Notices of Meeting include information about the subject matter to be examined by the committee and date, time and place of the meeting, as well as a list of any witnesses scheduled to appear. The Evidence is the edited and revised transcript of what is said before a committee. The Minutes of Proceedings are the official record of the business conducted by the committee at a sitting.
Madam Chair, given the fact that we've had to do a couple of votes, we have run a little late and we have some important business before us today. Would everybody be amenable to running the committee past our 5:30 time to when the votes are called so that we can try to finish our business for today?
If people are amenable to that, I would like to put forward a motion for us to do so.
We will just keep sitting. We don't need a motion, but thank you. I think everybody is nodding in the corner here.
I have another question I want to put, again for the way we do business today. We could go clause-by-clause for the Jewish month, or because we have the Honourable Wayne Easter sitting in Washington, D.C., having fun, we could listen to him now and get those two witnesses done, and then go to clause-by-clause.
Honourable colleagues, thank you for the opportunity to speak today on Bill S-236, an act to recognize Charlottetown as the birthplace of Confederation. I was pleased to hear the second reading speeches in the House of Commons. It was a wonderful opportunity for the House to debate the historical role of both Charlottetown and Prince Edward Island in the Confederation story.
Bill S-236 gives us, as parliamentarians, a collective opportunity to reflect on and also to educate Canadians about our shared history as we celebrate Canada 150 and look toward our nation's future.
Let me be clear. Although I am deemed the sponsor, Bill S-236 is not my bill. It is a vision that has been expressed by Islanders to solidify in law the formative event that led to the creation of the Dominion of Canada.
At the federal level, this vision has seen many forms. In the 41st Parliament, its name was Bill C-659, and it was sponsored by the member of Parliament for Charlottetown, who is now the parliamentary secretary for Canadian heritage. In the 42nd Parliament, it is Bill C-253, introduced by the member for Malpeque, who is with us today by video conference. However, due to Bill C-253's high draw order, it was clear that the bill would not be debated during Canada's 150th year. Therefore, I introduced Bill S-236 in the Senate to ensure that Parliament would have the opportunity to debate and reflect on the role Charlottetown had in leading to Confederation. I guess you could say I am the johnny-come-lately to this whole discussion.
This bill, when enacted, will be an appropriate complement to a bill passed by the Prince Edward Island legislature in 2014 called the Birthplace of Confederation Act. It builds on the 1996 proclamation by the Right Honourable Jean Chrétien recognizing the role of Charlottetown as the birthplace of Confederation and affirming this as an integral part of our Canadian heritage.
For context, when this went to the Senate's legal and constitutional affairs committee, four amendments were made to the bill. One amendment corrected a drafting error in the French version, and two clarified Charlottetown's role by indicating that it was the start of a process that led to the Quebec and London conferences, which ultimately resulted in Confederation and the creation of the Dominion of Canada. The last amendment to the bill stated that the recognition of Charlottetown as the birthplace of Confederation does not confer any specific, such as financial, benefit under the Parks Canada Agency Act.
To avoid confusion, Bill S-236 is not about the colony of Prince Edward Island joining the Confederation in 1873. This bill is about the city of Charlottetown hosting the conference that gave birth to the idea of Confederation in 1864.
With respect to consultation and involvement of first nations in the development of this bill, and the larger element of the Charlottetown Conference, Parks Canada worked with representatives of the Mi'kmaq Confederacy to develop interpretive videos of the Confederation story that explain the history of the Mi'kmaq peoples and highlight the lack of any role at the Charlottetown conference. I might add that women didn't have any role there either.
Although Bill S-236 does not trigger a legal duty to consult, I asked the chiefs of the Mi'kmaq Confederacy for their views of Bill S-236 and of Confederation in general. I am now going to read into the record their statement, to ensure that it forms part of the House of Commons' deliberations.
While the chiefs are generally supportive of the concept of Charlottetown being recognized as the birthplace of Confederation, they note that Prince Edward Island has been the home of the Mi'kmaq people for over 12,000 years, yet they were not invited to the Charlottetown Conference. In creating this legislative recognition, the chiefs believe that moving forward, the Government of Canada must include the indigenous peoples of this land on a nation-to-nation basis in all matters. This would also involve honouring the historic peace and friendship treaties with the Mi'kmaq.
I appreciate that there was debate on how the Government of Canada should celebrate and commemorate our 150th year of Confederation. This bill provides all of us, as parliamentarians, an opportunity to participate in a legislative event to celebrate and recognize the watershed moment in Canadian history that happened in Charlottetown.
I'm optimistic that this bill has sufficient support to be passed prior to the end of the 150th year of the creation of the Dominion of Canada.
