Canada's Original Think Tank

Artwork in National Collection—Export Permits

Artwork in National Collection—Export Permits

Artwork in National Collection—Export Permits

Hon. Serge Joyal: 

My question is for the Government Representative, and it is in relation to the sale, by the National Gallery of Canada, of a Chagall painting, valued at $8 million to $10 million, at Christie’s in New York next month. The Minister of Heritage has declared that she has no business intervening in the management of the affairs of the National Gallery of Canada. Well, the media has revealed that, in fact, the export permit that authorizes the export of the painting to New York was gotten irregularly from the Canadian Cultural Property Export Review Board.

Section 11(2) of the act states that expert examiners shall forthwith advise the Review Board and the minister. So, when the civil servant gave the permit, he had to inform the review board and the minister. Section 15 says, “The Minister may amend, suspend, cancel or reinstate any export permit. . . .” So the minister has a real power to stop the sale of the painting in New York next month, because the Quebec government has decided that it is going to keep the other painting in Quebec.

Will the Government Representative ask the minister to order the National Gallery to bring back the painting to Canada so that it remains in the national collection?

Hon. Peter Harder (Government Representative in the Senate): Again, I thank the honourable senator for his question. He will know much about this, both due to his avocation of art and as a former minister responsible for the acts that are cited and involved. He will know that governments have provided a degree of independence to the art gallery that is entirely appropriate so that there is no political involvement in the decisions about acquisitions.

With respect to the export permit, my information is that the expert permit was done independently through the Canadian Cultural Property Export Review Board. I will certainly bring to the attention of minister the senator’s view on the ability of the minister to exercise discretion in this matter and his desire that such discretion be exercised, but, at this point, the minister has not done so.

Senator Joyal: An access-to-information request in November 2017 revealed that the National Gallery wants to deaccession of a lot of other objects and works of arts, and that will increase the sales and donations for the gallery. I plead with the Government Representative to draw the attention of the minister to section 15 of the act. As a parenthesis, I was the sponsor of that act in the other place in 1977, so I know the substance of this act.

Section 15, as a matter of fact, was added under my own suggestion that the minister keep the last word on the export of cultural property abroad, especially when it reaches such a significant amount of money as $8 million to $10 million. We are not talking here about nuts and bolts. We are talking about very important works of art. The price value testifies to it.

So will the Government Representative ask the minister to have a report made to her on the list of objects that the National Gallery is considering selling, either in Canada or abroad, so that Canadians are made aware of what happens with their cultural heritage?

Senator Harder: As I indicated earlier, I fully intend to bring this to the attention of the minister. I am well aware of the honourable senator’s role in the progeny of this important act.

I want to reinforce how it is important it is under the Museums Act for there to be cultural independence in the selection of art so that the art gallery can manage its inventory in the best interests of cultural preservation and acquisition.