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Museums Act

Hon. Nicole Eaton moved second reading of Bill C-7, An Act to amend the Museums Act in order to establish the Canadian Museum of History and to make consequential amendments to other Acts.

Honourable senators, I'm honoured to rise today to speak to you about Bill C-7, proposed legislation creating the Canadian Museum of History, Canada's newest national museum.

Museums are mirrors of the societies in which they are situated and it bears pointing out that while our society is still a young one, our historical heritage is robust. We are only three years short of Canada's 150th birthday, a time to focus on the people, places and achievements that bring us together as Canadians. It's an occasion to learn and take pride in all that makes Canada unique and an opportunity to explore and celebrate our long and rich Canadian history.

Aboriginal people have continuously inhabited this land for 10,000 years, the Vikings visited our shores more than 1,000 years ago, and successive waves of immigrants endured the harsh environments of this huge land to make this country their home, while helping to build this nation. People continue to choose to make Canada their home. We are a nation of immigrants. Discovery and adventure are in our genes. We have stories to be told and events and people to learn from and to celebrate. These stories tell us who we are and how this country has evolved over time.

Honourable senators, despite the richness of our past, I was surprised and, quite frankly, saddened to learn that 82 per cent of young Canadians could not pass a basic Canadian history exam. Colleagues, I believe that you will agree that this situation must change. I believe equally that the creation of the Canadian museum of history will help us in this endeavour by enabling us to tell our fulsome story sequentially, in a more linear narrative fashion.

It is an opportunity not only to enhance the presence of a great institution in the capital of Canada but also, and perhaps equally important, to support Canadian history museums across the country.

National museums exist in countries all over the world. The U.S. has the Smithsonian, the National Museum of American History, the German Historical Museum and the National Museum of Japanese History, to mention a few.

The Canadian Museum of Civilization is a beloved national museum valued by Canadians for its collections, its exhibitions, its expertise and its unique architecture. It is Canada's largest and most popular museum. This is why the Government of Canada recognizes and equally values this museum. It is for exactly this reason that the decision was taken to build on the strengths of this great museum rather than to create a completely new organization.

The museum will continue to exist but with a new name and a clearly focused mandate. There will be no interruption of the corporation's ability to operate and no impact on the status of the employees, officers and trustees. In fact, it is most important to note that the change from the "Canadian Museum of Civilization" to the "Canadian Museum of History" will not diminish or disturb its operations. These are protected under section 27 of the Museum Act, providing a virtual firewall around the following matters: one, the acquisition, disposal, conservation or use of any museum material relevant to its activities; two, its activities and programs for the public, including exhibitions, displays and publications; and, three, research with respect to these matters previously referenced. I am confident that the management and staff that made the Canadian Museum of Civilization a great museum will make the Canadian museum of history an even greater one.

Nothing in Bill C-7 will interfere with the museum's ability to conduct research. In fact, the museum recently released a joint research strategy for the Canadian Museum of Civilization and the Canadian War Museum that will guide research activities over the next 10 years. The strategy defines the important role that the research function plays in the museum, acknowledging it is a core institutional activity.

The Canadian Museum of Civilization has always has had an international role as a knowledge-creating institution. This will not change. The museum will continue to conduct scientific research and share its expertise on collection management, research and conservation, both nationally and with other museums around the world.

It will continue to host international travelling exhibitions. In fact, this past October 31, the Canadian Museum of Civilization announced an agreement to host a major exhibition chronicling 5,000 years of Greek history in 2015. On November 12, the museum signed an agreement with its Japanese counterpart, the National Museum of Japanese History. This agreement refers to the pursuit of collaborative research, the exchange of scholars and scholarships, and collaboration relating to exhibitions and educational activities. Like the agreement with Greece, it demonstrates a clear commitment on the part of the future Canadian museum of history to maintain its international and research activities.

In 2012, the Government of Canada announced a significant one-time federal investment of $25 million that will allow the Canadian Museum of Civilization to undertake the renovation of more than 52,000 square feet — the first major renovation in 25 years. The museum will continue to thrive, to be a national and international destination, but will also focus on its role as a national leader and centre of expertise.

In order to support the government's investment and to ensure that Canadians from all regions have an opportunity to become more familiar with Canada's history, the new museum will sign agreements with other museum across the country to create the Canadian history museum network. The museum will work closely with other Canadian museums to make its national collection available through loans and travelling exhibitions. It will also provide a permanent venue, an additional 7,500 square feet at the new museum, for other Canadian museums to showcase their collections and contribute to the larger national narrative. These partnerships will further a collective telling of Canadian history, leverage strengths of partners, focus on gaps in the collection and achieve financial benefits through, for example, cost-sharing and joint initiatives.

The museum plans to establish three levels of partnership: a history museum network, a museum affiliate program, and formalized partnerships with federal organizations and other key public and private institutions.

One such partnership was announced this week. The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, with funding from Canada's oil sands producers, will be an official partner of the museum and the national presenting sponsor of its 1867 exhibition and related programming. 1867 will be an eye-opening exhibition on the birth of Confederation, to be presented from November 2014 to September 2015 at the Museum of Civilization, soon to be, with your blessing, honourable colleagues, the Canadian museum of history. The petroleum producers' sponsorship will also support the production and distribution of travelling versions of the exhibition, helping the museum engage directly with Canadians as they commemorate this national anniversary in their own communities.

