Canada's Original Think Tank

Motion to Invite the Government to Mark the One Hundred and Fiftieth Anniversary of Confederation by Striking a Commemorative Medal to Recognize the Inestimable Contribution Made by Aboriginal Peoples to the Emergence of a Better Canada

Motion to Invite the Government to Mark the One Hundred and Fiftieth Anniversary of Confederation by Striking a Commemorative Medal to Recognize the Inestimable Contribution Made by Aboriginal Peoples to the Emergence of a Better Canada

Motion to Invite the Government to Mark the One Hundred and Fiftieth Anniversary of Confederation by Striking a Commemorative Medal to Recognize the Inestimable Contribution Made by Aboriginal Peoples to the Emergence of a Better Canada

Motion to Invite the Government to Mark the One Hundred and Fiftieth Anniversary of Confederation by Striking a Commemorative Medal to Recognize the Inestimable Contribution Made by Aboriginal Peoples to the Emergence of a Better Canada


Published on 31 January 2017
Hansard and Statements by Senator Serge Joyal

Hon. Serge Joyal:

Honourable senators, I’m very privileged today to almost open the debate in this chamber for the new year, starting with this motion. Let me read the motion to you so that everyone understands the symbolic debate we could have.

The Senate invite the Government of Canada to mark the 150th anniversary of Confederation by striking a commemorative medal which, with the traditional symbols of Canada, would recognize the inestimable contribution made by aboriginal peoples to the emergence of a better Canada; and

That this medal be distributed, among others, to those persons who contributed to improving the living conditions of all Canadians in a significant manner over the last 50 years.

Honourable senators, I strongly believe and am convinced of the usefulness of this motion. We have embarked since the first of January on the celebration of the one hundred fiftieth anniversary of Confederation, and the first question I’m sure you will have asked yourself is what are we going to do to mark this anniversary?

My first reaction, when I thought of the objective of this anniversary, was what did we do in the past? The first legal approach to any issue is to look at how they solved it in the past and let’s see if the way they approached it is still acceptable today and me meets our objective.

How did we do in the past commemorating Confederation? Well, the first thing that they did in 1867, when Confederation was adopted, that is, when the four original provinces of Upper Canada, Ontario, Quebec, Lower Canada, plus New Brunswick and Nova Scotia united as a Confederation under the Crown of Great Britain and Ireland, they struck a medal. As a matter of fact, I have the medal here. On one side the medal bears the effigy of Queen Victoria because it was under the Crown of the United Kingdom and Ireland. On the other side of the medal is an illustration of the four original provinces, one represented by agriculture, another one by trade, another one by mines and another one by the forest industry in the forms of goddesses, of course allegory, with the personification of Great Britain holding a lion.

The medal was designed by a famous medallist of the day, Mr. Wyon. His name was Joseph Shepherd Wyon and the medal was distributed in 1869. That’s what they did in 1867 to mark the birth of Confederation.

What did they do 50 years later when they wanted to mark the fiftieth anniversary of Confederation? I’m looking at my friend Senator McInnis. In 1917, 50 years later, they were in the middle of the First World War. In fact, the spring of 1917 was a horrible moment of the war — horrible because it was in the middle of the Battle of the Somme. Canada won the Battle of Vimy, which we will be commemorating at the beginning of April, and won the Battle of Hill 70 in August of that year — the only victories in the whole expedition of the Somme fight. There was no mood in Canada at that time to celebrate anything but rather to concentrate on the war effort. Therefore the government of the day — the Borden government — decided to postpone the celebration to the sixtieth anniversary.

What did they do in 1927? Well, they struck a medal. It was then the government of Mr. King. That medal represented on one side King George V with the words “Confederation Canada,” and on the other side a personification of Canada and at her feet a sheaf of wheat and the maple leaf and the motto a mari usque ad mare. Why? Because in 1867 Canada was not a mari usque ad mare. There were only four provinces. However, in between, Canada was able to link the country together to have British Columbia, the Western provinces, and of course Prince Edward Island had joined already, so we were a country covering a continent. That’s what the medal celebrated.

