House of Commons Hansard #177 of the 44th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was arts.


Parliament of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

12:45 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Green Mike Morrice

It is clear we have quorum in the House.

Parliament of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

12:45 p.m.


Heath MacDonald Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, on a point of order, someone in the official opposition referred to us as rats. I think that is pretty unparliamentary.

Parliament of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

12:45 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Green Mike Morrice

I did not hear that term. We will have to check Hansard for the use of that term. I will give a general reminder to be respectful, particularly as we close out this week of Parliament.

I will return the floor to the member for Cloverdale—Langley City.

Parliament of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

12:45 p.m.


John Aldag Liberal Cloverdale—Langley City, BC

Mr. Speaker, going back to where I was, I would like to reference that arts are defined in this bill as “drawing, painting, sculpture, printmaking, design, crafts, photography, videography and filmmaking”.

The contributions Canadians artists make to our society and our national identity cannot be overstated. Art comes in all forms, and this legislation's definition of art broadly encompasses what the artist laureate would be focused on.

These last two years have been a trying time for Canadians. As we struggled through COVID, many of us turned to the arts to cope with the loneliness, fear and anxiety that came with the pandemic. The arts provided a respite during this time and continue to do so. We should keep in mind that Canada's arts community suffered these same symptoms and continued to produce works for us to enjoy.

We should also keep in mind that the economic downturn affected our cultural community in quite a drastic manner. According to Hill Strategies Research Inc., between 2019 and 2020, over half of the businesses and organizations in the arts, entertainment and recreation sector saw a 50% loss in revenue. Performing arts and festivals lost over half of their revenues and some 35% of total jobs during that period. However, the arts are resurging and have been recovering slowly but surely. Canada's government has been there for the sector and will continue to do so. Canada needs a strong and vibrant arts sector.

Part of the power of the arts is their way of breaking down barriers between people. Canada is a multicultural country, and art provides a creative outlet to help us understand each other. Artistic expression can be understood without the use of words, and this gives us the ability to learn and understand stories and perspectives across linguistic barriers. As Senator Bovey put it, “Artists have always depicted or discussed contemporary issues in their work and drawn attention to critical concerns. It is clear, for instance, that understanding each other will play a key role in reconciliation, for which cultural understanding is essential.”

Allow me to take a moment now to explain why art is so important to me and to my constituents. There is a rich arts scene in my riding of Cloverdale—Langley City, sure to be excited about this amendment to the Parliament Act. I want to bring attention to Lucy Fournier’s mural work titled “The Sunshine Circle” for bringing community together. I also want to recognize Councillor Rosemary Wallace for creating an entirely free event called “Arts Alive”, which proves to be a very impactful experience for artists coming together to share, inspire, and connect each year in Langley City.

In addition to the specific Cloverdale and Langley City art examples just mentioned, Surrey overall has a history of being a community that supports its artists. In 1964, the Surrey Art Society advocated for a centre for the arts in Surrey. The proposal was to build a space that would not only showcase the artistic talent in Surrey but also give space for artists to learn and hone their talents. The Surrey Art Gallery was built and is an important art space in Surrey. Additionally, the Arts Council of Surrey operates every day out of a repurposed fire hall, which further reinforces the history that the arts council has with the Surrey community.

Is this not the power of art and creativity? The Arts Council of Surrey took an old building and gave it new life as a safe place for artists to express themselves in their own community. It has had markets for artisans and indigenous artists to sell their arts and crafts. This is just one example of how the arts are an integral part of Surrey and how it demonstrates how legislation like the one before us today, now more than ever, is so important.

This past year, I had the pleasure of meeting Sandy Dimond. She had her first exhibition at the Surrey Art Gallery. Sandy only recently started painting after she retired from training horses professionally. It was something she had always played around with, but after she had some time on her hands, she finally picked up the brush full time. Sandy paints beautifully and her art ranges from trains making their way through the Canadian landscape, to horses she used to train, and to amazing landscapes. I personally love her painting of trees. The gallery showing was fantastic.

When Sandy reached out to my office, she did not know if I would come. I had not met her before, but the arts are important to her and she wanted that shared with everyone. What she did not know was how important the arts are to me and my family. There were many who showed up to her gallery exhibition, including me, but also the mayor of Langley City, a member of the Fraser Valley Heritage Railway Society and local media. This shows again how important the arts are to Cloverdale—Langley City.

