The House resumed consideration of Bill , as reported (without amendment) from the committee, and of the motion in Group No. 1.
Madam Speaker, it is a delight to speak in the House tonight about Bill , an act respecting Latin American heritage month.
I want to honour the memory of the hon. Senator Tobias Enverga, who first brought the bill forward in the Senate. The senator passed away recently, which was a real shock to everyone. He was loved by all, and he was considerate of all.
It is important to note that the reason Senator Enverga brought the bill forward was that he noticed that there were other heritage days. There was German heritage day, Italian heritage day, and Asian heritage day. There is nothing wrong with that, but he felt it was important, with 500,000 Latin American Canadians living in Canada and contributing richly to our society, that we honour them as well with a special heritage month.
There are those who get tired of the different days, weeks, and months we have. They feel that perhaps they all become less special when there are so many of them. However, I think that is because we, as parliamentarians, are more aware of them. We come every day to the House and there are ribbons to wear for a certain occasion, or a flower of some sort, or some little thing. We are aware of all the days we celebrate different events, but not everyone is aware of them. The Latin American community in Canada, and people who enjoy the Latin American community, will be very happy to share in this month.
I thought I would give the House a bit of exposure to Latin American culture through my eyes as I have travelled around the world. My first experience with Latin American culture was in Colombia. I decided, when I was 25, that I was going to take a trip and experience the world. I went to a small village in Colombia. I loved the people immediately. I was at a resort. I was taught to dance. The Latin American people are well known for their excellent dancing. Their dance moves are incredibly stylish, and the men just seem to know how to dance. In fact, it is alleged that the government whip is an incredibly good dancer. I have not seen it myself, but I would not be surprised, because the Latin American people are great dancers.
Because I learned to dance, when I returned, I would go to Toronto to a salsa club there, and the Latin American crowd would be there. It was such a festive environment.
That was my first exposure.
One of the others things I loved was the food I experienced. When I travelled globally for Dow Chemical, I went to Argentina, Chile, Brazil, and all over the place, and I really experienced different cuisine. I also spent quite a bit of time in Mexico. I absolutely love Mexican food.
Some of the rich experiences I had were with the way they put on their meals. The people in Brazil have a tradition called churrascaria. It is a dinner where they bring a lot meat. The meat comes on long swords, and people are given paddles with a green side and a red side. If people want the meat to keep coming, they keep the green side up. When they want the meat to stop coming, they turn the red side up. It is amazing. There are different cuts. It is very enjoyable cuisine, and the experience was very special.
The cuisine in Mexico was mostly good, although I did have a couple of experiences with the local specialities of ant eggs and crickets, which I ate, but I would not include it in what I consider to be fine Latin American cuisine.
I also experienced the work ethic of the Latin American people, which is excellent. With Dow, I was in charge of quality globally. I had the opportunity to do an audit in Brazil. I have audited all over the world, and I have found things amiss or not correctly done. In Brazil, I was amazed. Everyone was doing their jobs, everyone was following procedures, and there were no defects to be found. I said, in surprise, to one of my Brazilian counterparts that everyone was doing everything they were supposed to do. He said, “Of course they are, because if they don't, they are fired.” The discipline, the work ethic, of the Latin American people is something to be admired. Their productivity should be as well.
From an employee satisfaction point of view, in every plant Dow had in a Latin American community they were the happiest people and the most productive people.
I have had involvement in a number of other countries and different experiences. I was involved in a mission trip to Nicaragua and was exposed to the people there, and even the ones who are living in a lot of poverty are so loving and hospitable. They have such a passion for life, family, and God. I really embrace those values. The people who have come to Sarnia—Lambton from a Latin American community have brought those values with them to the community. There are more Latin Americans living in Ontario and Quebec than in the rest of the country, so we are more fortunate. However, I know that people across Canada will be able to experience the culture of those people and the love they have for our country. They are fiercely loyal and patriotic, and having a month to celebrate them makes a lot of sense.