Then came the one hundredth anniversary in 1967. You will ask me what they did then. Well, they also struck a medal and what did that medal represent? On one side the medal represented the coat of arms of Canada, with 1867-1967 and, on the other side, the Royal Cipher on the background of a maple leaf. Why? Because in 1967 we had adopted a Canadian flag with the maple leaf, so it shows the identity of Canada was reflected on the medal. And that was during the time of the Pearson government.

Then what did we do with the one hundred and twenty-fifth anniversary under the Mulroney government? Well, a medal was struck for the day, and I have a representation of it here: the Royal Cipher on the background of the maple leaf, plus, on the other side, the Royal standards and the motto of the Order of Canada; in other words, celebrating those Canadians who had achieved the improvement of Canada as a society.

Then we are today at the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary and what will we do? We heard from the government that it doesn’t want to strike a medal. They decided to depart from that tradition. The reason remains obscure. Why was it that the government decided to break with tradition? This tradition, honourable senators, is a long-standing one.

I’m looking at my friend Senator Maltais. He will remember when the first medal was struck in Canada. It was struck in 1690 by King Louis XIV after the British left Quebec after the Phips battle. General Phips went into Quebec, took Quebec for a year and a half, and then he went back.

King Louis XIV decided to strike a medal to mark the occasion.

And I will read the text of the medal because it’s worth knowing what was written on it: KEBECA LIBERATA; Québec libre. That was 1690. That was the first medal in relation to commemorating a political event in Canada.

When was the next medal stuck by the French? It was in 1693 to mark peace with the Aboriginal peoples. In other words, when the Quebec governors were negotiating with the Aboriginal people, they were marking the treaty with a medal. The date of the medal would be on it with, of course, the effigy of the king, and on the other side a symbolic representation of the Aboriginal people. Then there was another medal struck —

The British struck a medal in 1757 to commemorate the Siege of Louisbourg and the fall of the fortress to British forces.

In 1757, there was another medal marked to commemorate the battle that was the beginning of the Seven Years’ War. In 1763, there was another medal when the Treaty of Paris confirmed that Canada was under the British Crown. In other words, this tradition, honourable senators, to mark important —

(Debate suspended for Question Period.)

Hon. Serge Joyal:

Honourable senators, I think that the hardest thing in making a speech is to be in the middle of a development and to be cut short and have to repump the interest on the issue that one was describing.

I was mentioning, if you remember, some of you, that traditionally, in the history of Canada, dating back to the 17th century, it has been a tradition to mark the special anniversary or landmark date of evolution of our country with the striking of a medal that would have, on one of its sides, the commemoration of the evolution that Canada has had in the years passed by.

I had given the example, of course, of Confederation, the example of the sixtieth anniversary, the centennial anniversary, the one hundred and twenty-fifth anniversary. I am now, of course, at the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary.

If you read the motion that I had the privilege to table, the motion calls upon us to remember the contribution of the Aboriginal people. Let me read again the motion that:

The Senate invite the Government of Canada to mark the 150th anniversary of Confederation by striking a commemorative medal which, with the traditional symbols of Canada —

And here is the point —

— would recognize the inestimable contribution made by aboriginal peoples to the emergence of a better Canada

Honourable senators, I didn’t create that idea out of the blue. As a matter of fact, it was inspired by the very report chaired by our colleague, Senator Sinclair, in his report following the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. In fact, if you read recommendation 68, what Senator Sinclair is writing in the report — and, with his permission I will quote him, recommendation 68 —

We call upon the federal government, in collaboration with Aboriginal peoples, and the Canadian Museums Association to mark the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation in 2017 by establishing a dedicated national funding program for commemoration projects on the theme of reconciliation.

I repeat “commemoration projects on the theme of reconciliation.” This proposal I am making to you today is essentially that. It’s a commemoration project to mark the reconciliation with the Aboriginal people on the occasion of our one hundred and fiftieth anniversary. I have been looking in the announcements that the Minister of Heritage has made of the $260 million or so that the government will spend to mark the anniversary of Confederation.