The creation of a parliamentary artist laureate would build on the government’s support for the arts since 2015. The parliamentary visual artist laureate would complement these commitments by creating an opportunity to celebrate Canadian visual arts and artists, and projecting a—

Parliament of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

12:50 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker (Mrs. Alexandra Mendès) Liberal Alexandra Mendes

That is very disturbing for the interpreters. Please have no phones on.

Parliament of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

12:50 p.m.


John Aldag Liberal Cloverdale—Langley City, BC

Madam Speaker, the parliamentary artist laureate would complement these commitments by creating an opportunity to celebrate Canadian visual arts and artists, and by projecting a global image of open-mindedness, creativity and innovation.

Canadian artists from across the country, whether they be lifelong Canadians, immigrants or indigenous peoples, would benefit from having a parliamentary artist laureate here in Ottawa. The appreciation of the arts unites us, and in a multicultural country such as Canada, we should be promoting our many different forms of art at every given opportunity.

In summary, supporting Bill S-202 recognizes the importance of visual arts to the Canadian creative economy, supports diverse artistic expression by Canadian artists, raises the profile of Canadian visual arts in Canada and abroad, and demonstrates that the government values the contributions made by contemporary Canadian visual artists.

I look forward to the discussion we will have here today, and I am hopeful Bill S-202 will receive support from all the parties represented here in the House of Commons. I hope all members will join me in celebrating the arts in our country.

Parliament of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

12:50 p.m.


Gabriel Ste-Marie Bloc Joliette, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his speech, which was very interesting. During his speech, he reminded the House that similar bills have been debated in this place, but they never made it through the legislative process and never passed, because an election was called and a new Parliament began.

Can the hon. member tell us if his government intends to call an election before this bill receives royal assent?

Parliament of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

12:50 p.m.


John Aldag Liberal Cloverdale—Langley City, BC

Madam Speaker, this is another great opportunity to talk about the importance of the arts in our country and the support our government gives to the artistic community. We have seen many investments made, particularly during the pandemic and through pandemic recovery, and I am sure we are going to see, through the support of the House, this legislation finally implemented. Therefore, we can then have a visual artist laureate who will help further celebrate the arts within Canada.

Parliament of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

12:55 p.m.


Lori Idlout NDP Nunavut, NU

Uqaqtittiji, I wonder, given that Canada is founded on indigenous peoples' lands, if this bill does pass, whether maybe the first laureate should be indigenous. Does my colleague agree?

Parliament of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

12:55 p.m.


John Aldag Liberal Cloverdale—Langley City, BC

Madam Speaker, I have the opportunity of working with my colleague on the indigenous affairs committee. Although I am new to it, it has been wonderful getting to know her and her passion for indigenous communities and the indigenous peoples in our country.

As I noted in my speech, it would be important to have the diversity of our country represented. That includes indigenous artists. The selection committee would be drawing from a diversity of artists within the country. Although I would not be part of that selection committee myself, I strongly hope there would be an indigenous visual artist laureate. Perhaps that could be the first one.

That is a wonderful suggestion and something for the eventual selection committee to consider.

Parliament of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

12:55 p.m.


Brenda Shanahan Liberal Châteauguay—Lacolle, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank my hon. colleague for his work on this bill, especially since we already tried to pass it at least twice. Could he talk a little about the influence that this person will have? How can this person help youth with their careers or their artistic aspirations?

Parliament of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

12:55 p.m.


John Aldag Liberal Cloverdale—Langley City, BC

Madam Speaker, the member and I have spoken previously about this legislation. She has a family member who is a visual artist, so I appreciate all her support for this.

I think the intent of the position would be to create and curate art exhibitions, and bring forward the diversity within our country. I think the engagement with young people across the realm of cultures, including, as we heard previously, indigenous artists, would be so important in order to highlight the amazing diversity we have in this country and really engage young, aspiring artists.

It can be a tough world. I spoke in my comments about some of the challenges artists have had during the pandemic and the recovery. It has always been a bit of a challenging world; I hear that from artists all the time. The importance of this position is to help bring attention every day to visual artists and not only the struggles but also the successes they have. I hope that would involve young Canadians as well.