This bill picks October because of the celebrations that go on in different countries during that month. For example, there is Día de las Culturas, the day of the cultures, in Costa Rica; Día de la Resistencia Indígena, the day of indigenous resistance, in Venezuela; Día del Respeto a la Diversidad Cultural, the day of respect for cultural diversity, in Argentina; Día de las Américas, the day of the Americas, in Uruguay; and, in Brazil, the feast day of Our Lady of Aparecida and Día das Crianças, children's day. Puerto Rico and Chile also wrap up their independence celebrations in October, and many countries, such as Mexico, end October with a three-day celebration called Día de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead, a celebration of their ancestors. That is why we are picking October for this month.
I am not exactly sure why the party to the left decided that it wanted to remove the short title. I think the short title, “Latin American Heritage Month” is fine. It describes exactly what it is.
I want to give some information about the different countries that make up the Latin American public, just in case people do not know. We talked about Mexico and Columbia already. El Salvador is on the list, as well as Peru, Brazil, Chile, Venezuela, Argentina, Cuba, Guatemala, Ecuador, Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Honduras, Paraguay, Uruguay, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Panama, and Puerto Rico. A lot of those countries I have not yet been to, so there are a lot of Latin American experiences I can have globally, and I still have years to do that.
Meanwhile, everybody should embrace the Latin Americans who have come to Canada. Everyone in the House should support this bill. We will have a lot of fun celebrating Latin American heritage month. I am sure the food will be good. I am sure the dancing will be good. I am not sure I will be dancing very well. There are YouTube videos out there that show me trying to do a tango to Madonna's Material Girl, but I will leave that for people to find.
We could honour the people by recognizing the contribution they have made in helping to build our country and our communities, and bringing that passion for love, life, family, and God to our country.
I am going to wrap up by saying again that I appreciate Senator Tobias Enverga's bringing this bill forward in the Senate. I appreciate the member for being the sponsor here in the House and paying this the attention it deserves. I am pleased that this would join the many other heritage days we have, such as German Heritage Month, Asian Heritage Month, Italian Heritage Month, and all the other days, months, and weeks we celebrate in the House. It is something worth celebrating, and I will be very proud to enjoy all the cuisine, the dancing, and the passion on those days.
Madam Speaker, gracias
. I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill . This bill recognizes the contributions of the Latin American community to Canada and seeks to establish the month of October as Latin American heritage month.
Canadians of Latin American origin have been foundational in communities across our country going back to the early 1970s. The government supports Bill as a meaningful way to reflect on and celebrate the significant contributions that Latin American Canadians have made, and continue to make, to the social, economic, and political fabric of this country. It also gives a unique opportunity for all Canadians to celebrate Latin American culture and its traditions.
Before going into further details about the important contributions of this community to Canadian society, let me begin by outlining the principles that support the fabric of Canada.
As was stated in the 2015 Speech from the Throne:
|| As a country, we are strengthened in many ways: by our shared experiences, by the diversity that inspires both Canada and the world, and by the way that we treat each other.
Given the strong and growing presence of individuals of Latin American ancestry, formal recognition of Latin American heritage month will provide us with a terrific opportunity to recognize the contribution of this community in celebration of our diversity and our inclusive society here in Canada.
It is important to note that the term "Latin American" can be used to refer to communities from the parts of the Americas where Spanish or Portuguese is the main language, and it refers to all people originating from the geographic area of Latin America. This includes Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking communities, as well as francophone communities and the indigenous peoples of the region.
The “Latin American” reference was the one preferred by the late Senator Tobias Enverga, who introduced Bill in the Senate in 2016. We thank him for that contribution to Canadian parliamentary business and for the legacy he is leaving with this bill. Senator Enverga explained that he consulted members of the communities and the public and gave consideration to taking on a more inclusive framing or terminology to the commemoration.
That is why the bill refers to “Latin America”, which includes Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela, as well as Puerto Rico, the French West Indies, and other islands.
As we all know, immigration has played, and will continue to play, a key role in the development of our country. Canada offers a way of life that attracts thousands of newcomers every year.
The first wave of Latin American immigrants arrived in Canada in the early 1970s, with the arrival of about 68,000 people.
