Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage

The Chair: I’m going to very briefly go over two amendments. As you know, we passed a motion inviting members who do not have a party represented at committee to put forward some amendments. Ms. May and Mr. Plamondon are here on behalf of their respective parties, which have put forward some amendments.

As for the way this is going to work, those amendments, pursuant to the motion we passed, are deemed to have been moved, so no one has to move the amendment. I am going to allow that Ms. May or Mr. Plamondon can speak for a minute to their amendment, and then we will deal with the amendments they have put forward. But I’m going to be pretty strict to the one-minute mark, because we do have a busy agenda today.

So I’m going to go directly—

Elizabeth May: Mr. Chair, if I may have the floor for a moment…?

The Chair:Sorry, Ms. May, maybe real quickly. Do you have a question?

Elizabeth May: I just want to put on the record that while I appreciate your invitation, it wasn’t my idea. I’ve been kept to a strict one minute. I’m not allowed to ask questions of the witnesses and I’m not allowed to defend my own amendment. It’s an inadequate procedure. I just want it on the record.

The Chair: Okay. I won’t take that out of your minute for your amendment either, so now you have that plus a minute.

The Chair: Next we move to page 19, in the name of Ms. May.

Ms. May, would you like speak to PV-1?

I don’t know what PV stands for.

Elizabeth May: It stands for Parti vert.

The Chair: Gotcha. Okay.

Elizabeth May: That was not my idea. It was your committee’s idea. I am fine with either the Green Party of Canada or the Parti vert. That is the acronym this group chose.

I’m presenting a small amendment to back up and say that overall I’m prepared to take a leap of faith and support this bill, but there are many things that have created a great deal of concern in the community at large. I’ve had many representations opposed to this bill. Both of my amendments go toward putting to rest some of the concerns of people across the country who are not as prepared as I am to give the Minister of Heritage, whom I think has nothing but best intentions, the benefit of the doubt.

My amendment is to proposed paragraph 9(1)(c). It simply removes the word “destroy”. The clause now reads that in furtherance of its purpose, the Canadian Museum of History may “sell, exchange, give away, destroy or otherwise dispose of museum material in its collection”.

I suggest removing the word “destroy”. I think it would increase public confidence in the entire act.

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

The Chair:Thank you, Ms. May.

Mr. Calandra.

Paul Calandra: I wonder if we might have the department officials give us a better appreciation of why that may, or may not, be in there.

Cynthia White-Thornley (Executive Director, Heritage Group, Department of Canadian Heritage): Thank you.

The word “destroy” is in the act, as it was in the previous act, but it’s an extremely rare occurrence. At times it becomes necessary to destroy an object because it might become unstable over time, or it is composed of dangerous material. It is a very rare occurrence but it’s part of the management of the collection. If an object is assessed to be of no value, or if it becomes unstable, or if it is not of interest to another public museum, it provides an opportunity for research into conservation techniques.

Elizabeth May: If I could just follow up a bit—

The Chair: Sorry, Ms. May—

Elizabeth May: —because in the context it doesn’t make any sense. You’re not going to get any revenue from destroying something.

The Chair: Sorry, Ms. May.

Mr. Simms.

Scott Simms: Can I give her my time?

The Chair: Not really. That’s not how we’re set up.

Scott Simms: That’s too bad. I tried.

In the case of destroying material for the sake of danger, were you talking about old film that is highly flammable, that sort of thing?

Cynthia White-Thornley: That’s one possibility.

Scott Simms: That’s one possibility.

The other possibility being…I’ve read that when they destroy material they do it in an experimental way to do tests on certain objects. Is that correct?

Cynthia White-Thornley: That’s another possibility.

For example, an artifact that may be deemed to be of no value could be given to the Canadian Conservation Institute to do experimental conservation techniques upon it.

Scott Simms: Do you have an example?

Cynthia White-Thornley: The Canadian Conservation Institute is always experimenting. It’s a leading-edge special operating agency of the department. It’s continually testing new ways of preserving material. They will sometimes take an old map, or something where they are testing a new chemical composition, to see what impact it would have on the artifact in question.

Scott Simms: Okay.

Cynthia White-Thornley: A map is probably not the best example because we wouldn’t normally do it on maps. Carbon-14 dating is a perfect example. My colleague’s giving me an example of carbon-14 dating. As technology becomes more and more sophisticated and we test new ways of seeing how old artifacts are, we sometimes need to use that kind of technology.

The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Simms.

Madame Boutin-Sweet.

Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet: Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I have a few questions about materials.

First, what other materials could be dangerous? You talked about carbon 14, but I did not quite understand the logic behind that. Could you perhaps repeat what you said?

Second, you mentioned film, but there are other things. It could be anything. You talked about maps in particular. Could those things be reproduced before they are destroyed, so that the information is at least preserved?