Parliament of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

12:55 p.m.


Kevin Waugh Conservative Saskatoon—Grasswood, SK

Madam Speaker, I say good day to everyone. It is a pleasure to rise in the House this afternoon to talk about Bill S-202, an act that would amend the Parliament of Canada Act and that is better known as the parliamentary visual artist laureate.

This Senate bill proposes to establish a new officer of the Library of Parliament called the parliamentary visual artist laureate and to give that position a term of up to two years. This new officer would be tasked with creating works of art for Parliament and engaging with visual arts communities from coast to coast.

The Parliamentary Budget Officer assumes that the overall cost of a visual artist laureate would be in the neighbourhood of $100,000. This is based on the cost of the established parliamentary poet laureate position we already have.

My Conservative colleagues and I support the arts in this country, as well as the culture and diverse heritage of Canada. Through my work over the past eight years on the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage, I have had many opportunities to learn from Canadians and demonstrate that support. My colleagues on this side of the House and I, on the heritage committee, have heard many witnesses testify from the arts community who are struggling financially. We have made common sense suggestions to the government for legislation to support these artists in our country.

Unfortunately, I have been disappointed by the lack of support by the Liberal government for online content creators; let us make no mistake, they are really artists themselves. Bill C-11 threatens some of these artists, and no amount of testimony or discussion has caused the government to even give this issue a second look. This is an avoidable mistake.

Many artists came to committee to talk about the online streaming bill that gave them the opportunity to connect not only in their community and this country of Canada but worldwide. These are the same artists and creators who have made a name for themselves but are now being censored, and last night, the government moved closure on Bill C-11.

The Senate looked over Bill C-11 for months and recommended 26 amendments. Even the Senate agreed that this was a huge issue in the red chamber. However, the government refused eight amendments that dealt with censorship. These are artists who may never have a chance to make $100,000 a year, but like this Senate bill, it is all about freedom of expression.

It is interesting that Bill S-202 does not refer to it, because when another creative bill was being studied, it was all about limiting the freedom of expression. With regard to this legislation, Bill S-202, I will remain optimistic and open-minded. I will listen to members, who will no doubt deliver thoughtful remarks, and I will listen to all Canadians. However, I will remind everyone that it is Canadians who will bear the brunt of the cost of this bill, and I will listen closely to hear their thoughtful views.

I regularly send information into my riding requesting feedback. I am never disappointed by the range of opinions and carefully considered comments we get back. I learn something every time we send out a mailer and interact with constituents. Canadians, as we all know, are very smart, and I trust them to make good decisions about how we spend their money here in Parliament.

We will get the opportunity to hear from Canadians when this bill goes to committee. We will hear from witnesses and gather more information. For example, was there a demand for the creation of this position in the first place? What work is expected to be produced by the individual in this position? How would this individual be selected? Would the work produced reflect Canadian values we can be proud of? Are there any limitations on their work?

Some of the questions we are talking about here today are about what we need to find out in committee. These are just a few important considerations. As we all know, Canada is rich in talent in every artistic field.

I have been privileged to travel to every coast of this country, and I can say that Canadians are creating art every day in every way across this great country. My office in Saskatoon, in fact, is decorated with meaningful art pieces by talented Canadians, including my own wife, Ann.

The late Bob Pitzel from Humboldt made a number of paintings that I have in Saskatoon and here in my Ottawa office, and I cherish them. Ann and I have supported artists for years by buying their treasures and helping non-profit organizations like Artists Against Hunger, which raises money for local charities in our city of Saskatoon.

There is no shortage of creativity and talent in Canada. In fact, I had an opportunity to visit Stornoway just before Christmas. That is the residence of the Leader of the Opposition. On the wall, I was pleased to see a painting by the late Allen Sapp, an artist from Saskatchewan. It was a painting from his catalogue that I had tried to purchase for myself, but it was not available; then I saw it on the wall at Stornoway. I guess I cannot take that picture back home with me.

Allen Sapp, who unfortunately passed away in 2015, was an indigenous artist; he really set the table in our province for art. In fact, in the city of North Battleford, there is a museum that all Canadians should go to. Allen Sapp was one of the finest painters that this country has ever seen.

