Tuesday, 12 June 2012 11:12
Debates of the Senate - QUESTION PERIOD
Hon. Maria Chaput: Honourable senators, my question is for the Leader of the Government in the Senate.
On October 20, 2011, I shared my concerns regarding the possible effects of the likely budget cuts on official language minority communities. I mentioned that the 5 per cent to 10 per cent reductions could disproportionately harm these minority communities.
At that time, I raised the fact that a number of departments still do not understand that they have an obligation to promote linguistic duality.
Consequently, the government must ensure that the individual reductions in each department do not, when taken as a whole, create a situation where official language communities are unintentionally harmed by cuts that, in total, exceed 5 per cent or 10 per cent.
I was right to be concerned, honourable senators. And yet, this is just the beginning of the reductions. Let us look at the French communities in Manitoba, and I will give you a few examples.
On April 5, 2012, I asked a question about Katimavik, a program for our youth that has been cancelled. French communities in Manitoba were involved in the program, and many young people participated and also came to our communities.
On April 25, 2012, I asked a question about immigration. Manitoba successfully promoted francophone immigration under the provincial nominee program. Our goal was to ensure that seven per cent of the 70,000 qualified immigrants who settled in Manitoba spoke French. That was good. Now we no longer have any control over francophone immigration, which has been centralized at the federal level.
On May 10, 2012, I asked a question about the National Film Board, which had cut the position of producer responsible for French documentary productions in the West - abolished after 40 years in existence.
This week, on June 8, 2012, Parks Canada eliminated interpretive services at 27 historic sites across Canada. In Manitoba, these services have been eliminated at the only French-language site in the province: Riel House, the Métis historic site closely connected to the story of Louis Riel. The site has been open since 1979, but interpretive services will now be eliminated.
My question is this: if federal departments continue to cut without taking the specific needs of these communities into account, and if they continue to use criteria designed for the majority without gauging the impact on official language minority communities, there will be tremendous repercussions on those communities.
Are the departments being indifferent or just careless? What happened to respect for parts IV and VII of the Official Languages Act? Has anyone analyzed the cumulative effect of these cuts to departments and organizations on official languages communities?
If so, may I have a copy? If not, why not? Would that not be an important analysis to do?
Hon. Marjory LeBreton (Leader of the Government): Honourable senators, of course I must disavow the honourable senator of the notion that the government has not paid close attention to our obligations, indeed our desire for and our commitment to Canada's linguistic duality and our full support of Canada's two official languages.
I was a member of the special committee of Treasury Board that went through all the expenses presented by all the departments and that also oversaw all the departmental suggestions on savings the government might bring into being. We specifically applied an overview with respect to official languages to ensure that official languages programs and other similar ones were not unduly or unfairly affected or overrepresented in the work of our committee.
The honourable senator can cite many programs, and I can get up and cite many initiatives the government has taken in support of our official languages, of which the success we have had with the roadmap is just one.
Regarding the stories about Riel House National Historic Site, this site is not closing. Many of the sites that are under Parks Canada are moving to a self-guided approach. We have all been through self-guided sites. The sites are open, people attend them and, with new-age technology, they are able to get a fuller story. One need only go to the museums in Ottawa to get an audiovisual version of a truer picture of history.
We are not closing the Riel House National Historic Site. The method of engaging visitors at this site and other sites will focus on using print and electronic media, which we are finding to be more informative and less costly than guided activities.
Hon. Maria Chaput: Honourable senators, in the case of Riel House, I do understand that the building itself is not closing. What Parks Canada is doing is cancelling the contract it had with the St. Boniface Historical Society to provide that service.
It cost Parks Canada $56,000 a year to have someone on site from March until the end of October to recruit volunteers, coordinate fundraising activities and provide personalized service in French in Manitoba to promote that province's Métis community. That service will no longer be provided. I understand: the house will remain open and there will be information panels, but the staff member will no longer be there to recruit volunteers and plan promotional activities during the summer months.
Does this not have a negative effect on the promotion of this historic site, which is dedicated to Louis Riel's story? Is this not contrary to what the federal government should be doing to support these communities?
Hon. Marjory LeBreton (Leader of the Government): To the contrary, honourable senators, with respect to the Riel House and other similar sites, Parks Canada, in moving to the new system, is not eliminating its ongoing work with the communities involved. As a matter of fact, Parks Canada has committed itself to working closely with all local communities, businesses and tourism industries in the areas of the various sites, first, to profile a site and, second, to maximize in a positive way the impacts of any changes it makes. Parks Canada has not walked away from the community and it will be working with the community.
As honourable senators know, of course, the mandate of Parks Canada is the protection, promotion and presentation of Canada's natural and cultural heritage. Nothing that we are doing through this process in any way undermines the very good work that Parks Canada does. All of us at different periods in our lives have been the recipients of this great work.
As I have pointed out in this place before, times have changed. There are new technologies and ways to explain our history and heritage to our visitors and to attract people to our sites. We have many examples of how people are more informed and better educated on the very important role that these figures played in our history by taking their time, reading the material that is presented before them or having the advantage of an audiovisual presentation, whereas oftentimes a guide will simply point out a thing and then hustle people along to the next site. We have evidence that this new system is, in fact, working in a positive way to better inform Canadians of our great heritage, history, culture and the various figures in our history who have played a very important role in the ongoing development of Canada.
Senator Chaput: Speaking of Riel House, a former archeologist at Parks Canada said:
. . . the government may have thought it could get away with some of the cuts it's making to Parks Canada because many of the areas don't have advocates to plead their case to the public.
That is what this gentleman said.
In the case of Riel House, could the government step in and ensure that Parks Canada continue to fund this unique Métis heritage site in Manitoba?
Senator LeBreton: Honourable senators, it is easy for each and every one of us to get up and quote an unnamed individual who is not happy or has something to say about any government program, whether it is this government or a previous government. That is an easy thing to do. Many people support what the government is doing and many people who do not. It comes as no surprise that people will have views one way or the other. The honourable senator did not name the individual, and I do not know on what basis this individual said these things.
Parks Canada is an organization that is celebrated as one of the most well-run and excellent departments of the Government of Canada. I have already explained to honourable senators that Riel House National Historic Site is not closing. Parks Canada is very much involved in this historic site. I do not know how else I can explain it other than that Parks Canada is continuing to treat Riel House as the national historic site that it is, has been and will be in the future.