I will digress for a moment to say that I personally had the privilege to work with dozens of persons of Latin American heritage as a young student in 1995, in my first year of law school at the University of Toronto. As a law student, I was working with an entity called the Centre for Spanish-Speaking Peoples, on Bathurst Street, just south of Dupont in downtown Toronto. The CSSP was a small clinic, but it was vital for Latin Americans, primarily refugee applicants, who confronted challenges with navigating the legal system and our immigration laws. That experience was extremely formative for me in many ways, not just in terms of my development and training as a young lawyer, but also in terms of my knowledge, understanding, and exposure to Latino culture.
Canadians of Latin American heritage continue to make major contributions to Canadian society in ways that build a strong and prosperous nation. Noting this continued credit to Canada, let me say a few words about some prominent Canadians of Latin American heritage.
In terms of academics, Professor Alejandro Adem, a Latin American Canadian of Mexican descent, has made important contributions to the field of mathematics. Professor Adem has been a professor in the department of mathematics at the University of British Columbia since 2005 and holds a Canada Research Chair. He is currently the CEO and scientific director of Mitacs, Canada.
With respect to sport, Mauro Biello, born in Montreal and of Latin American heritage, was the head coach and director of player personnel for the Montreal Impact professional soccer team for eight years. Prior to joining the Impact’s coaching staff, Mr. Biello had a 19-year professional playing career, including 16 seasons in Montreal. In 389 career games played with the Montreal Impact, Mr. Biello scored 77 goals and 67 assists for 221 points during the regular season, playoffs and championship games.
I would note for the record that I have had the pleasure of personally observing the passion of the Latin American community for football in the city of Montreal, when I watched a match with a colleague, the member for . We watched the Toronto team, TFC, take on Montreal Impact two years ago during the elimination matches. Although, as the member for Parkdale—High Park, I was cheering for my local squad, I was extremely impressed with the engagement of the 60,000 people who filled the Big O in Montreal for that match. The passion they showed for those players, many of whom were Latin American, was palpable.
I could go on and on about the contributions of Latin Americans to the sport and to the beautiful game. One need only think of the Spaniards, their European championships in 2008 and 2012, and their victory in Mondial 2010. We think of Cristiano Ronaldo and the Portuguese victory in 2016. There is Lionel Messi, from Argentina. As a specific fan of No. 10 for the Argentinian squad and for FC Barcelona, of course I need to recognize the significant contributions of Messi. The list of contributions of Latin Americans to athleticism, culture, and academics goes on and on.
Over the years, Latin American communities have brought their rich and vibrant culture to our country. Several Spanish-language newspapers, magazines, and newsletters are published in Canada, such as the Toronto-based El Popular. Theatre presentations, poetry recitals, and art exhibitions are common in larger communities, such as those across the city of Toronto, including Parkdale—High Park, where we have a strong and vibrant Latin American community. Indeed, dance and music groups are active throughout Canada and throughout our urban centres. Latin American writers, poets, painters, singers, chefs, and journalists have become well known in Canada.
I would be remiss not to mention the reference that was made to the chief government whip and the contributions of Latin American culture to the fine art of dance. I, too, appreciate the finer aspects of Latin American dance. It is with great pride that I declare that I, in fact, met my wife at a salsa class, so clearly Latin American culture brings people together. This August, we will have been married for 13 years.
Different groups, associations, and festivals promote and share Latin American culture in major Canadian cities, such as Toronto, which has been recognized as the most multicultural city on the planet. For example, Latin American-Canadian Art Projects is a Toronto-based not-for-profit arts organization dedicated to the implementation of arts projects, promoting Latin American art in Canada with an emphasis on artistic excellence.
The Confédération des associations latino-américaines de Québec, a not-for-profit organization, supports members of the Latin American community in the Québec City area and organizes various cultural activities. I could name many other examples in other parts of the country. Canada is recognized worldwide for its successful approach to multiculturalism. We are succeeding culturally, politically, and economically because of our diversity.