Could a collection of artists who are already creating art contribute their work in order to fulfill the goal of Bill S-202? I just throw that question out there. These are options that we might consider before creating a new exclusive post.

This bill proposes mandating a visual artist laureate to promote arts here in Canada. Canadians have been doing this since the birth of this nation, some 150-plus years, without a mandate. Art is an amazing thing. Creativity does not need to be mandated.

COVID was particularly difficult for artists in this country. It was difficult for everyone, but certainly in the area of the arts. Artists could not show their work, and it was very tough on them. We heard from them at heritage committee. This is a sector that I would like to hear from on the idea of a visual arts laureate. They would provide a level of understanding that should be heard.

With the reckless spending and the runaway debt under the current government, it makes sense to hear from Canadians what they want. Do they feel this is value for money, or do they have other priorities for arts funding in this country? Is this the best way to support artists in Canada, and is it the best time to create new expenses?

I would like to thank my hon. colleague from the other place, the senator from Manitoba, for this bill. I think we can all agree that members in the House support the arts, culture and diversity. There are many ways to support that priority in Canada.

I would like to thank some of the artists from my city. There is the late Hugo Alvarado. Cam Forrester has a group in our city called Men Who Paint. It has several exhibitions. It is a fabulous group of artists in Saskatoon. It does tremendous work, and its members volunteer their time for workshops, which helps younger artists get involved.

We have Cheryl Tuck Tallon. Ernie Scoles is indigenous, and he does so much in our city, like volunteering items for promotion at fundraising events. We also have Lorna Lamothe, Laurel Schenstead-Smith, Marian Phaneuf and I could go on.

I thank members for their time on Bill S-202.

Parliament of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

1:05 p.m.


Christine Normandin Bloc Saint-Jean, QC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise this last Friday before the break to speak to Bill S‑202, which would create the position of visual artist laureate for the House. I want to draw some parallels to something similar that we are already familiar with and that my colleagues mentioned, the position of poet laureate. I will even refer to some speeches that were made at the time. We will go back to 2001 when that position was created, and I will speak about certain differences and also certain similarities between the two positions.

When the position of poet laureate was first created, the Bloc Québécois was concerned about the language issue. Indeed, a poem in its original language is never the same as its translation. We used to joke that in this chamber there are always two official languages, English and simultaneous translation.

Other than the fact that we do not anticipate any linguistic issues with the visual arts, one of those differences is that the role being created does not have the same scope. Back when there was a poet, that person was asked to try to poetically express the rhythm of Parliament, which is in itself an enormous task, consisting of bringing our work to life artistically. However, the poet also faced a challenge to create works destined to be read in the House or during official events.

In this case, the artist will have a somewhat different role. The artist will be able to produce works themselves, but they will also be able to cause work to be produced, sponsor artistic events, give advice to the Parliamentary Librarian, in particular, regarding acquisitions. They will also be able to perform such other related duties as are requested by the Senate or the House of Commons. The role of the future visual artist is, then, slightly different from that of the poet.

The nature of the art will also be different. Poetry is a bit more limited in terms of scope, whereas, here, the visual arts can include drawing, painting, sculpture, printmaking, design, crafts, photography, videography and filmmaking. The choice of medium that the artist can use is much broader than words, which is what the parliamentary poet laureate uses.

Our Conservative colleague mentioned the matter of cost. We are not really bothered by that because, for $100,000 a year, we expect the parliamentary visual artist to be much more cost-effective in terms of productivity than the Governor General, for example. The Bloc Québécois therefore does not feel the cost to taxpayers is an issue here, and we are hoping that the works that are produced will be a great source of inspiration for everyone.

There are perhaps some things, however, that might bother me about the position. Art can be an extremely effective political weapon, so I hope that the position of visual artist will not be politicized. We do not want there to be a mandate to politicize the art, and we hope that the artist will have as much freedom as possible in their work.

I am indulging in some wishful thinking about the artist's work. If their art is meant to reflect the diversity of Canada, I would hope that the diversity will include the fact that there is a francophone minority outside of Quebec and that Quebec itself is a francophone minority within Canada. That should not be forgotten; it is part of Canadian diversity. We dare to hope that this will be reflected in the artist's work.

