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Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage – Main Estimates 2012-13 Study – Libraries and Archives

Hon. James Moore answers questions on the changes to Library and Archives Canada

May 29th, 2012

Mr. Pierre Nantel:

Yesterday at noon, I met with archivists who told a different story that was not very positive—perhaps it wasn’t as negative as what popcorn sellers in movie theatres may say. They said that the cuts were actually very substantial. They didn’t understand because, to a very clear question I asked you on May 17—I believe—regarding what would happen with all those archives, you, Mr. Moore, Minister of Canadian Heritage, said that digitalization was the way of the future.

When you said that, did you make a mistake, or did you simply not know that someone else, on the other side, would reduce the staff that was going to be involved in the digitalization?

Hon. James Moore:

No. It’s not that simple. When we are asked a 20- or 30-second question in the House of Commons, we have 20 or 30 seconds to answer. I had the opportunity to discuss only one or two points, and that was all.

Things will no doubt be difficult for Library and Archives Canada. However, they will probably be able to meet their commitments under their mandate and do what needs to be done.

What I took the time to point out is the fact that online services will be available to Canadians. And that’s true; Library and Archives Canada services will be available online. And they will certainly change their approach, their way of doing things.

The process has not begun in 2012 because of our budget. It has taken a few years. So they were already going down that path in terms of policy. That’s responsible. That’s what we see in the United States. That’s what we see in the provinces and in Europe in similar organizations that are going down that path and adopting that type of policy.

I have no doubt that Library and Archives Canada wanted a bigger budget, as did the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and everyone else. However, in reality, decisions must be made.

Mr. Pierre Nantel:

It’s too bad that you didn’t say the same thing in the House.

I understand that the answer had to be very short, but it’s still a fact that some sort of hope for those people stems from digitalization, and in the end, staff is being reduced. There is a kind of inconsistency with that. That’s too bad for us. I am the first to want to accept your sincerity, your sensitivity to the arts world, culture and Canadian heritage.

However, you still work for a sheriff who has completely different view of things. For many people, CBC should be a public radio-television service. It’s an example.

My remarks may seem confusing, but in reality, it’s the intention that counts. We all know that it’s the intention that counts. You operate based on the budget directives you receive.

Hon. James Moore:

The perceived issue may stem from an ideological difference. For you, being sincere about something means spending increasing amounts of money. For us, being sincere means working with organizations to come up with a policy and a program that will meet the needs of artists, culture, the public, taxpayers and everyone else.

Mr. Pierre Nantel:

No one here is saying that. What we are talking about is a kind of dialogue with the stakeholders, and that’s what missing.

Mr. Scott Simms (Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, Lib.):

I want to acknowledge your comments about the Canada Council for the Arts. I agree, very well done. I look forward to you guys using it against me some day.

Hon. James Moore:

Paul’s working on a ten-percenter.

Mr. Scott Simms:

Yes, that’s what I figured. I can see the smoke.

But I do want to dive into the topic that was just here. We’re talking about the Library and Archives because I think that yesterday, when we went to the demonstration, there was a fundamental gap between what people do in telling our story as Canadians as opposed to what we think is a place to cut for reasons of inefficiencies.

I know what you said in the House, and you just discussed that, but you’ve got to realize when it comes to digitization, it’s not a question of just piling a bunch of photographs at someone to put them on a repository when there’s a story to tell.

The NADP, the national archival development program, was an essential part of telling a story in the smallest of communities. I have 200 communities in my riding, and some of them took advantage of this. They’re in a situation now where the expertise is not really there.

I feel that we’ve fundamentally, just by the sake of digitizing something, missed the narrative, the fact that archiving is something more than we give it credit for. Would you agree?

Hon. James Moore:

I think it can be seen by some obtusely as just sort of a bureaucratic function, but I think you’re right. I come from a family of teachers. My mom is a teacher. My sister is a teacher. My brother-in-law is a teacher. I’ve taught. I understand that this is about protecting, not just digitizing. Digitizing often becomes a blanket platitude for seeming like you’re à la mode and it seems like it’s sort of a catch phrase. But you’re right, it’s about protecting and ultimately championing Canadian culture and history through archives, so it’s an important tool of learning.

Mr. Scott Simms:

But the NADP was a vital tool of that, and it almost seems like we’ve taken something extremely vital to the core of what you believe in. So you have to question, do you really believe in what it is they’re doing?

Hon. James Moore:

We do, but you know, look, there are going to be other initiatives that Library and Archives is going to be announcing and we are going to be providing—I’ll leave that for Library and Archives to talk about.

But also with regard to the macro-subject that you’re raising, which is the responsibility of the government not only to protect Canada’s archives but to protect their information, to work in the pan-Canadian network of archivists and libraries all across the country, I believe in that. I’ll just put it this way: soon we will have more to say on the subject.