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Motion to Urge the Government to Establish a National Commission for the One Hundred and Fiftieth Anniversary of Confederation—Debate Adjourned

 Hon. Serge Joyal, pursuant to notice of March 6, 2014, moved:

That the Senate urges the Government to take the necessary measures to establish a National Commission for the 150th Anniversary of Confederation charged with the responsibility of preparing and implementing celebrations, projects and initiatives across the country to mark the 150th anniversary of Confederation during the year 2017. Further, the Senate urges that the membership of this commission include representatives from all the provinces and territories that, in addition to any budget voted by Parliament, the commission be able to receive contributions from Canadians.

He said: Honourable senators, it might seem somewhat strange that a subject like the celebration of the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of Canada, which will take place two and a half years from now, should be raised today, but I personally had a concern. I remember very well the centennial of 1967 and the World Exhibition that took place in Montreal. I said to myself, "If that exhibition took place in 1967, then they should have prepared it some years earlier."

It came to my attention that last year the House of Commons Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage tabled a report in the other place entitled Canada's 150th Anniversary in 2017. The report was tabled on September 12.

It is about a year and a half ago.

Of course, in the Speech from the Throne in October 2013, the government announced a celebration, but since then we have heard absolutely nothing. There is no leadership that seems to materialize somewhere.

Being triggered by that, I said I should go into the archives and look into how the Centennial Commission of 1967 was put together. It will please Senator LeBreton because she might remember that. I'll be quoting the Right Honourable Diefenbaker. Prime Minister Diefenbaker, believe it or not, in 1959, already stated publicly the objective of the celebration of the centennial. I will quote from the Hansard of the House of Commons of December 19, 1961. So spoke Diefenbaker:

I might point out that, on October 4, 1959, at Assumption University in Windsor, I referred to the one hundredth anniversary and said this:

It is the intention of the government of Canada to communicate with the provinces shortly to secure their views and ideas. My hope is that each province will set up an organization, out of which a national committee will be formed — with representatives of all the provinces of Canada, of church and religious bodies, of cultural organizations, of business, labour and agriculture, and all the elements of Canadian Life — to make and coordinate appropriate plans for national celebration.

So said Diefenbaker in 1959, almost eight years before 1967. The Diefenbaker government — and I went through the archives again — introduced a bill, Bill 127, An Act Respecting the Observance of the Centennial of Confederation in Canada, that was adopted on September 18, 1961. In 1961, six years before the centennial, the government already had an idea of the structure that should be put into place to make the centennial the celebration that I still remember as vividly as if it had happened last year.

I said to myself that we are two and a half years away from the celebration, and where is the person, the body, the organization that is responsible? I bet that it sits with Canadian Heritage, but, again, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage made recommendations on September 12. I would say they did a serious review of the proposal. They held 18 meetings, heard from 54 groups and individuals and received 15 written submissions. They came out with a voluminous report with 19 recommendations. One of their key recommendations is similar to Prime Minister Diefenbaker's initiative: to establish an overall framework to encourage Canadians to participate in the celebration of Canada's one hundred and fiftieth anniversary.

In section 9 of Mr. Diefenbaker's Bill 127, they:

...establish a commission to promote interest in and to plan and implement programs and projects relating to the centennial of Confederation in Canada, in order that the centennial may be observed throughout Canada in a manner in keeping with its national and historical significance.

I think Mr. Diefenbaker's government got it right. They did the right thing at the right time, which is ahead of time, to make sure that the commission would be headed by prominent Canadians with some credibility to rally support and beat the drums — in other words, to raise the money — because in fact one of the purposes of the commission was to raise money, to raise interest. In order to raise interest nationally, somebody has to go to address the Imperial Club, the Canadian Club, the Kiwanis, the chambers of commerce, the churches, all of the groups, the sports organizations, the cultural organizations. Someone has to talk to Canadians, and Canadians have to feel that they have a share in the proposal. I think that the government that succeeded Mr. Diefenbaker, Mr. Pearson and the then Secretary of State Maurice Lamontagne continued exactly the same trend set by the Diefenbaker government, and it was a success.