I was talking about politicizing art and here is an example. As recently as last December, we were in the midst of a pre-holiday discussion, if not storm, in the House about the role that the National Gallery had taken on in decolonizing art. There, in the middle of Riopelle's centennial year, members ruled out the idea of having an exhibition dedicated to this artist. When I talk about politicizing art, that is exactly what I am hoping will not happen with the role of the visual artist.

I was also talking about the freedom that an artist has if we avoid giving mandates. I will take the liberty of quoting from a speech by Madeleine d'Alfond-Guiral, who spoke about creating the position of poet at the time. I understand that this speech earned her the biggest laugh from the current member for Montarville in the House. I have promised myself that I will look up the video excerpt of that speech someday. I would like to read a more serious portion of it.

The second question concerns me most. Is freedom the poet's most precious asset?

I know that it is for me, and there is no end to the number of people who have chosen to die for freedom.

What about poets? Some of the greatest have mouldered in prison in the defence of freedom. As prisoners, they were no less free. Who can name a single poet who agreed to trade freedom for money or power? Honestly, I cannot think of one.

It is true that Bill S-10 would give the poet laureate the great responsibility of writing poems to be read in parliament at official ceremonies.

Could we conclude that the poet laureate is non partisan? Probably. And yet, it is hard not to imagine that finding oneself promoted to the position of poet laureate of parliament for two years would not of necessity create obstacles that, insidiously, would limit later speech and give it serious bias.

How to be free when the choice of poet laureate would be made by a few persons, some of whom had received political appointments? As the saying goes, “Don't bite the hand that feeds you”. “Elementary, my dear Watson”.

I hope that a mandate that would undermine their freedom would not explicitly or implicitly be imposed on the artist.

Still, good things will result from creating this position. In the context of a pandemic that made life difficult for artists, it is a good thing to promote the work of artists. I will give a few examples. We know that, during the pandemic, many cultural events were cancelled and exhibit spaces were limited or even closed to the public. There were problems with funding for artists. Even artists experienced psychological distress because they were unable to work and earn a living with dignity.

We know that the income of artists is often much lower than that of the rest of the population. Many live below the poverty line. There is still a power imbalance between broadcasters and artists. Their precarious financial situation worsened even before the pandemic. We may have lost our sense of philanthropy and desire to fund the arts.

As to the precarious situation of artists, I think the beauty of the bill is that it sends a message to artists. I only hope that it will not be the only one and that arts funding will never be a partisan issue in the House, although that might just be wishful thinking. In this context, creating this position is a beautiful thing. I wonder what impact creating this position will have on the House of Commons.

I want to quote two people who lived in very different eras. The first, Hippocrates, said, “Life is short, and art is long”. A more contemporary take on this comes from Bob Dylan, who said, “The purpose of art is to stop time”.

We have an incredible ability in the House to play with time. We could say right now that it is June 23 at 2:00 p.m. and that we are all going home to celebrate our national holiday. We have a lot of latitude in the House when it comes to time, but we do not have the power to stop it entirely. Who knows, perhaps, with the arrival of the new visual artist in the House, we will have given ourselves one more way to play with time.

Parliament of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

1:15 p.m.


Lori Idlout NDP Nunavut, NU

Uqaqtittiji, I am happy to rise today representing Nunavummiut on the importance of Bill S-202, an act to amend the Parliament of Canada Act, sponsored by the member of Parliament for Bow River in Alberta. The bill proposes to create a position called the parliamentary visual artist laureate. The person holding this position would then be an officer of the Library of Parliament, promoting the arts in Canada.

Before I begin, I would like to acknowledge that today is National Indigenous Languages Day. I thank Her Excellency the Governor General for raising awareness on this day. Today on her website, she educated us about the word “ajuinnata”. Translated into English from her Nunavik dialect, ajuinnata “means to never give up, no matter how difficult the task ahead might be.”

One word I will remind the House of is the word I start with every day in my speeches in the chambers. I say “Uqaqtittiji” all the time, and people still ask me what that means. Uqaqtittiji means the one who gives space to speak. The term has no gender attached to it, so when I say it, I do not need to worry if it is the member for Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, the member for West Nova or the member for Brossard—Saint-Lambert sitting in the chair.

