June 11, 2013 5:39 pm

Country in jeopardy if Canadians don’t know their history, says minister

James Moore, Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages, speaks during an announcement in Gatineau, Que., on Tuesday, June 11, 2013.


OTTAWA – The Conservative government is spending $12 million to promote Canadian history on TV, online and in schools, but critics say it has ignored the plight of federal historic sites and other bodies that have seen their staff and services slashed.

Heritage Minister James Moore announced the funding Tuesday at the Canadian Museum of Civilization, soon to become the Canadian Museum of History when a government bill is passed by Parliament.

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Moore lamented the lack of connection that young people have with their history, saying the country itself is in peril without understanding its past.

“If we don’t do things like what we’re announcing here today, I really do believe this country is in serious jeopardy,” Moore said in a speech.

“We have young Canadians who don’t know about Canada’s past, who don’t know from where we’ve come, who don’t know the possibilities we have in the future, and the privileges that they have in being able to call themselves Canadian.”

The funding, which will come from existing budgets, will be doled out by the Canada History Fund inside the department of Canadian Heritage. Some of the elements include:

– New Government of Canada History Awards for high school history teachers and students, to be managed by an independent body;

– A $400,000 injection of new funds for the Historica-Dominion Institute’s “Heritage Minutes” on TV, commercial-length vignettes on Canadian history;

– More funding to allow veterans and serving soldiers to visit children in their classrooms.

At the same time, Canada’s historic sites are still coping with the $29 million cut from Parks Canada’s budget in 2012. Many of the sites, including Laurier House in Ottawa, no longer have guide staff. Visitors must guide themselves using cellphone apps.

Library and Archives Canada has also felt sharp reductions.

“The money that’s available for us to know our history has been cut significantly and now they’re shuffling the chairs on the Titanic, to say we’ll give money to this, rather than that,” said James Turk, executive director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers.

“There’s far too little money, so they’re going to spend it on this rather than that, but the fact is that our historical sites are in real trouble, our National Archives aren’t able to collect historic documents.”

Parks Canada also cut 80 per cent of the archeologists and conservation staff that worked for the agency, protecting artifacts that come from historic sites and national parks.

“These sweeping reductions severely undermine Parks Canada’s ability to contribute to the economy and to fulfil its mandate to protect and present nationally significant examples of Canada’s natural and cultural heritage,” the president of the Canadian Archaeological Association wrote to Prime Minister Stephen Harper last year.

Moore said he recognized the concerns that had been voiced about national historic sites and Library and Archives Canada.

“There’s no question that those are the kind of decisions that our government evaluates and re-evaluates going forward,” he said.

“We absolutely are committed to balancing our budget in 2015, we can’t back away from that, but how the minister of the environment or the minister of heritage take existing resources and reprofile them… to support Canadian history is really important, and it’s a challenge for each minister.”

© 2013 The Canadian Press

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