Let me reinforce the fact that Canada's multicultural heritage and identity are more than just a commitment to welcoming diverse people from around the world. It is a commitment to the principles of equality and freedom, grounded in human rights and enshrined in the Canadian Constitution and the Multiculturalism Act. That act's predecessor was the adoption of multiculturalism policy by Pierre Elliott Trudeau in 1971, a gesture whose statutory manifestation, the Multiculturalism Act, is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. What better year to declare October Latin American heritage month in Canada to celebrate that community and its vast contributions in Canada toward diversity, which is truly our greatest strength.
[Member spoke in Spanish]
Madam Speaker, this is yet another opportunity to talk about Latin American heritage month and Bill . Let me acknowledge again the support this bill has received from all sides of the House since it arrived here from the Senate.
This legislation essentially recognizes the many significant contributions to Canada's social, economic, cultural, and political fabric made by Canada's dynamic Latin American community. As I have done on every occasion I have spoken to the bill, I would like to again remind colleagues and those watching on CPAC tonight that this legislation, carefully fashioned by our late colleague, the hon. Senator Tobias Enverga, will I am sure stand as a notable element of his political legacy.
In a moment I will speak of my admiration and unrestrained support for the bill, but first I would like to read just a couple of paragraphs from a speech delivered by Senator Enverga when he spoke at second reading in the other place.
He reminded his colleague that he came to Canada from the Philippines and that he was one of many people now in the Senate who were fortunate enough to be welcomed to Parliament, and to be able to contribute to society. Senator Tobias Enverga pointed out that, “Few countries in the world are as open and accepting to people who come from other countries to settle and make a new life for themselves.” He said, “The Canadian policy of multiculturalism is a great success when it comes to allowing for, and celebrating, the various cultural backgrounds and languages we have”, and share.
The Senator referenced other heritage months that moved him to propose one for Canadians of Latin American descent. He talked about the importance of Black History Month, proclaimed in 1995, and about Asian Heritage Month. He anticipated Italian Heritage Month and Portuguese Heritage Month, both passed into law just last year, and this year we celebrated Jewish Heritage Month.
Before I get to the bill he created, the process and legislation before us today, I will provide a little background on this great Canadian.
Tobias “Jun” Enverga was respected by all for his kindness, warm sense of humour, and his unparalleled work ethic. He was a family man, self-described as surrounded by four lovely women, his daughters Reeza, Rocel, and Rystle, and his wife Rosemer. He was a tireless advocate for people with disabilities. Tobias served as a Catholic School Board trustee in Toronto for years and became known in the Toronto region for launching the Philippine Canadian Charitable Foundation and its fantastic annual Pinoy festival and trade show, which, by the way, is next Saturday at the Toronto Convention Centre. Senator Enverga was also co-chair of the Canada-Philippines Interparliamentary Group, and inaugurated the annual Filipino independence day flag raising on Parliament Hill, which I am sure many members of the House will attend on Monday morning.
During his years at the Senate, Senator Enverga was a member of several standing committees. He participated in a variety of important studies on issues ranging from first nations northern housing to maritime search and rescue operations. Also, and this is very important to remember, Senator Enverga was an executive member of the ParlAmericas group. He invested his energy in forging closer ties with parliamentarians from across Latin America, helping them to strengthen democracy and governance in their countries through political dialogue and parliamentary co-operation. It was his work with ParlAmericas that moved him to propose the bill before us today.
As we know all too well, Senator Enverga passed away Thursday, November 16, while on parliamentary business in Colombia. Despite his tragic and untimely passing, Senator Enverga's Latin American heritage month bill lives on. It was passed in the other place a couple of weeks later and sent to us in the House.
Some of my colleagues in the House may remember that Senator Enverga introduced a bill in the 41st Parliament, Bill , to create a Hispanic heritage month, matching such designations by the Province of Ontario and the City of Toronto. However, that bill was lost on the Order Paper in the election of 2015.
Senator Enverga, after further consultation with members of the public, reconsidered the reintroduction of that legislation and decided instead to change the focus in this bill to “Latin American”, as a geographic and linguistic community, which adds not only the Lusophone and Francophone communities, but also those of the indigenous peoples of the Latin American region. This was not a snap decision. Senator Enverga pondered long and deeply the issues of self-identification of the diverse Latin American community in Canada. He became convinced that a Latin American heritage month would better enhance our understanding of the complexities involved and believed this act would better respect the spirit of the Canadian Multiculturalism Act of 1988.