To get back to Bill S-202, visual arts are an important expression of identity, both individually and collectively. Individual artists are lucky enough to have the talent and skills to express any and all of the emotions those of us who are less talented wish we could express. Indeed, I share gratitude for their talents.

The collective identity comes from different backgrounds. Predictably, I will speak to the Inuit and indigenous contributions to Canada’s national identity. The contributions by Inuit and indigenous visual artists to Canada’s collective identity are vast and expansive. I have only to mention Qinnuajuaq, or as non-Inuit say her name, Kenojuak Ashevak, for members to imagine her beautiful owl prints, which are so commonly sold in museums today. Qinnuajuaq was said to have been born on October 3, 1927. She died on January 8, 2013.

Qinnuajuaq was born in an igloo at a camp called Ikirasaq at the southern coast of Baffin Island. In the 1950s, Qinnuajuaq was sent to a hospital in Quebec City against her will after having tested positive for tuberculosis. Because of the adversity and strength she had, Qinnuajuaq became an icon for sharing her talents.

When I mention Germaine Arnaktauyok, members can imagine the design on the iconic two-dollar coin that was issued by the Royal Canadian Mint in 1999. Germaine showcases the beauty of Inuit in her artwork. Germaine is an Inuk, and she has illustrated several books. I am inspired by her, as she always expresses the strength of Inuit in her works.

I love the artwork of Tanya Tagaq. She is more well known for her modern throat singing, which is just as powerful as her visual art. The last time I watched Tanya perform, I had goosebumps. When I read her book, Split Tooth, I felt surrounded by her enthralling expressions. I look up to her for her courage and for being an Inuk warrior.

Blake Angeconeb is a talented Anishnaabe artist who was commissioned by Google, and worked with Danielle Morrison, to commemorate the great works of Norval Morrisseau. Thinking of Norval always reminds me of discovering the use of his works in the iconic movie The Shining.

Blake, by the way, has a great collection of works available on his website, including a description of Moving Forward, Together, which was commissioned by Bimbo Canada as part of a five-year commitment with the Gord Downie and Chanie Wenjack Fund. It is within “a Legacy Space to build cultural understanding, connections and a path to reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples.”

Another great visual artist is Christi Belcourt, a Métis visual artist who is best known for her acrylic paintings. Christi is an amazing activist. Through her works, she leads us to do better for our environment. I love particularly that she worked in solidarity with Inuit hunters from Pond Inlet and Arctic Bay and created “Respect Inuit or Leave”. This work was particularly important as it helped contribute to the protection of Inuit rights and values to protect the environment and wildlife surrounding Baffinland Iron Mines' proposal to expand its Mary River iron ore project, which is having a targeted impact on five communities in the Qikiqtani region.

COVID-19 left such a huge impact on Canada and the world. Many artists were particularly impacted. According to research from Hill Strategies Research in October 2021, there was a 25% decrease in employment levels, including self-employment, in the arts, entertainment and recreation, higher than any other industry in 2020. Yet COVID-19 showed us just how important visual art is. As we all turned to Zoom, Teams and other software to join in meetings, we all became purposive in what we would show as our background. At one point, I remember specifically wanting to showcase the beautiful artwork of Madeleine Qumuatuq as she uses her surroundings to express her works, including the beautiful tundra she is surrounded by in Pangnirtung.

If Bill S-202 passes, we must ensure that when the House of Commons Speaker and the Speaker of the Senate, acting together, select Parliamentary visual artist laureates, they are indigenous. Canada enjoys its diversity because of indigenous peoples. Canada enjoys its diversity on indigenous people's lands. Canada must express its commitment to ongoing reconciliation by ensuring that among its first Parliamentary visual artist laureates will be Inuit, Métis and first nations.

Parliament of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

1:25 p.m.


Sherry Romanado Liberal Longueuil—Charles-LeMoyne, QC

Madam Speaker, before I begin my speech, I want to assure the member for Joliette that we are not planning to call an election this year.

I am rising today to express my support for Bill S‑202, an act to amend the Parliament of Canada Act with regard to a parliamentary visual artist laureate. This bill recognizes that we do our best work as legislators when we are informed by many types of knowledge and that visual arts are included in the essential foundation of thinking and understanding that the Library of Parliament represents.

