my sympathy. Although she is a good candidate, the process has been somewhat flawed.
Personally, I would like to raise a topic that seems much more imperative and urgent. I am referring to the upcoming catastrophe in our media. With a great deal of courage, you undertook an important review of our programs and policies. However, you took
a bite bigger than you can chew.
I can speak to you about this, since we, the members of the committee, are experiencing a similar situation in our study of the media. It is such a vast area that it becomes difficult to find solutions.
As I said to your deputy minister when I arrived, I understand the situation, but I hope there is something “in the pipeline” at this time. Indeed, the more time passes, the worse the situation gets. In the meantime, we need to ensure that the big players in the media environment are not coming up with two-bit solutions, as the CRTC just did.
Here is my first question.
Are you going to send back the decisions the CRTC made last May 15 so that they may be reviewed, and will you ask for new hearings?
Section 28 of the Broadcasting Act allows you to do that. A lot of groups are asking that you do this. You told me yesterday that people in the industry had only to speak out. They have done so. Over the past two weeks, they have been asking you to take these measures.
Are you going to send back the CRTC decisions to have them reviewed?
As I was saying, there is this disconnect between the government's refusal to allow history and Confederation as themes of Canada 150 and what ordinary Canadians are doing in the communities. I went through a bunch of them.
It's happening in the private sector as well. Fitzhenry & Whiteside publishers are celebrating Canada 150 by profiling our books about Canadian history. Harbour Air Seaplanes in Vancouver has 38 Otters and Beavers. They are iconic in aviation and Canadian history. Some of them are being painted in special Canada 150 colours to show that. Moosehead Breweries has an advertisement on TV, “We are still pioneers”, which shows a conveyer belt with bottles bearing labels all about Canada's history going by. CIBC is linking the bank's history to Canada's history. CP Rail has a transcontinental train initiative with 13 stops celebrating the first transcontinental train trip.
Then there's my favourite one. Clera Windows has this beautiful add, “Even our founding fathers had beautiful windows. So can you! Happy 150th birthday, Canada!” Of course, it's the picture that we see up there that all of us know so well.
The private sector is doing it.
Another way in which the Liberal government has, I think, failed to honour the histories and traditions is the unfortunate decision to not have a medal honouring ordinary Canadians. We had medals in the Canada 125 year, in the Centennial year, honouring ordinary Canadians, and in the Diamond Jubilee of Confederation in 1927. Of course, there were medals in the Confederation year. That initiative, although well advanced under the previous government, was actually cancelled under the Liberal government.
People are stepping in. A lot of communities are going to have Canada Day celebrations where they honour their community leadership and give out awards. Bradford West Gwillimbury in my riding is one of them. In addition to communities like that, St. Francis Xavier's history department is starting a new tradition of issuing pins for their graduates in history.
Then believe it or not, you have the private sector stepping in with efforts to fill that gap. Molson is doing an initiative to seek nominations for significant community members across Canada. It's going to give 150 of them one of their red beer fridges.
There's a clear desire among Canadians to have that kind of recognition, but again, the Liberal government has failed by stepping back from it. Would you acknowledge that was a mistake and abandonment to the tradition that meant a great deal to Canadians? Is it something that you wish you had done differently if you could do it over again?
Thank you for the question.
I had the opportunity of speaking briefly earlier to the importance of cultural diversity in response to a question from our colleague Ms. Dabrusin. Why is cultural diversity important? In fact, Canada is a signatory of the Unesco Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions. At the time when the convention was signed, Canada was really the leader in the development of that concept, which aimed essentially to protect the various national cultural legislative and regulatory measures. One hundred and forty signatories adhered to this convention. It is the reference in all major agreements regarding international trade, such as CETA.
I want to include this concept in discussions with digital platform representatives. That is why I went to speak to Unesco. I also went to the World Economic Forum, to the G7 Culture Summit with the ministers of Culture, and to Silicon Valley to speak about the concept of cultural diversity in the context of digital platforms, in the digital universe. That was a first.
In my discussions with Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and the giant Google, which of course includes YouTube, I presented five important principles.
I talked basically with these digital platforms about what the social contract is on the Internet. For me, it includes five things: first, the diversity of voices; second, being able to support local content; third, access to trusted news sources; fourth, countering cyberbullying online and hate speech; and fifth, fairness to creators, which we talked about with colleagues Nantel and Dabrusin. It was a very interesting discussion.
We have to keep leading on this discussion, because Canada is usually the first export market to the U.S. That's why we feel the impact of digital platforms before many other countries do. We need to be playing that leadership role, meanwhile developing a policy that is adapted to the digital age.
That brings me to your second question about the importance of net neutrality. What is net neutrality? It is being able to treat all data equally. It's treating data on the Internet like how we treat electricity. You aren't charged based on the light bulb you are using; you are being charged based on the electricity you're using in general.
That is based on an economic policy and a social policy. It is economic, because you want to make sure that the Internet is an open and free space for start-ups and businesses to be able to develop new business models, new projects, that will ultimately push innovation and create growth. That's extremely important. It's a social policy because the Internet is a tool to access knowledge. It's the most powerful tool in human history. As a government, we want to make sure that even people with less income are able to access data, notwithstanding their capacity to pay for content. That's why net neutrality is an economic policy but also a social policy, and we'll be defending it.
We don't see a contradiction between net neutrality and cultural diversity. We think that by having an open and free Internet, we can also have a diversity of voices, of choice. Ultimately, you can't have real choice if you don't have diversity.