I didn't realize that we voted so much in House of Commons when I was sitting here waiting for this time to begin, but I thank you for allowing me to participate. We are here at the Canada-U.S. meetings, meeting with a number of congressional representatives and senators.
First, I want to thank the heritage committee for taking this bill under consideration. As Senator Griffin mentioned, we really have a keen desire to try to pass this particular piece of legislation this year, on Canada's 150th anniversary.
Senator Griffin has basically said all that needs to be said.
I would like to also thank the Senate for its work on the bill. I believe they have improved the bill substantially. As Senator Griffin said, there were four amendments already made to the bill in the Senate and the preamble covers off some areas where there was concern.
She mentioned that Charlottetown should be seen as a watershed moment in terms of the path to the Constitution Act of 1867, and it was in Charlottetown where that shared vision of the country was established. Then that was built onto at the Quebec Conference, which is mentioned in the preamble, as well as the London Conference.
As Dr. Ed MacDonald said, it's been a kind of process along the way, but the fact that the shared vision was created in Charlottetown between Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, and Canada at the time is how we really came into being.
I don't think there is much more I need to say than that, Madam Chair, because I believe Senator Griffin has outlined most of the points, but I'm more than willing to answer any questions you may have.
The other thing I should point out, since it has been a point of discussion when I've been asked about this bill in various quarters, is that there was no indigenous community at the meeting, and in fact no women at the meeting either. In today's world, that would be considerably different. But Senator Griffin did read into the record the words from the Mi'kmaq community of P.E.I., who made it very clear they have been on the land there for some 12,000 years, and we appreciate the words that they said as well, and their support for this bill.
I'll leave it at that and try, along with Senator Griffin, to answer any questions you might have.
Thank you, Senator Griffin, and Mr. Easter, for finally getting this bill through the starting gate and closer to the finish line. This is something that was attempted in previous Parliaments as you both alluded to but only you have managed to have any degree of success with it.
I know that this is the work of many, as you indicated, Senator. Could we just start by perhaps talking about what happened in the background to get us to this stage and the people within the community who were the driving force behind this to get us to where we are? Can we get a little bit of the background of them on the record, please?
As was already mentioned, there were two members of Parliament who previously introduced such a bill in the House. Way back, for those of you who will remember, George Proud initially had a bill in this regard, too. That goes back a long time, at least 15 years.
The legislature, last November, had passed a resolution that passed unanimously to have Charlottetown declared as the birthplace of Confederation. We have support from the mayor and council of Charlottetown, and a lot of the local historians, both at the university's history department and other historians and authors in the local community. Some of them are Philip Brown, Sharon Larter, Leonard Cusack, and—here's where I start to forget and leave out people and you may be able to help me, Mr. Casey. There's strong local support for the bill. You say, the Prime Minister already did a declaration so why do we need anything else?
Declarations can get lost. In fact, the Library of Parliament had a problem finding a copy of the declaration but we knew where one was on the wall of the mayor's office in Charlottetown.
There's nothing more stable than having a statute.
You may be able to add to some more names of people who have been really pushing this.
The only other one I would mention—I'm not sure whether the senator mentioned it or not—was Dr. Ed MacDonald, who also was a witness before the Senate. He has very strong support and has all the historical background on the point as well.
Perhaps I'll start with you, Mr. Easter, on this one.
When we talk about the place of Confederation and the significance of Confederation in the hearts of Prince Edward Islanders and folks from Charlottetown, I would invite you to talk a bit about the prevalence of that theme in the symbols, in the buildings, in the parks, and in the infrastructure of Charlottetown in particular, and P.E.I. in general.
I think it's an important point to be raised, Mr. Casey, and in fact, some around the committee table will find this maybe strange or interesting. The Confederation Centre of the Arts is right beside the provincial legislature building, and it is the only remaining building of all the buildings that were involved in various conferences moving through the process to get to the Constitution Act.
In my remarks in the House of Commons I said you have to look at this. I had some Americans in there and explained that this really was the birthplace of Confederation. You walk on the worn steps and you see all the symbols and you see the chamber where the Fathers of Confederation met. It's certainly a tourism draw for us in Prince Edward Island, for people to come there and look at Province House and the birthplace of Confederation. You'll find a lot of that in Charlottetown, relating to that theme of the birthplace of Confederation being there.
As well, the Confederation Centre of the Arts came into being in Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau's time. What you might find funny is that my first job was in there, washing windows and doing some outside maintenance when I was about 15 or 16 years old.
That building has all the Fathers of Confederation set up in Memorial Hall. It is a place of history and a place of honour that really is there as a memorial to Confederation, although there is a theatre there and a library.