As the official representative of the Library of Parliament, the visual artist laureate would create works of art, organize events and enrich the Library of Parliament's holdings in order to promote the arts in Canada. Like our poet laureate, who condenses big revelations into small constellations of carefully chosen words, a visual artist laureate would, through their creations, not only give us something new to see but also give us new ways of seeing things. We could certainly use that right now.

I have had the privilege of serving Canadians in Parliament over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the experience has allowed me to confirm, on a large scale, many of the ideas I have long held about the people living across this country: their resilience, their stamina, their care for one another and their incredible hard work. I have also seen some breathtaking reminders of Canadians' imagination and creativity, extraordinary artwork that has revitalized our hopes, enlivened our thinking and allowed us to remain connected to our common humanity despite the distance between us.

While it is definitely not my goal to minimize the painful feelings of separation and isolation that so many Canadians experienced during the early days of the pandemic, I have had the pleasure of meeting many people who are making deep connections with each other that are not solely based on being in the same place at the same time.

We bear witness to one other when we communicate what we really care about, and today we have many ways to convey those thoughts and feelings. Some choose new technologies, which have reached heights we never thought possible before the pandemic, but many people choose to do things differently. For example, the information communicated through a letter is very different from a live dialogue between two people.

Similarly, the arts represent a beautiful language for expressing ourselves and showing others what gives meaning to our lives. Art is also a powerful means of expressing the important issues that are at the heart of our experiences. It is an extremely effective tool for understanding and resisting the tumultuous times we are living in and for imagining a better world.

These new visions that Canadian artists could offer are not bound by the constraints of literal eyesight. Take Bruce Horak, for example, a Calgary-born visual and performing artist. He had a cancer in childhood that took most of his eyesight. Since then, he has been legally blind.

Speaking of his journey to painting in one of a series of interviews with artists from the Disability Arts Movement, presented by Tangled Art + Disability and the Art Gallery of Ontario, Mr. Horak said, “People would ask me how I see, how I am able to do what I do with 9% vision, so I started painting portraits to try to capture the way I see the world. That includes auras and halos and floaters and a lot of distortions...I painted a portrait a day for a full year and really enjoyed the connection that happened between myself and my subject.”

Since beginning this project in 2011, he has painted over 600 individual portraits from live and virtual sessions, giving his subjects the opportunity to see themselves in a new way. Similarly, the visual artist laureate could facilitate more of these perceptual transformations, changing how Canadians see themselves and demonstrating the inherent richness that every different way of seeing brings to our collective.

That richness has so often been squandered, whenever different ways of seeing have been shut out, cut down or marginalized. We lawmakers must take action to see our country's problems from other perspectives. Our vision captures only a pinhole of the bigger picture. For us to make just laws, we must work harder at seeing everyone and everything as they truly are.

In an inspiring artwork from 2019, Montreal artist Michaëlle Sergile used Maya Angelou's voice reciting The Mask, which is a mash-up of We Wear the Mask by Paul Laurence Dunbar, a 19th century Black poet, and Angelou's own poem For Old Black Men, to translate sound into something visible, tactile and entirely new.

The sound waves of Angelou's masterful and devastating performance of this piece, which speaks to the pain and injustice Black people have had to mask with laughter, is mapped with a spectrograph into a visual pattern. It is then transformed again into something new and richly layered by weaving that pattern into a black and white mix of cotton, alpaca and acrylic, with these broad, shawl-like ribbons of Maya Angelou's voice in fabric, cascading down the gallery wall. How would it change us if we could literally wrap the sound of those words around our shoulders?

A visual artist laureate could open up a gateway to transformative experiences such as these, not just for legislators, but for all Canadians.

When Gabrielle Roy, one of the most celebrated authors of 20th century French-Canadian literature, asks, “Could we ever know each other in the slightest without the arts?”, she reminds us that certain parts of ourselves can only be reached by taking detours, through metaphors and representations, through poetry and art.

No matter how many people we share our time and space with, we live most of our lives inside our own heads. I would never call this a small space, though. Our inner world is like an ocean, full of mysterious, undiscovered spaces.

Even though most of us know the path that runs along the shore, we are not comfortable spending time on the other side of the sandbar, beyond where our feet can touch the bottom, all alone, deep underwater, under pressure, in the unfathomable valleys of our being.