Well, honourable senators, there are very few projects that will leave a permanent legacy, a tangible, permanent legacy. Most of them are “of an ephemeral impact.” In other words, there is going be a lot of hoopla in 2017. But once 2017 is over, what will be left of it? What progress will we have made in Canadian minds toward the service of the objectives that we want to achieve in terms of recognizing the unique place and role that the Aboriginal people have played in the making of Canada?

Honourable senators, at the time of Confederation, 150 years ago, life was not very good for Aboriginal people. You will remember section 91 of the British North America Act, recognizing, at section 91 paragraph 24, that the federal government is the one to have the responsibility in relation to:

Indians and Lands reserved for the Indians.

We all know what happened once that responsibility was granted in Confederation to the federal government. That was the Indian Act. In the years after Confederation, the abominable Indian Act was adopted. It’s still in force in Canada. If you read again the report of our colleague Senator Sinclair in relation to the Indian Act, it is our responsibility to build a different relationship with the Aboriginal people and to set aside the infamous Indian Act.

This medal commemorating the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary will mark a beginning, the beginning a new kind of relationship with the Aboriginal people. It is, in my opinion, by striking that message on metal so that it will last for years to come for all those who will be granted those medals, in their pocket or in their hands or on their walls, that 2017 was a landmark, a new beginning.

I reviewed the record of the answers that the Minister of Heritage has been giving, why she has set aside the idea of striking a medal. In fact honourable senators, with due respect to the Minister of Heritage, I don’t think there was an answer. Her answer is essentially, “Well, we want to make the celebration inclusive.” Well, what is contradictory —

The Hon. the Speaker: Excuse me, Senator Joyal. Your time is up. Are you asking for five more minutes?

Senator Joyal: Yes, honourable senators.

The Hon. the Speaker: Is leave granted?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

Senator Joyal: I repeat: The answer of the Minister of Heritage is very simple.

I will quote her, because I want to give exactly the words that she pronounced in relation to that. I quote from an article that was published by L’Agence QMI:

When asked to explain her decision, Ms. Joly said that the celebrations “are going to be in every community . . . and under the circumstances, we want to make sure that our approach is very inclusive.”

I don’t see any contradiction in having an inclusive celebration with the idea of striking a commemorative medal as Canada has had for centuries. Whatever the stripe of the government, be it a Liberal or a Tory government, be it an absolute monarchy like under Louis XIV or a tempered monarchy like under King George III, this is part of our history. Why do we turn our backs to our history? What are we ashamed of? Is it that striking a medal is old-fashioned, that with the new generation, because you have your little tablets and everything is there, you don’t need a medal?

To me, this needs a sober second thought. It is our responsibility to bring the honourable minister to reconsider her decision. I think we owe that to the Aboriginal people of Canada and to the recommendation of the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, that we mark this year of 2017 with elements of memory that would last and survive the ephemera of the year, and remind future generations of Canadians that 2017 was a starting point in our history.

In my opinion, this is not a partisan issue. There is nothing partisan in there. It’s to honour our tradition. It’s to honour the memory of our people. This chamber is the memory of Parliament. We praise ourselves on being the institutional memory of Parliament. This is a decision that calls upon our role, along with that of the other place, to bring forth the memory of what we have done in the past, what we have achieved in the past, and what lies ahead of us, to make Canada a better country with the full contribution of the Aboriginal peoples.

Honourable senators, this is why I solicit your support. I will further invite you to sign a common letter from all the senators to the minister. I think that’s the way to do it, because in the other place sometimes they say, “Oh, they can talk as much as they want,” but the day passes, there is another crisis and then the mind is on something else.

Honourable senators, if we all sign the same letter asking the minister to reconsider her decision, to strike a medal in full compliance with our tradition to mark the special role and special departure of the Aboriginal people of Canada for the future of our country, we will have done something that we remember in 2017.

Thank you, honourable senators.