Latin America is of our hemisphere. The region is generally understood to consist of the entire continent of South America, all of Central America, Mexico, and the islands of the Caribbean whose peoples speak a Romance language or have a Romance language among their various official languages.
For the purposes of this bill, Senator Enverga envisioned the widest possible interpretation so Bill would cover those who identified as Spanish and Portuguese speakers from South America and Central America, as well as those whose heritage was of the Francophone and Hispanic Caribbean Islands.
Using that broad and inclusive measure, we can see that Canadians of Latin American origin can be found far and wide across our great country from coast to coast to coast. In the absence of absolute census numbers covering that broad, and I think members would agree somewhat imprecise measure, we might estimate a possible demographic well above half a million men, women and children.
What we do know is that the Latin American community is one of the fastest-growing cultural groups in Canada today. Statistics Canada reports that between 1996 and 2001, for example, the number of individuals reporting Latin American origins rose by 32%, at a time when the overall Canadian population grew by only 4%.
With respect to actual numbers, the demographers can only estimate that between 600,000 and 1.2 million Latin Americans, again from the broadest possible measure, live among us. These numbers are particularly interesting, given there was only a small Latin American population in Canada before the 1960s. It was in the sixties and seventies that we recorded the first significant migration of Latin Americans to Canada. Unfortunately, in too many cases, their motivation was to escape social and economic turmoil, dictatorships, conflict, and most recently another wave, fleeing Venezuela's corrupt and repressive regimes under, first, Hugo Chavez, and now the brutal Nicolas Maduro. These Latin Americans represented significant loss to the countries they left, but they have been a boon to Canada.
I could speak to the virtues of supporting Bill , a bill to bring Latin American Heritage Month to Canada, but I must stop there. I move:
|| That, when the order for consideration of Bill S-218, an Act respecting Latin American Heritage Month is next called, the time provided for the consideration of any remaining stage of the bill be extended, pursuant to Standing Order 98(3), by a period not exceeding five consecutive hours.
Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak about the legislation before us, for two reasons. One of the strong messages that our sends to all regions of our country is how proud we are of Canada's diversity and all the benefits that are derived from it. No matter where we go in Canada, we see a great number of people with such diversity and appreciation for what we are as a nation. We are a multicultural nation with a great sense of pride in our diversity.
Before I comment on the legislation, I want to speak about Senator Enverga. I knew Senator Enverga in my capacity as a co-chair. He and I were co-chairs of the Philippines-Canada Friendship Group, and we were able to accomplish a great deal. In fact, shortly after the friendship group was formed, Senator Enverga was appointed to the Senate. Shortly after being appointed to the Senate, he and I had the opportunity to meet and talk about the Philippines. He had values that many of us share, a passion and love for the Philippines and the desire for a healthier relationship between Canada and the Philippines.
My friend across the way referred to another issue that Senator Enverga was behind, and that was the flag-raising ceremony. In fact, this Monday, at 11 o'clock on the steps of Parliament, there will be a flag-raising ceremony, and I suspect there will be a few tributes to Senator Enverga.
As the current chair of the Philippines-Canada Friendship Group, I would be wrong not to mention that we will see all members of the House, members of the Filipino community, and others participating in that activity. Then at one o'clock in the Commonwealth Room, special guests will be talking about the importance of the very special and unique relationship between Canada and the Philippines. I invite all members to participate.
That said, we are having a wonderful debate on a very important community, and no one more is more engaged than the , who is full of passion for anything Latino. The government whip is a very proud individual and has worn the Philippines' colours on his shoulders on many different occasions. Others in the chamber have also made reference to the Latino factor that the government whip carries with him wherever he goes.