Those are two of the areas that I would say are very important in the city of Charlottetown related to this particular theme.
Senator, I'd like you to share with this committee something that actually came out during the testimony before the Senate committee, and that was the reaction of the public when the Province House was under the charge of the province, the expenses were significant, and there was an admission charge for people to come in.
Could you recount just exactly what happened around that and the reaction of the public to the idea of having to pay admission to get into Province House?
I can summarize it in one word. They were appalled. They see this as a public institution, and as far as the public of Prince Edward Island and summer visitors were concerned, to have to pay to visit this institution was appalling, because it's a very popular place, as Mr. Easter alluded to. The steps are worn. It's quite something to walk on these steps that are worn as you enter the building where thousands and thousands of feet have been placed over the years.
Mr. Easter may remember some more details regarding that event. I think I was away as a graduate student at that time.
Sorry to disappoint you, Madam Chair, but we are such history buffs that we really don't have any questions. We support the bill. I think it is putting in statute a self-evident truth that doesn't really need any debate. We're supportive of it and happy to move on.
It's rather strange to see my 12th floor neighbour in the Valour Building sitting in Washington.
I'm delighted you're here, Senator. Thank you for agreeing to present your bill to us.
This year, Canada's 150th anniversary has often been touted as an opportunity to, in some way, make amends for the wrongs of the past. Senator, you mentioned the importance of the Mi'kmaq perspective. I'm wondering whether it isn't a missed opportunity not to recognize, in the bill, the territory by its Mi'kmaq name, pronounced abegweit, which I believe you even said.
As you said earlier, it would be great if the bill were passed prior to the end of the 150th anniversary year of Confederation. Indeed, you don't give gifts after Christmas; it's too late then. With this piece of legislation, do we, as parliamentarians, not have a chance to do even more, given what we've experienced this year?
I won't even get into a discussion on how few francophones participated in the conference. I believe there were just two, but that has nothing to do with our duty to achieve reconciliation with first nations.
I am proposing an addition to clause 2 of Bill S-236, which currently reads: “Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, is recognized as and declared to be the birthplace of Confederation.”
I, for one, think it would be a positive step to add the following to the clause:
“This place known as ‘Prince Edward Island’ is recognized as traditional and unceded territory, known as Epekwitk, of the Mi’kmaq First Nation.”
That said, and I realize that this would be an additional step, we could go even further by stating:
“Parliament recognizes that the Charlottetown conference that led to Confederation excluded representatives of Indigenous peoples.”
The first change I'm proposing would recognize the territory, which would be nice. I would point out that, first nations people made it very clear this summer, on Parliament Hill, that we have a very white view of the 150th anniversary of Confederation.
I am formally moving this. I hear the clerks talking to the chair, so I would like to move an amendment to my motion, in order to include first nations.
My question was going to be largely around the consultation process.
First of all, I thank both of you for the work you've done on this bill. I'm very supportive in principle.
In her preamble, the senator addressed that we are in an era of reconciliation. We know that Senator Sinclair tabled his truth and reconciliation document with a call to action that said, “Reconcile Aboriginal and Crown constitutional and legal orders to ensure that Aboriginal peoples are full partners in Confederation”. I was heartened to hear that the Mi'kmaq were consulted, and I think that's wonderful.
Senator and then MP Easter, are you satisfied that what we've done now is enough in this era of reconciliation? If you could both comment on that, I would appreciate it.
In my discussion with the Mi'kmaq Confederacy, this was the statement they had given me. I wanted it in writing so we'd all be on the same wavelength for the future and we'd have it for both houses. They were satisfied with that.
However, let me suggest that if it's the feeling of the committee and the House of Commons that you want to go further, that's up to you. Based on my discussion with the chiefs and the executive director of the Mi'kmaq Confederacy of Prince Edward Island, they were satisfied, but they made the point in the statement that they're looking at bigger fish to fry in that they want to be recognized on a nation-to-nation basis in the future.
On a go forward basis, that's a good term. I think the fact that we asked and that they were able to give us a statement....
What's interesting, though, is that when consultation occurred, when the province passed its motion in the legislature, it did not consult in that case. That was the first thing I asked. Had there been any consultation by the province before it passed its unanimous motion in the legislature, and there had not. We were coming back to address that issue in terms of making sure, first of all, that the Mi'kmaq Confederacy of P.E.I. was aware that we had such a bill.
Secondly, what was their reaction to it? Did they support it, did they not support, or did they have anything else they wanted to say? In addition to saying that they supported it, they had given me the other wording to read into the record, which I did when we were in the Senate. Also, I believe Mr. Easter did that when he made his comments in the House of Commons during second reading.
