Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Politicizing our history; could what's happening to the Museum of Civilization happen to The Rooms?

I gave the following speech on May 28th in the House of Commons.

Mr. Speaker, I stand in opposition to the bill, the short title of which is the “Canadian museum of history act."

The bill would amend the Museums Act to create the new crown corporation called the “Canadian museum of history," which would replace the Canadian Museum of Civilization.

The bill also sets out the purpose of the new Canadian museum of history.

In other words, the Canadian Museum of Civilization would be refocused and rebranded. That is a scary thought.

The thought of any Conservative rebranding initiative is frightening.

When I heard about this legislation, my first thought was that the Conservatives planned to put a big a blue C on the side of the Canadian Museum of Civilization, representing the Conservative action plan or, as more and more Canadians like to call it, the Conservative inaction plan.

However, that is another speech.

Maybe the Conservatives would put their big C next to a massive bust of Mike Duffy's head, praising him for all the good that he had done for the Senate. Maybe they would even give free admission to the museum if people guessed correctly where Mike Duffy lived.

I am sorry, I do not want to give the Conservatives any ideas. Frankly—

Frankly, Mr. Speaker, the thought of Conservative hands touching anything to do with our history, with our culture, with our heritage is reprehensible.

A scary thought indeed.

Conservatives may claim to be interested in history, but that is the same government that has gutted the country's knowledge and research communities.

That government fired and muzzled archeologists.

That government constantly muzzles scientists, and I know that all too well in terms of fishery scientists within the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

Our fish scientists cannot open their mouths unless the government first jams in the words.

The same goes with Environment Canada scientists.

We do not have government science in this country so much as Conservative political science, the worst kind, the kind that is tainted by Conservative spin.

The Conservative government has fired and muzzled archivists and librarians.

The government has gutted national historic sites, Parks Canada and our national archives.

The government criticizes us, Her Majesty's loyal opposition, and I have been hearing this all night, for not backing it with a rebranding of the Canadian Museum of Civilization.

Not likely.

Not a chance.

It is about trust.

Canada's cultural communities have no trust in the Conservative government.

Here is an idea.

Let us allow museum professionals define the mandate and content of the museum.

Imagine the Conservatives defining Canadian history.

How would that look?

The current Conservative Prime Minister would probably go down as the greatest Prime Minister in Canadian history, and what a joke that would be.

Mr. Speaker, that is the same way that the Prime Minister defined the former Conservative MP for Labrador as “the greatest MP in Labrador history," and what a joke that was.

The people of Labrador laughed all the way to the election booths where they voted Peter Penashue out of office.

The Conservatives need to stop playing politics with our culture, with our heritage, with our history and with our museum.

The Canadian Museum of Civilization is the most popular museum in Canada for a reason.

The temporary exhibits on world culture under the current mandate are a driving force of tourism.

Let us not change what works.

I have been to museums all over the world.

I have been to the Holocaust museum in Israel.

I have seen thousands of shoes from a concentration camp under a glass case, an image one never forgets.

I have been to the British museum in London, England and seen mummies and Egyptian culture thousands of years old.

I have been to the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.

I have seen the first ever picture of a giant squid. The year was 1873 and the squid was draped over the bathtub of Reverend Moses Harvey of Newfoundland.

I have been to The Rooms in St. John's many times. It is the place where it all comes together--

I would not want them to leave, though, Mr. Speaker. I want them to hear the end of my speech.

I have been to The Rooms in St. John's, and I have been there many times.

It is a place where it all comes together: our history, our heritage, our artistic expression.

The Rooms is the portal to the many stories that our province has to tell.

I have also been to the Museum of Civilization.

It is one of the first places I took my sons after I was sworn in as a member of Parliament in 2011, and it was wonderful.

Now the Conservatives are going to mess with it.

They are going to taint it.

Support this bill?

Not a chance.

Amendments to the purpose, section 8 of the Museums Act, seek to eliminate all reference to establishing and maintaining a collection of objects for “research and prosperity."

Collections at the museum, as well as its current status as a research institution, are clearly under threat.

Amendments will also change the target for the museum's activities from “throughout Canada and internationally” to simply “Canadians," removing any requirement to share our story with the world.

It is feared that the bill will result in popular exhibits on cultures and civilizations taking on a secondary role.

The proposed renovation, which is still shrouded in secrecy, involves gutting Canada Hall, which took 20 years to build at a cost of $50 million.

Canada Hall is arguably one of the most impressive displays of Canadian history in the world, and its very existence remains in limbo.

I would not doubt that the government would rename it Conservative Hall, after the greatest of Conservative governments.

What government would that be?

Why, the current government, of course; at least in the hon. heads of the Conservative MPs who sit opposite.

Canadians know the difference.

The sudden and unceremonious closure of the Canadian Postal Museum showed a lack of transparency.

Who knows what unwanted surprises lay ahead?

Who knows the mind of a Conservative?

The mind of a Conservative would certainly make for a fascinating scientific display.

Under the bill, exhibits on cultures and civilizations will take a secondary role.

I mentioned that earlier.

The museum promoted the understanding of cultures and civilizations, from Haitian voodoo to ancient Egypt.

Our exhibits went on the road and built the museum's international reputation.

However, the Conservatives are not really concerned with Canada's international reputation, in the same way the Conservative climate change policy is killing Canada's international reputation and Canada's international reputation on any number of fronts.

The face of Canada has changed under the Conservative government, and that is bad enough.

Imagine that our history, culture and heritage would change under the government.

Let us cut to the chase.

We are concerned that the internationally recognized Museum of Civilization will be used to put forward a politicized version of Canadian history.

We might see a giant bust of Mike Duffy's head in recognition of his enormous contribution to Senate reform, and a prize for guessing where he lived.

We might see a statue of the current Prime Minister with his arms wrapped around Peter Penashue, in loving admiration of all he did for Labrador, the greatest of Labrador MPs with the greatest—

Mr. Speaker, the task of defining the content of the Museum of Civilization must be left to museum professionals — historians, anthropologists, archivists, librarians — not to politicians.

I repeat, not to politicians.

The face of Canada has changed under the Conservative government.

The face of Canada has changed so that Canadians barely recognize what we have become, at home and on the world stage.

The last thing that should ever happen is that the Conservatives be allowed to tamper with our history, to tamper with the definition of who we are and where we come from.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

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