I will now get back to diversity. As the has often said, diversity is one of Canada's greatest strengths, and we need to celebrate that. Recognizing Latin America heritage month in the month of October would do all sorts of wonderful things. It would provide members in the House, members in the other place, and anyone who has an interest in promoting the contributions of Latin America and the countries that make up Latin America with the opportunity to share that wealth of culture, whether it is festivities, clothing, foods, their hard-working attitude, or the many contributions made by our Latin American community. It is a community that continues to grow in great numbers in Canada today, and I believe that community will continue to grow.
Focusing on Winnipeg, I am a big advocate of Folklorama, a two-week celebration of Canada's diversity. There will be performances in a number of pavilions. It is worth noting that it is not easy for these pavilions, because they are open seven days a week and run by volunteers. There will be all sorts of cultural displays, dances, food, and an overall super-fantastic time. One gets to explore the world by participating in Folklorama.
I did a quick guided tour of the Folklorama website while I was listening to my colleagues across the way. Members will be very happy to hear that there are four easily identifiable pavilions, and I will share some of the comments.
For example, the website shows the Brazilian Pavilion, and says:
|| Come out and see our high energy show! Live music coupled with live entertainment will take you on a tour of Brasil. Relax in air-conditioned comfort as you sample the tasty cuisine and cultural beverages of Brasil. Cachaça cocktails and Brazilian beer will have you feeling like you are a heartbeat away from the amazing Brazilian beaches, while our nonalcoholic drinks will refresh your taste buds. The fun never stops and you can enjoy yourself late into the night during our Friday late night party! For Saturday, there might not be a late night party, but don't worry we will be holding a late night show!
However, this is not the only Latin American pavilion. We have two solid weeks. In the first week, we will have two pavilions from Latin America, and the following week two demonstrations on Latin America. For example, the website shows the Chilean Pavilion, and says:
|| Head into the warm embrace of the Chilean people as you experience food, drink, and dances from the various regions of Chile, including the north-central, south and Easter Island...Enjoy the lively Latin stylings of our own “QUIDEL” dance group, as well as long-time performers, Chile Lucha y Canta. Be sure to try a Chilean favourite–borgoña, a drink made with cold red wine and strawberries. Then dance the night away at our late night parties on Friday and Saturday, complete with live music from local band Descarga Latina!
Folklorama is a celebration that takes place every year in Winnipeg, and will get 200,000 visits. It encompasses a large number of volunteers. This is why I think it is important that we have these heritage months. People should be proud of their heritage and their homeland countries. When we see the celebrations of people from countries all over the world, we are the better for it.
I mentioned two of the four pavilions. However, the hours dedicated to this are not just to put together a pavilion during Folklorama, but also for other activities virtually year round. We have young people engaged in their culture and the heritage of their homeland and are sharing it with others year round. This is why, when I think of having a Latin America heritage month, it is more than just an opportunity for MPs and senators to go out and promote, but, more importantly, it is for all individuals to have an opportunity to explore all the things they can do in the month of October.
For example, if one is a school teacher in a junior high or high school, it provides an opportunity to recognize the contributions of Latin America. October would be the month recognized by Parliament as Latin American heritage month, and teachers could take advantage of it by organizing a lunch program or after-school program and invite community members out. It is a wonderful thing that can really promote what makes Canada great.
This is our diversity, and we need to be proud of our heritage. Our Canadian heritage is made up of people from countries around the world. I, for one, am a very proud Canadian.
Madam Speaker, I am very happy to rise today in support of this bill.
[Member spoke in Spanish]
It is great to be here tonight. I am certainly very much a lover of Latin America, having spent much time there and really having grown to love not only the region but the Latin American people as well. It is a rich culture that I enjoy very much.
I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to travel with my family to different countries in Latin America when I was growing up. However, how I really got to know Latin America as a diplomat in the Canadian foreign service. I was very fortunate to have postings across Latin America. I had a posting in Buenos Aires, a very beautiful city in Argentina. It is truly like the Paris of the south. During that time I had a lovely apartment in a region called Recoleta. I had a lovely opportunity to take tango lessons and to view the beautiful museums there. I should add that I am a fan of Evita Perón, so it was very good to get to know one of my political idols during that period of time as well.