I think Senator Griffin made most of the points. The statement by the Mi'kmaq Confederacy was made in both houses.
I don't see an amendment to this particular bill being necessary, but that's from where I sit. I think if it were, the clerk would have to tell me the process. What would happen if you made that kind of an amendment to this bill at this time? Would it have to go back to the Senate and be debated again there?
I actually think the birthplace of Confederation bill relates to a historic moment in time, which was a watershed moment. As Dr. Ed MacDonald said, when you do that, that in itself can be used as an educational tool for people about what happened during those times. I think we've made the point that there was no indigenous community present.
The other point I would make to my colleague Mr. Nantel is that I really think reconciliation is much bigger and much broader than the birthplace of Confederation bill. Where I come from is that I believe that the statements made in both houses relative to the debate on this bill, with the approval of the Mi'kmaq community, should at this stage be adequate to pass the bill on that basis. I see reconciliation of the indigenous community as a whole as a much bigger issue that is, in fact, ongoing and seen as a major priority by the current Prime Minister.
We will go through the bill clause by clause and go to the amendment by Mr. Nantel when we get to it, because his amendment is following the second clause. Let us begin and then when we get to the second clause, we will read it.
Before I go to that, I want to thank Mr. Easter and Senator Griffin for all the work they did in bringing this forward. I think this is going to be a very important bill. As you know, we all support it, but I think we want to discuss what Pierre is talking about.
I shall begin. Pursuant to Standing Order 75(1), consideration of clause 1, the short title, and the preamble are postponed.
(Clause 2 agreed to)
The Chair: I will now read the amendment by Mr. Nantel. The first amendment will become a new clause. It reads:
This place known as “Prince Edward Island” is recognized as traditional and unceded territory, known as Epekwitk, of the Mi’kmaq First Nation.
It's an interesting statement, but it doesn't seem to have anything to do with the bill in question.
The subject of the bill in question is Charlottetown and an historical event that took place there. It's not about Prince Edward Island per se. For that reason I don't see that it actually has a place in the bill as drafted. I think it's beyond the scope of the bill to have a declaration like that.
I share Mr. Van Loan's view. The first thing I would say is that I enter this discussion very delicately. I do not for one second debate the truth of the statement that is sought to be incorporated into the bill. It's something that is repeated at virtually every single public gathering, and something that's taken as a given. However, because it's true does it belong in the legislation?
I don't think there has been a discussion here, at the Senate, or on the floor of the House of Commons as to what the ramifications, if any, would be to the inclusion of those words in the bill. For example, this is essentially a declaratory piece of legislation. Will the inclusion of the recognition of the traditional Mi'kmaq territory in this bill but not in others attach a particular significance to this or lessen the significance of other bills where it isn't mentioned?
The fact that the first nations communities have been consulted, and this isn't something that was sought, I think is significant. I think there are the process issues raised by Mr. Easter. If an amendment this substantive in the body of the bill is brought forward at this stage, does that bounce it back to the Senate and make this debate much broader? When this is, I think, by all counts, Mr. Van Loan included, an uncontroversial statement of the obvious, does the inclusion of a declaration of the traditional Mi'kmaq territory in the bill change that character?
For all of those reasons, while again I do not for one second dispute the truth of the statement, the necessity or appropriateness of including it in a declaratory piece of legislation like this is something with which I do take issue.
Again, I should make it clear that my comments have nothing to do with the merits or substance of the particular statement, but rather its inclusion in this bill. It seems to be a non-sequitur in the context of what this bill is supposed to be about, and what it's supposed to achieve.
I don't have a particular problem with the statement, and I've also heard it said countless times. I just don't see how it relates to the birthplace of Confederation and the Confederation Conference that took place in 1864.
Given that this hasn't received any real debate, consideration, or notice before today, given its significance, and given that we all agree it's true, is there any appetite on the committee to table this, to have all of us huddle and perhaps consult, and bring it back?
Is this something that merits a further discussion perhaps outside this room and then again in this room before we finally take a decision on it?
Again, my objections to it have nothing to do with that. It has to do with, does it have a place in this bill? I don't think any discussion is going to give it a place in this bill from my perspective because that's not what this bill is about. It's not about Prince Edward Island. It's about Charlottetown. It's about an event that took place in Charlottetown.
I might add that I know from the proponents of the bill that there is a desire to have it have some fighting chance of becoming law during this, the 150th anniversary of Confederation. Any amendment will send it back to the Senate, and I think significantly diminish the prospects of that objective of the proponents of the bill, not today, but once it goes through subsequent stages in the House. Then it would go back to the Senate.