The history museum network will consist of several of the largest museums in the country, museums that have significant capacity and have a mandate to cover the history of Canada. These agreements have already been signed, and discussions are under way with several other museums in the country.

Subject to meeting some criterion standards of care, the network will include smaller museums too, through the museum affiliate program. Comprised of smaller institutions across the country, they too will be able to borrow or cooperate on collection, program and exhibits. They will also be invited to an annual meeting, providing an opportunity to share expertise and ideas that will benefit all involved.

On June 11, 2013, the Minister of Heritage and Official Languages announced a range of measures to promote Canadian history. These measures included money for new heritage minutes, funding to allow more veterans and soldiers to connect with students in their classrooms, and support for museums and youth groups to discover Canadian history in their communities.

Modifications to the Canadian Heritage Museums Assistance Program were also announced. These modifications will assist small history museums that wish to borrow artifacts from the Canadian Museum of History by helping to fund the cost of packaging and safe transportation. The Museum Assistance Program has also been adjusted to eliminate the requirement for exhibits to travel outside of their province or territory of origin.

Why has the government made these changes, honourable colleagues? Because local and provincial history are a very important part of our broader national history.

The Government of Canada supports heritage institutions and organizations through a range of measures to increase their professional knowledge, skills and practices and to enhance their abilities to preserve and present Canada's heritage and history. This is done so that Canadians will have access to and an enhanced appreciation for our museums' treasures and our collective legacy, not just here in the National Capital Region but across the country.

Since its announcement, this project has received broad-based support from Canadians, including numerous historians and people in historical associations from every corner of the country. While some people do not always agree with our government, they do support the need to create a national infrastructure for the teaching of Canadian history. One such supporter is Douglas Cardinal, the original architect of the Canadian Museum of Civilization and a very well-known and accomplished Canadian. In response to the creation of this museum he said:

I love the fact that the museum keeps evolving and growing, and people still feel that it's a national monument that can expand and serve all of Canada.

This project has the support of two of Canada's award-winning historians. Michael Bliss said it was very exciting that Canada's major museum would now be explicitly focused on Canada's history and he thanked the government for making the museum possible.

Jack Granatstein, who, as many in the other place know, wrote the book Who Killed Canadian History? said:

This move (to create the Canadian Museum of National History) is exactly what I thought should happen. I'm delighted the government and the museum are doing it.

Further to this, Deborah Morrison of Canada's National History Society said:

. . . the potential for the new Museum to help create a national framework for our history is compelling. And the time is right.

John McAvity of the Canadian Museums Association said:

The renaming of the museum is essential, that it is good news and that it will give Canadians greater access to their heritage and history.

The Historica-Dominion Institute said:

We enthusiastically welcome the creation of this new Canadian Museum of History.

John English, a former Liberal member of Parliament and a biographer of Pierre Elliott Trudeau, said:

Congratulations on the Canadian Museum of History.

There is indeed widespread support for this idea, and it is a great boost to the museum. The museum's proposal has also had the support of the former Mayor of Gatineau and the Mayor of Ottawa, Marc Bureau and Jim Watson respectively. They both support this initiative and its importance to the National Capital Region.

Many other historians have added their names to the list of those who support the initiative: Réal Bélanger, Charlotte Gray, Anne Trépanier, Norm Christie, Yves Frenette, Bob Plamondon, Richard Gwyn, Jane Fullerton, Suzanne Sauvage, Brian Lee Crowley and many others.

Again, colleagues, these are people who may not be Conservative politically yet who understand the value of working together and of putting aside partisanship to support the creation of institutions that seek to bind this country together.

The Toronto Star, a well-known Conservative paper, said it very well in its editorial on the subject:

It was welcome to hear [the government] announce...the rebranding of the Canadian Museum of the Canadian Museum of History. Canada's history should be celebrated in [this] revamped museum. ...we want to make history come alive, ensure we don't forget our shared past and [that we] honour our heroes.

It is a true statistic, but a sad one, that in only four of Canada's 13 provinces and territories is it necessary for a child to take a history class to graduate from high school. While this reality speaks to an area of provincial jurisdiction, it does not mean we should step away from the importance of it as a national government and a national Parliament.

We can work together and do what we can to talk about Canada's history. Together, we can improve education by supporting our museums, by building a great national museum, by uniting all our museums and working together on this project. In the past, Canada's Parliament has come together. When a former Liberal government decided to build the Canadian War Museum people said it was divisive and a waste of money and we ought not to do it. However, the Liberal government had a vision and said it was the right thing to do. The Canadian War Museum is now one of the best museums in the world, rivaled only by Les Invalides in Paris and the Imperial War Museum in London.

A rich and vibrant Canadian museum of history enables an expression and a reflection on the depth and breadth of that which makes us a great nation. We have a compelling, dynamic and fascinating story that needs to be shared with all Canadians and indeed the world, through a world-class museum of history, and for this reason I commend this bill to you for passage forthwith. Thank you.