When I went through the archives again, I got hold of all of those reports about the various activities that were organized, activities like a Confederation train and caravans, activities related to youth travel and folk art, activities related to performing and visual arts, activities related to athletics and voyageurs canoe pageants for our friends the Metis and Manitobans, activities related to ceremonial, historical and general, activities related to federal-provincial grants, activities related to public relations and information and activities coordinating all of the federal departments and agencies.

Honourable senators, again, we are at two and a half years before the celebration, and where are we going? Not that I am desperate that somebody is not talking to the right person in the Canadian Heritage Department, but, again, Canadian Heritage, in its recommendations, in my opinion, got it right also because the committee recommended that, of course, there be a structure and that that commission or national committee — call it whatever name you want — be concerned with leaving legacies to Canadians. It won't be just spending millions of dollars and, the year after, having nothing left.

All honourable senators will know that, for instance, in Parliament there is a legacy, the Centennial Flame. When you enter this building each morning there is something left from the centennial, and it is a symbol that all visitors on the hill can see and appreciate. What will the permanent legacy in Parliament be for the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary? I broaden the question: What is the legacy that this chamber, the Senate of Canada, will leave to our successors in the institution? There is some reflection to have.

Then, the other recommendation of the report addresses the participation of Canadians. Of course we — and when I say "we" I see everybody in this chamber — will want to widen, as much as possible, the participation. I'm looking at Senator Demers.

There is no doubt that sports institutions must be involved in celebrating Canada's one hundred and fiftieth anniversary. Why? Because this is an opportunity to celebrate Canada's athletic talent, just like our artistic, scientific and cultural talents, and to celebrate the institutions that have built this nation as well as the diversity of our population, which makes Canada such a vibrant country and continues to attract thousands of citizens around the world who want to join us and share what we have built together.

It seems to me this is a very important moment to sing together, to come together on some objectives that are beyond our differences. We have to celebrate also what unites us, not only our differences. We in the Senate, as Senator Dawson was alluding to before, all understand the regional distinctions and so forth. That is basic in the federation, but, beyond that, we share something in common. The one hundred and fiftieth anniversary is an opportunity to signal that, to identify that and to flag that.

That's why, honourable senators, I put that motion. I put that motion because I'm concerned about that. Some call it nation building, but I think that there is nothing wrong in the nation building. On the contrary, there is positive substance in the nation building when there is something for everyone. That is something we have to highlight.

I appeal to the government, to our colleagues on the other side and to the government leader and the former leader to press the government to come forward so that we can buy in, so that all Canadians can buy in. You will maybe ask me who I see as being able to beat the drum. We have a Speaker who will be retiring in November, who is well respected on both sides of this house, who speaks both languages, who has long served Canadians. He could be part of the sesquicentennial council.

For instance, there is former ambassador Marc Lortie who has been in France and had a distinguished career, you will remember, as former Press Secretary of Prime Minister Mulroney, and whom everybody will be happy to applaud in such a position. There is the Honourable Hilary Weston, former Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, a distinguished Canadian. I'm sure in all provinces we could find respected people who could be representative of what we have done best in this country, and we need desperately to come together.

This, in my opinion, is a historical moment that won't come back. For the two-hundredth anniversary of Canada, we will be gone. We all have a chance to do something in 2017, and I appeal to the government's side to press upon it. I'm sure that there's goodwill for proposals like that.

I read the speech the Mayor of Ottawa made on April 7 at the Economic Club of Canada whereby he's looking for government leadership.

We want to have the opportunity to rally behind the flag of a commission or a committee. Call it whatever you want, but somebody will be there to represent, on a regular and daily basis, those objectives of celebration whereby we will all be proud to be Canadian in 2017.

Honourable senators, that is what I propose to terminate the day, but on a positive note, I'm sure we all have the same sentiment and feeling in relation to celebrating our country. Thank you, honourable senators.

Senator Eaton: I would like to adjourn the motion in my name and also say that he speaks for himself when he says he won't be here for the two-hundredth anniversary of Canada.

(On motion of Senator Eaton, debate adjourned.)