Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate, being the reply to the Speech from the Throne.
As this is my first opportunity to rise in the House in the 38th Parliament, I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the people in my riding of Parkdale--High Park, which is located in the city of Toronto, for giving me the honour and the privilege of representing them in Parliament for a third term. As their member of Parliament, I vow to work with all of my colleagues in the House of Commons to address the challenges which we face today and which we will face in the future. As the Prime Minister said in his address to the reply to the Speech from the Throne:
...in a minority Commons, we all have a responsibility to make Parliament work for the people. And we will fulfill that responsibility--if we embrace and build on the democratic reforms initiated during the last session, if we are prepared to allow the partisan to give way to progress.
If I may, Mr. Speaker, I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate you on your appointment as Deputy Speaker. We look forward to hearing your rulings in this session.
On Tuesday, October 5, 2004, Her Excellency the Right Honourable Governor General, Adrienne Clarkson, opened up the 38th session of Parliament with the Speech from the Throne. With the main themes of cooperation and fiscal discipline, the Speech from the Throne was also a commitment to follow through on the key promises made during the election campaign.
The speech focused on the Prime Minister's key priorities: building a prosperous and sustainable 21st century economy; strengthening social foundations; and securing for Canada a place of pride and influence in the world. The program laid out in the Speech from the Throne will see positive change in a number of areas critical to Canadians by, for example: strengthening health care; increasing support for children, caregivers and seniors; and continuing to build on the new deal for Canada's cities and communities.
It is important to acknowledge that the Speech from the Throne reiterates the government's commitment to create a new deal for Canada's cities and communities. As part of this new deal, the government has committed to fostering the cultural life that makes our communities vibrant and creative. In fact the Speech from the Throne was unequivocal in this regard. It clearly stated the following:
What makes our communities vibrant and creative is the quality of their cultural life. The Government will foster cultural institutions and policies that aspire to excellence, reflect a diverse and multicultural society, respond to the new challenges of globalization and the digital economy, and promote diversity of views in cultural expression at home and abroad.
In his reply to the Speech from the Throne, the Prime Minister also spoke about our cities and communities as a place “where our cultural industries thrive”. I was especially delighted to see this specific reference to culture in the Speech from the Throne as a reaffirmation that culture continues to be part of our government's vision.
This is especially important to me, as the Prime Minister has given me the honour and privilege of appointing me as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage. I would like to take this opportunity to also thank the Prime Minister for that appointment. I look forward to working with our new and very dynamic Minister of Canadian Heritage and the Prime Minister to ensure that the commitments made during the election are fulfilled, especially with respect to updating and amending our copyright laws, strengthening our major cultural institutions and increasing investment in the Canada Council.
Immediately after my appointment, I began holding consultations with members of Toronto's artistic and cultural organizations to determine what their organizations needed and what the federal government could do to help them achieve and maintain greatness in their respective fields. I want to find out how I can best champion their needs and how I can help to ensure that the federal government can best enhance the creative environment in which our artists and our creators flourish. I have always stated that I see these consultations as being complimentary to our government's cities and communities agendas, as a dynamic cultural sector is a key ingredient to making cities thrive.
Just recently the Federation of Canadian Municipalities made a significant declaration in support of meaningful, long term investments in the arts. At its September 10, 2004 board of directors meeting, a resolution, which was put forth jointly by representatives of the cities of Vancouver, North Vancouver and Canmore, Alberta, was passed strongly urging the federal government to renew the multi-year tomorrow starts today funding initiative. According to Erin Murphy, policy analyst for the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, support for arts, culture and heritage is a major component of the FCM policy.
In addition, on September 23, 2004, in a speech kicking off Toronto's arts week, Toronto Mayor David Miller also spoke passionately of the cultural sector's importance. He noted that there were too many people who considered the arts to be a luxury or worse, an afterthought. He went on to say, “If we do not support the city's arts scene, we fundamentally damage the whole city”.
In the Speech from the Throne the government specifically has committed to ensuring that our cultural institutions and the cultural sector in general have the capability to compete and thrive in our constantly changing environment. What does that mean? I believe it means, first and foremost, updating key legislation such as the Copyright Act. Second, creating the conditions for our public institutions to foster diversity and make the transition to the digital world. Third, assisting cultural entrepreneurs and arts organizations to seize the opportunities offered by the Internet and globalization.
Canada will also continue to play a leadership role in the creation of a new international convention on cultural diversity which will establish clear rules that will enable countries to promote cultural diversity. This instrument arose out of a report of the cultural industry SAGIT back in 1999 when Sergio Marchi was the minister of international trade. It recommended that we move forward on such an instrument. I was chair of the Subcommittee on International Trade, Trade Disputes and Investments at that time. The year before that, then former minister of Canadian heritage, Sheila Copps, inaugurated the international network of cultural policy. It is great to finally see the work of the committee, SAGIT and previous minister finally come to fruition.
As an elected member of the UNESCO executive council, Canada will continue its leadership role to ensure that the goals of the convention are realized and that the convention is consistent with other international obligations.
I would like to point out that there are other references in the Speech from the Throne that will undoubtedly affect our artists and cultural institutions. While time does not permit me to highlight all of them, there are one or two which I would like to note.
The first is the government's commitment to continue to review the EI program to ensure that it remains well suited to the needs of Canada's workforce. I am currently working with the Minister of National Revenue and a member of the Canadian arts summit advocacy group to address the issue of the employment status of Canada's performing artists.
For the better part of a century, Canada's performing artists have provided services as independent contracts. This contractual relationship between producers, artists and governments stimulates a healthier cultural economy through a number of incentives. Unfortunately, this relationship has been eroded recently. In recent years Canada Revenue Agency auditors have increasingly challenged the independent contractor status of performing artists. This must be corrected as soon as possible because the implications for our artists and our arts organizations are huge.
I too would like to conclude with the words of our Prime Minister in his reply to the Speech from the Throne. He said:
On June 28, each of us earned the privilege of a seat in this chamber and the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of Canadians and the life of Canada. The message of the election is clear: Canadians want us to do better as a government. We have heard that message and we carry it with us. The demand going forward is equally clear: Our government and all parties must make this minority Parliament work for Canadians...The work of building an even better country begins today. Let’s get to it