Madam Speaker, I am honoured to recognize and support Motion No. 111 to declare the second week of September as Mennonite heritage week, an overdue recognition of the Mennonite communities and their important contributions to Canada.
Mennonites fled Europe as refugees. They fled persecution. They fled because they had beliefs that others did not. They were persecuted because they were pacifists and they moved from one country to another. In 1566, the Mennonites were scattered over Germany because of the persecution of their culture. The very first group of Mennonites to arrive in Manitoba came from eastern Europe. When I go door to door and meet many Mennonites in my community, they say proudly that they came from Ukraine and can share that history. As we know, many Mennonites came from Russian-occupied Ukraine, where their homes and properties were confiscated.
Mennonites arrived in reserves in 1874. They had a special agreement with the Government of Canada and settled on reserves on the east and west sides of the Red River. In 1923, the federal government opened its doors to Mennonite immigration and communities were eager to find new lives on the Canadian Prairies. Between 1923 and 1929, over 25,000 Mennonites managed to immigrate to Canada.
Through selfless action, the Mennonite community is known for its service to the community. Mennonite families and organizations have worked tirelessly to settle newcomers to Canada and their work deserves to be recognized and appreciated. These are people willing to give of their own time, their own savings and their own dedication. They go out of their way to help other refugees and immigrants settle in Canada.
In fact, the Mennonite community is one of the largest private refugee sponsorship groups in Canada. Today, almost 200,000 Mennonites call Canada their home. Winnipeg has one of the largest urban Mennonite populations in the world, with more than 20,000 Mennonites and 45 Mennonite churches. There are over seven in my riding alone.
Many of my constituents in Kildonan—St Paul's Mennonite community have a dedicated history of supporting and welcoming newcomers, sponsoring hundreds of new Canadian families since the private refugee sponsorship began. Many families are very concerned about the individuals fleeing the United States and looking for a haven in Canada, with tolerance, being open-minded and questioning why anybody would want to block the border at Emerson or look at somehow blocking people from coming to Canada, saying that their history and tradition is one of opening their arms and welcoming people to Manitoba, not blocking them. I find this particularly heartwarming and fitting, given that this year is also the 40th anniversary of the private refugee sponsorship program.
By the end of the Vietnam War, the Mennonite Central Committee negotiated a groundbreaking agreement with Ottawa to match Vietnamese refugees with private sponsors and brought them to Canada as permanent residents. Based on these agreements, the federal government introduced the private refugee sponsorship program, allowing groups of five eligible to sponsor refugees directly. Even now, there are families and organizations asking if Canada would increase the number of refugees and private sponsorships that Canada would take.
From 1979 until 2018, approximately 12,000 people arrived in Canada through MCC Canada's private refugee sponsorship program. That is a program that helped individuals with intense needs, with no cost to government, often providing the supports necessary for those families to be on their feet and proudly paying taxes within months, something we can aspire to and support 100%.
It is only through dedicated partners, such as the Mennonite Central Committee, that our Liberal government was able to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees who were escaping conflict. Many of them live in Kildonan—St. Paul, and many of them are members of the local Mennonite church. They are active members and volunteers, building community hand in hand. As noted by a Winnipeg Free Press article published on the anniversary of the private refugee sponsorship program, “many of us...at the time also came as immigrants to this country and in refugee-like situations.... [We're] absolutely paying it forward.” That is a philosophy we see in Kildonan—St. Paul.
Winnipeg's Mennonites have contributed greatly to Canadian society, helping to build our city and grow our multicultural community. The Mennonite community in Winnipeg built the Mennonite hospital, now known as Concordia Hospital, which is in northeast Winnipeg. It was run, funded, carried and supported by the Mennonite community. Unfortunately, it is now going through drastic changes, and many members of the community are looking to support that facility, as it has been very special to them from the time they created and supported it.
In my hometown of Winnipeg, the Mennonite community has established many well-known, reputable manufacturing companies, such as Price Industries, Loewen Windows and Palliser Furniture. They make a point of providing an opportunity for indigenous people, refugees and women to work. The charity and goodwill of Mennonites, and their ability to help, occurs not only at home with charities but also in the workplace. Some of us may have taken a Triple E motorhome or trailer on a camping trip or have put in excellent Loewen windows or doors, which are perhaps, I would argue, the finest in the world.
I remember listening to a group of these very entrepreneurial business owners from the Morden-Winkler area. They made a commitment to create a job for every single graduate from their local high schools. That became a reality. Instead of watching young people move away from their communities, they built the resources and built the dream. They have probably doubled the population in their cities since they came to me. At that time, I was the provincial minister of industry, and we were looking to support the Mennonite community with its growth strategy. It is about compassion, entrepreneurship and making a difference.
Time-honoured, community-oriented, Mennonite-operated companies like the ones I mentioned have made contributions to small communities and large communities alike. In fact, one of them is part of a brand new industry. It is called Delta 9, and it is growing, very successfully, legalized cannabis in my area. We were very happy to help it out as well.
It is incredibly fitting that the second week of September was chosen to be Mennonite heritage week, as it is the traditional time when the Mennonite Central Committee's relief sales are held every year in Canada and the U.S. It is my hope that during this time, as we celebrate Mennonite heritage in Canada, we will work together in service of our communities and celebrate our diversity.