Third, if the material is dangerous, who decides to destroy the object in question?

Cynthia White-Thornley: That decision would be made by the museum itself, most likely by the curator in charge of the area that’s being studied. As to whether or not a reproduction is made of something before it’s destroyed, those are technical questions you’d have to ask the museum curators. I can’t imagine a case where an original map would be destroyed, requiring a reproduction.

A map probably wasn’t the best example, but maybe a bone fragment. If it was decided that there is so much of it that this particular bone fragment might not be of particular significance, they might wish to do some testing on it. I want to emphasize that it’s extremely rare for material to be destroyed.

The Chair: Mr. Cash.

Andrew Cash: Just for some context, in the current mandate of the Museum of Civilization, is there a clause similar to this?

Cynthia White-Thornley: Yes, it is the same clause.

Andrew Cash: It’s the same clause. Can you tell us how often things get destroyed?

Cynthia White-Thornley: I can’t, I’m afraid. I’d have to check with the museum to get some records for you. I could do that if you’d like. I don’t have information regarding how much would be destroyed in a given year, for example.

The Chair: Do we want a recorded vote?

Some hon. members: Yes.

(Amendment negatived: nays 7; yeas 4)

The Chair: Now we have new clause 9.1 proposed in Green amendment 2 on page 27.

Ms. May, on Green amendment 2….

Elizabeth May: Thank you, Mr. Chair.

If you are working from the act, you are going to go to page four, line 33.

I’m prepared to vote for this bill, but what my amendment is attempting to do, similar to the one I raised initially in my earlier comments, is to enhance the public acceptance of the bill with this particular change.

We do note the Canadian Museums Act does have a section that assures curatorial independence, but for greater certainty and because there’s so much public concern that there’s a political agenda driving the change of the name from Museum of Civilization to Museum of History, I’m proposing the following:

9.1 For greater certainty, no decision taken by the Governor in Council, the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages or the Department of Canadian Heritage may infringe upon the curatorial independence of the Canadian Museum of History.

It’s intended to strengthen the act overall, and strengthen public confidence that there’s no secret political agenda behind the current change. I would urge the Conservatives who are here today to pass this in aid of assuring concerned people that there is no such agenda.

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

The Chair: Thank you, Ms. May.

Mr. Nantel.

Pierre Nantel: I would first like to congratulate Ms. May for this amendment. It is very cautious. I know how good her relationships are with everyone in the House, but a bit of caution does not hurt.

In light of all the current issues, including CBC/Radio-Canada, its rebranding and Bill C-60, I just don’t want anyone in committee to forget that, last November, we passed a motion to invite Hubert Lacroix, the president of CBC/Radio-Canada, to appear. I think, given the current events, that should take place as soon as possible.

To go back to the amendment, anything that can prevent undue interference is relevant. Therefore, we are going to support this amendment.

The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Nantel.

Mr. Simms.

Scott Simms: First and for the record, I congratulate my colleague, the leader of the Green Party, for bringing this forward.

I think it’s fundamental in several ways, because if you look at the testimony we heard, for all the doubts that may have been brought into this—whether it’s any government that sees itself being a micromanager in an institution like this—we always lean on this one section of the Museums Act.

There’s nothing wrong with doubling down on saying that people deserve to be independent. I think this is something that some people may not feel is necessary, but it certainly goes a long way to preserving their independence, so I encourage everyone to support it.

The Chair: Mr. Calandra.

Paul Calandra: Just briefly, I think this may answer the question.

It would be redundant, because as we said, it’s already in the Museums Act, which governs all of the museums. It’s not specifically in any other particular museum description.

Again on the one hand, as Mr. Simms pointed out too, one of the motions was to stop them from doing something and tell them what they could or couldn’t destroy. But on the other hand, we’re asking for curatorial independence, so they’re kind of at odds with each other.

I think the act itself is pretty clear that curatorial independence is guaranteed by the Museums Act. You can restate it a hundred different times, but it’s pretty clear. It’s right in the act.

The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Calandra.

Mr. Cash.

Andrew Cash: Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I, too, would echo my colleague on the Liberal side and my colleague Pierre Nantel that this is a laudable amendment, but it really underlines the fact that the members opposite who support this bill don’t quite understand that, regardless of the actual words written in the law around curatorial independence, this government has proven time and time again that they are experts in being able to skate through the words and reach into supposed independent crown agencies to make sure that they do the government’s bidding.

So I would just underline to our colleague from Saanich—Gulf Islands that we’ll probably support this amendment, but we are under no illusion that this is actually going to beef up or preserve the independence of this museum.

The Chair: Okay, thank you.

Shall amendment Green-2, carry?

(Amendment negatived)

The Chair: Amendment Green-2 is defeated.