I went on to become the chargé d'affaires in El Salvador, in San Salvador, for two years. What a beautiful nation it is, in terms of the volcanoes, the beaches, the ruins. I very much got to know and love the people, despite the many challenges there: the gang violence, the drug trafficking. These are very challenging things, but I felt very proud of the work I was doing as a Canadian diplomat to combat these things. I sat through many earthquakes, measuring four or six on the Richter scale. It is very uncomfortable and unnerving, but something that we became accustomed to living in Latin America.
I was also very fortunate to serve for one year as a policy adviser to the member for , who of course is a major part of this bill here today. We had an incredible experience as a team working with Canadians in relation to Latin America. We have some very fond memories together. I remember in 2009 going to Honduras in an effort to negotiate the end of a coup with the Organization of American States at the time. I remember flying there and being whisked through what was a very high-security environment at the time. We really were in lockdown as we worked on behalf of Canada, but also for the Latin American people, to try to help them go down the path of democracy. That is something I have always welcomed, with the previous Harper government. I follow Jason Kenney in my riding, but certainly there were others. There were John Baird and Prime Minister Harper himself, who were very big supporters of democracy in the Americas. I was very pleased to serve under the former minister of state for the Americas in this capacity. It truly was an honour and a privilege.
I have always enjoyed the warmth of the Latin American people. They are incredibly chaleureux. They will always welcome people into their home, be it with a pupusa in El Salvador or a wonderful steak and a nice malbec in Argentina. They are very warm people, and yet I also appreciate the formality in Latin America. Latin America is a place where history and culture are very important, and institutions that are very important for Conservatives such as the family, the church, and these things. I have always felt a very strong affinity for this region and its people.
Of course, I am very sad to say that there are certainly some challenges faced in the Americas. They are no stranger to oppressive regimes, having lived under several dictators. I think, for example, of Pinochet in Chile who was in power for years. As well, in El Salvador, where I served, they struggled with civil war. I was very fortunate to be there in 2007, celebrating the 15-year end of the El Salvadoran civil war. That was something very special during my time there. I am very fortunate to have had these incredible experiences.
Unfortunately, we are still seeing lingering problems with democracy in Latin America to this day. I remember, during my time in the minister of state of the Americas office, monitoring ALBA and the Bolivarians.
Very recently we have seen the terrible happenings in Venezuela with the oppressive regime there, and the elections, which of course are not at all valid by our democratic standards. They certainly causes concern for us as Canadians. More recently, Nicaragua is getting to a point that is very concerning, which I hope the government will speak out on, as they have with Venezuela.
That is a big part of what this bill is about, supporting the ideas of democracy, justice, free markets, all of these principles that we, in the Harper government, supported so very strongly and will continue to support and promote, not only in Latin America but around the world as well.
I do have some concerns about the historic actions of the government, in particular the words of condolence by the at the death of Castro, which to me, unfortunately, seems to speak of support for a communist regime. I know that as a Conservative government, we were always in absolute support of the dissidents.
As a policy adviser, I continually looked for ways for us to be a mediator. Indeed, 2008 to 2009 was a very exciting time to work with the minister of state for the Americas because it was during the Obama era and we were looking at the Helms-Burton Act being re-opened and at both missions being re-evaluated. We were looking at visitation rights for Latin American people in America being revisited too.
The relationship between Canada and the Americas always been very dear to me. I will say again that the principles that Conservatives stand for as the official opposition are democracy, justice, the rule of law, and free markets. We will continue to support these things in Latin America. We would encourage the government to do the same, as well.
I would be remiss if I did not recognize all the wonderful new Canadians that Latin America has given to us. I am very fortunate to have many of them, both in my riding of Calgary Midnapore, as well as the city of Calgary. These new Canadians from Latin America have been a major force in the oil and gas sector. Latin America really has given us some of their best and brightest, in terms of engineers, geophysicists, and these types. I have a statistic here that as of 2016, Latin Americans in Canada numbered close to half a million, or some 447,000.
In conclusion, I would just like to say that I love Latin America, I love Canada, and I see no reason why we should not all support a Latin American heritage month.
[Member spoke in Spanish]