Still, it is in these strange and isolated places that artists create most of their work. Their creations allow us to escape the confines of our consciousness, if only for a brief moment, and see life through the eyes of another person, in order to connect the submerged continents that separate our many ways of being.

We must take every opportunity to enjoy the discoveries we make on these introspective journeys and recognize the courage of artists who resist the pressure to explore the deepest parts of their souls. We must examine, with courage and curiosity, both the treasures and the ruins they bring to the surface, in order to better understand who we are and where we come from. We need to pass Bill S-202 and create the position of parliamentary visual artist laureate.

Parliament of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

1:35 p.m.


Kelly McCauley Conservative Edmonton West, AB

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to this today. I want to thank my colleagues. There were a lot of really heartfelt speeches. I have asked the member before about when she opens her remarks. It was hilarious. It was a great story about the general neutrality of it, so I want to say thanks and to thank my colleagues today for some really great speeches. I hope that we could actually see that in other speeches, not just my own, going forward.

I have limited time today, so I want to talk about some of the great events going on in my own city around art. However, before I do, I wish to point out that when we look at the Treasury Board contributions page for grants to the arts and culture, per capita, Alberta and Edmonton are receiving far less than other provinces are. I hope that the government will take a serious look at that and provide equal funding to the arts on a per capita basis.

One of the programs we support is the Edmonton Opera. It does phenomenal work and provides a lot of jobs in the arts and culture industry, but we see a struggle for Alberta organizations to receive federal funding. I hope that the government will address that.

I know that my time is very short, but I just want to talk about some of the things going on in Edmonton right now.

People like to make fun of Edmonton. They call it “Deadmonton”. We actually have a coffee called Deadmonton coffee. They think it is kind of a backwater for arts and culture, but I think that people would be surprised by what goes on in our city.

We are called the “Festival City” for a reason, with all the events going on in the summer. I just want to point out events for this week alone, and I am going to read out some of the things going on in Edmonton to do with visual arts.

We have a paint night with Red Pepper Painting Parties, and that is at the Anvil Coffee House in the Ottewell area. We have a “Sip & Paint Night” with Viniology Art, which should be great because my wife is in the wine business, and being in politics, I am in the wine-drinking business. That is at the Stanhope Eatery just off of Whitemud.

We have “Weekend with the Model” going on at Harcourt House. Again, this is all in just one weekend in Edmonton.

We have a paint night with the Pub N Paint at Western Barcode. I want to bring out this specific location because it is in my riding. For people in Edmonton looking for something to do, it is at 20130 Lessard Road, so that is a free plug for Western Barcode in my riding.

There is “Paint Night in the Secret Garden” going on at the Brew+Bloom Café.

There is a great one at Pure Casino, and I love this one: “Art Battle Edmonton”. It is described as 12 artists, three rounds and one champion. That sounds like some artist Lord of the Flies-type event. I look forward to going to that.

As well, actually going on tonight is “Gallery '23” at the Dinwoodie Lounge near the University of Alberta; it is a music, art and research event with formal dress. I can go if Air Canada actually obliges me, which I doubt. It has delayed me twice, and it looks like I am missing my connecting flight tonight.

We see that this is, again, one small capsule of time in Edmonton. This is just in painting. Edmonton has a flourishing visual arts district and community as well, whether it is in video games or YouTube production.

There are lots of events, and I am glad that the bill brought up this opportunity to perhaps celebrate and grow the arts industry. Again, I hope that we can approach arts and culture funding in Alberta, and I am sure, probably in the other western provinces, with a more fair and equitable funding process. That way, arts and culture in Alberta and especially in Edmonton West, where it is more important than the other areas, is treated fairly and equally as if they were perhaps in downtown Toronto or Vancouver.

The jobs that they create in Edmonton and in Alberta are just as important as the jobs created in the rest of the country and just as important to the people of Edmonton.

Parliament of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

1:40 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker (Mrs. Alexandra Mendès) Liberal Alexandra Mendes

The time provided for the consideration of Private Members' Business has now expired, and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the Order Paper.

It being 1:41 p.m. the House stands adjourned until Monday, April 17, at 11 a.m. pursuant to Standing Orders 28(2) and 24(1).

I wish everyone a happy Easter.

(The House adjourned at 1:41 p.m.)