Celebrations for Thirtieth Anniversary of Charter of Rights and Freedoms

Hon. Jim Munson: My question is for the Leader of the Government in the Senate and concerns our beloved Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Honourable senators, this is not a headline story, as we talked about yesterday. It is not about robocalls or that sort of thing, but it is about the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

A story was published yesterday by the Canadian Press dealing with non-partisan bureaucrats who had planned a rather elaborate party to celebrate the birthday of the Charter. In February they submitted a proposal for their plan, which called for a televised event on Parliament Hill featuring the Governor General, the Prime Minister, cabinet ministers and Canada’s chief librarian. Even one of the two versions of the Proclamation of the Constitution Act, 1982 was to be on display. However, when the submission reached Mr. Moore’s office, it was rejected.

A spokesperson for the minister, James Maunder, said:

The department routinely submits communications opportunities to the minister’s office. . . . Some of them we take, some of them we don’t.

We know that what we received was just a short press release.

Why did the government dismiss or ignore this non-partisan recommendation from civil servants in the Department of Heritage?

Hon. Marjory LeBreton (Leader of the Government): I appreciate the honourable senator putting on the record what the Minister of Heritage said, and that is the fact. Public servants routinely make recommendations of potential communications opportunities to ministers of the Crown. This submission was like many other submissions. As the honourable senator pointed out, the minister decided not to pursue this suggestion and issued a statement in honour of the thirtieth anniversary of the Charter. That was the decision of the minister; and the government stands by that decision.

Senator Munson: Honourable senators, yesterday, the Senate, under the leadership of the Speaker, sent a congratulatory address to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on the anniversary of 60 years of her reign. All parties joined in that message and supported the government in a public way in the many non-partisan celebrations.

By the way, halfway through Her Majesty’s reign, we brought home our Charter. She was on Parliament Hill on that rainy day in 1982. It was an important part of her history, our shared history, Canada’s history as an independent nation and the Commonwealth’s history.

Honourable senators, Prince Charles and his entourage were here, and we celebrated. We said publicly, “Welcome, Your Royal Highness.” There was no question of celebrating that.

It sounds kind of petty to me, to be honest: a terse little press release. Why did the government refuse to recognize this? After all, where is the recognition within the government that the Charter deserves?

Senator LeBreton: Honourable senators, quite rightly, we all joined together and celebrated the Diamond Jubilee of the ascendancy to the throne of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. This year, we are celebrating the two hundredth anniversary of the War of 1812, which historians agree was a seminal moment in Canadian history in terms of our identity on the northern half of North America. We are all working toward 2017 and the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of Confederation.

As I pointed out to the honourable senator and as he pointed out in his statement, the office of the Minister of Heritage receives many proposals for communications opportunities from people in the bureaucracy. Minister Moore issued a statement on the thirtieth anniversary of the Charter. This was the decision of the minister and the government.

Honourable senators, I am a traditionalist and I tend to celebrate silver, golden, and diamond jubilees. The one hundredth birthday of Canada in 1967 was wonderful — I still have my centennial flag.

This, however, was a decision of the minister. I know that the honourable senator tries to impugn political motives for this, but I will quote a Liberal candidate in the last election in Vancouver West, Dan Veniez, who said:

As I see it, the only people politicizing the Charter anniversary are Liberals, and no one else.

This was said by a Liberal candidate in an article he wrote called “Stop politicizing the Charter.” He was right.

Senator Munson: By way of supplementary, the honourable leader talked about a 150-year anniversary, about Prince Charles being here, about the Golden Jubilee and about the War of 1812. Of course, all of these celebrations are important and cost millions of dollars, paid for by Canadian taxpayers. We do not mind doing that because it is important. However, at the end of the day, this is Canada’s Charter; it is not a Liberal Charter.

For the record, I would like to get the minister’s point of view. What does she think of the Charter?

Senator LeBreton: Senator Munson always tries to ask these cute little questions about my personal point of view. I am here as the Leader of the Government in the Senate to answer for the government. I totally, wholeheartedly support the decision of the minister.

Senator Munson: The question was: What does the leader think of the Charter?

Senator LeBreton: I will not tell the honourable senator, although I will tell him one thing, something that he does not like to hear: Women were left out of the Charter. I was part of a group of women who marched on Parliament Hill to put women in the Charter.

Some Hon. Senators: Hear, hear!